Nashville SC gets its first taste of Skyline Chili today, and for the sake of the players’ intestines we’re hoping it comes after the match.
The Boys in Gold visit FC Cincinnati for the first engagement in what could be a decades-long MLS rivalry if all goes according to plan for the Queen City’s expansion bid. It’s a match Gary Smith thinks will be the team’s most challenging of the preseason — and that’s saying something, considering his side played three friendlies against MLS teams.
“I genuinely think if [Cincinnati Coach] Alan [Koch] puts his strongest group out it’ll be our toughest game, purely because they’re an intraconference group and he’s made some very good additions to that group in the offseason,” Smith told us Thursday.
Another reason the match takes on greater importance than a garden-variety preseason match? The budding rivalry between the sides.
“I’m sure with the proximity of the teams, he’ll want to do well,” Smith said of Koch. “They’re unbeaten in preseason at the moment. So in my mind it will be the biggest challenge and probably the most realistic challenge we’re gonna run into.”
FC Cincinnati v. Nashville SC
Saturday, 4 p.m. EST [3 p.m. Central]
Gettler Stadium, Cincinnati
How to Watch
In person. Cincinnati will not provide a stream for the match.
— Nashville SC (@NashvilleSC) March 2, 2018
Why it Matters for Nashville
The Boys in Gold are unbeaten in their last four preseason matches, but the difficulty level escalates against a Cincy squad that hasn’t lost in preseason play. The match may be a friendly, but it’ll be a strong barometer of where the team stands as the preseason comes to a close. And anyone thinking the score doesn’t matter is kidding themselves.
“The result is immaterial because it’s preseason, but let’s not all think that winning the game is not important, because it is,” Smith said. “But if the group that are put out for opening exchanges do well again, I’ll be very pleased.”
One Burning Question for Nashville
Can the starting unit play consistently for a full 90 minutes? Smith will likely leave in the majority of starters for the entire match, the first time they’ll be asked to accomplish that task. How will they handle the grind? That’s what will define their success in this match and provide the staff with valuable insight heading into the final preseason match.
Why it Matters for FC Cincinnati
Because the new guy got an MLS team first. Cincy fans haven’t forgotten that while their city is embroiled in a complex stadium debate, Music City waltzed in and took the first expansion bid.
Does that have anything to do with this match? Not for the players and coaches, but you can bet it’ll be a vocally expressed theme among Cincy fans.
For the team, it’s the first of at least four glimpses the squads will have of each other. Cincy isn’t as far into the preseason as Nashville — they’ve played one fewer game and have three remaining before league play starts. We might see a little more rotation from Cincy as a result.
One Burning Question for Cincinnati
Who will take a step forward as the talisman? Our friends at Cincy Soccer Talk note that this year’s FCC squad will rely on a committee of players to score the goals rather than one or two standouts. That said, can anyone emerge from a diverse array of scoring talent and set themselves apart? A match against a stingy Nashville defense will be a good trial; the Boys in Gold have allowed two total goals in their last four matches.
Three Fun Things to Watch
- Nashville’s attack. After a three-goal output at Orlando City, Music City’s starters hope they can keep their rhythm alive. Before that match they had only scored twice in their first three matches. Robin Shroot, Michael Cox and/or Tucker Hume will be asked to carry the load. It’ll be intriguing to see how they perform.
- A promising Cincy team. FCC has outscored preseason opponents 7-2, and those goals have come from seven different players. This is a group with diverse, dynamic talent and some rolling momentum. Nashville hopes to provide a little more resistance than Cincy’s prior friendly opponents — New England, Tampa Bay and Northern Kentucky University.
- How salty will the fans be? Will it take a pint of Graeter’s ice cream to cleanse their palettes afterward? Cincy and Nashville have developed a spicy little feud following Music City’s MLS selection, and today is our first chance to see that bleed into a match setting. If you attend, let us know how that shakes out.
Projected Starting XI
Smith’s employment of reserves Thursday against Lipscomb gives us a hint of who will play against Cincy — namely, the guys who didn’t play against the Bisons. We expect the starters to play, and we think most of them will play the full 90 minutes.
“All of the young guys now have played 90 minutes, and at the weekend I’ll be looking to try and stretch out those other guys,” Smith said after the Lipscomb match.
Here’s how we think the field will look.
We don’t anticipate major changes from Smith’s personnel approach to date. The only real competition at this point appears to be up top, where Tucker Hume is contending for a starting role, and in central defense, where Bradley Bourgeois is vying with Liam Doyle for playing time. We expect Hume and Bourgeois to enter the match late in the outing. We wonder if Smith will give C.J. Cochran some time in net, but we wouldn’t be surprised if he gives the entire match to Pickens.
Final Score Prediction
Picking friendlies is always a crapshoot. Nashville’s strong defensive form and Cincy’s threatening attack meet in front of what’s likely to be a packed FCC practice facility. Which side will give? We think a little of both. It’ll be tough to keep Cincinnati off the scoreboard, but we expect Nashville to play its usual pressing style and capitalize on a Cincy miscue at some point.
FC Cincinnati 1, Nashville SC 1
What do you think? Leave your predictions in the comments!