Golden Goal Match Preview: Nashville opens the USL era at defending champ Louisville

If Louisville City’s 2017 campaign is any indication, history could turn into misery for Nashville SC if the Boys in Gold don’t come to play Saturday.

The trip to Bourbontown is historic for the Boys in Gold: It’s their first-ever USL match. Another reason for excitement: a preseason campaign that saw Nashville lose just once, posting a 3-1-3 record and earning results against two MLS squads.

But the matchup is also daunting. Lou City won the USL last season in its third year of existence, owning both the offensive and defensive ends of the league’s stat rankings. This year, the Bourbon Boys went unbeaten in preseason action and outscored opponents 11-2 in four matches (albeit, three were against college sides).

Here’s everything you need to know about Louisville before the teams meet for the first of three regular-season showdowns.

  • Name: Louisville City FC
  • MLS Affiliation: None
  • Stadium: Louisville Slugger Field (8,000)
    • Home of the Louisville Bats, the AAA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds
    • Although the stadium seats more than 13,000 fans, a soccer sellout is 8,000 due to limited-view seats
    • The pitchers’ mound is outfitted with a retractable mound so it can be removed prior to soccer games
  • Coach: James O’Connor (4th season)
    • O’Connor is a striking 60-23-23 since leading Louisville into the USL in 2015
    • O’Connor scored 16 goals in five seasons at Stoke, earning the club’s Player of the Year honor in 2000
    • He won a USL title with Orlando City in 2014, the final year before the team moved to the MLS
  • First Season: 2015
  • 2017 Finish: 18-8-6 (League champions)
  • Best-ever Finish: 2017
  • Nickname: Lou City, The Boys in Purple
  • Supporters’ Groups: The Coopers, Scouse’s House
  • Three Fun Facts:
  1. Louisville City FC scored the second-most goals, took the most shots and delivered the most clean sheets in the league en route to the franchise’s first title last year
  2. The initial rendering of the team’s logo included a Fleur-de-Lis resting atop a bourbon barrel; however, fans ridiculed it and the team picked an “abstract” new logo designed by a fan
  3. Louisville City plays in two derbies: The Dirty River Derby vs. FC Cincinnati and the King’s Cup against Saint Louis FC

Match Details

Who

Louisville City FC v. Nashville SC

When

Saturday, 2 p.m. CT

Where

Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville

How to Watch

TV: WUXP-30 (MyTV Nashville)

  • Comcast: Channel 1030
  • DirecTV: Channel 30
  • Dish: Channel 30

Live stream:  YouTube

Why it Matters for Nashville

It’s an immediate barometer of how the Boys in Gold will perform against league competition. Nashville played passably in its two preseason meetings with USL sides, drawing Ottawa 0-0 and FC Cincinnati 2-2. But Louisville’s roster looks more formidable than either of those sides, and this one counts. A win — or even a draw — would inject a surge of confidence into the new side, while a loss would be a deflating way to open the USL era.

One Burning Question for Nashville

Can Nashville’s defense contain Lou City’s deadly attack? As we mentioned earlier this week, nine of 11 starters are back from last year’s USL Cup team that finished second in the league in goals, including all but one of the team’s playoff goal scorers. The Bourbon Boys have a diverse array of scoring threats: Even though the team placed second in goal count, no single player ranked higher than 15th in the league in goals or assists. Instead, a quartet of players — Luke Spencer, Cameron Lancaster, Brian Ownby and George Davis — scored seven goals or more, led by Spencer’s 11. All four of those players are back for 2018.

Why it Matters for Louisville

Because you never want to lose on the day you raise a banner. Including the playoffs and preseason, Lou City haven’t lost a match in 12 outings. Funny enough, that last loss came to bottom-of-the-league Toronto FC II last September.

One Burning Question for Louisville

Will Jimenez repeat last season’s heroics? While midfielder Oscar Jimenez only participated in nine goals last year (three goals and six assists), he was perhaps the key to Lou City’s offensive success. He created more scoring chances (76) than anybody else in the league and finished second in the USL with 263 crosses. He also played more minutes than all but five players in the league. He may be only 5-foot-8 and 156 pounds, but he’ll need to stand tall and play large against an experienced Nashville defense.

Three Fun Things to Watch

  1. A new rivalry! Our friends at Speedway Soccer Pod are debating what the Nashville-Louisville derby should be called, and with only two and a half hours separating the cities, it’ll need a name ASAP. But regardless of the label, we should see a fair contingent of Gold fans make the short drive to partake in the festivities.
  2. Can Louisville stay unbeaten in season openers? The Bourbon Boys have never lost a debut match, according to the team’s preview write-up. So that’s another factor Nashville is up against.
  3. How will Louisville’s baseball setup compare to Nashville’s? Louisville Slugger Field is a known quantity, but it will be interesting to compare the setup with First Tennessee Park’s now that we’ve seen the latter. Soccer on a baseball diamond may always be suboptimal, but it also lends an element of adventure to the experience.

How We Expect Nashville to Line Up

We have a pretty good idea of what the starting XI will look like now that we’ve seen seven matches.

Nashville SC - Friendly vs. Atlanta United - 10th February 2018 - Football tactics and formations

Goalie: No questions here. While backup keeper C.J. Cochran performed admirably in preseason action, veteran Matt Pickens will be the guy this year. We expect to see Cochran spell him effectively, but Matty Pick can be expected to start the majority of early matches.

Defense: This is the back line we’ve seen for most of the preseason. Davis and Woodberry have MLS pedigree, while Doyle is a reliable backstop and strong passer. Bradley Bourgeois could lay claim to the center back role, but we think Doyle did enough to earn the start over him. On the wing, there’s little doubt about James or Kimura. James might have been Nashville’s Man of the Preseason, while Kimura adds a steady presence on the right flank. Kimura struggled at times against FC Cincinnati, according to our friends at Cincy Soccer Talk. Louisville presents a similar challenge.

Midfield: The last time Lebo Moloto took the field for a USL match, it was at Louisville Slugger Field in the USL Cup final. His Swope Park Rangers lost 1-0, so the attacking midfielder has a little extra motivation this time around. He’ll be flanked by midfield stalwarts Reed and LaGrassa, who will also be the set piece takers for the club. Barring injury or occasional rotation, we don’t expect this part of the graphic to change much this year.

Forward: Robin Shroot and Michael Cox earned the majority of the first-team forward minutes during preseason, with Tucker Hume trailing closely behind. We anticipate that Gary Smith will employ the pesky Shroot and athletic Cox against a sturdy Louisville defense, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see Hume or Mensah come on late depending on the situation.

Projected Reserves: Cochran, Bourgeois, Washington, Akinyode, Winn, Hume, Mensah

Final Score Prediction

It’s unreasonable to expect Nashville to waltz into Louisville and steal three points, and if the Boys in Gold pull it off they’ll be entitled to all the Pappy Van Winkle they can imbibe. While we think they’ll put forth a confident showing, Lou City has a leg up in the experience column. We think the Bourbon Boys will raise their record to 1-0 after raising the banner, but we expect Nashville to find the back of the net — and, in time, compete with Louisville for Eastern Conference supremacy.

Louisville City 2, Nashville SC 1

5 thoughts on “Golden Goal Match Preview: Nashville opens the USL era at defending champ Louisville

    • That’s a good question. At this point it doesn’t appear the team has signed a radio deal, but I think we can expect to see one after the MLS transition. -WB

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