After picking up a hard fought point at Nissan Stadium, Nashville SC heads out on the road against Bethlehem Steel FC.
Bethlehem sits fifth in the Eastern Conference table, after defeating the Richmond Kickers 4-1 and losing to the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-0. Saturday’s match represents a true test for Nashville after opening against the defending USL champs Louisville City FC and playing a defensive first Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
The Boys in Gold are in search of their first goal and first win of the season. The game kicks off at 1 p.m. CT at Goodman Stadium. Nashville fans can watch the game streamed on nashvillesc.com.
- Nashville Needs a Goal
After being shut out against Louisville City and Pittsburgh, Nashville head coach Gary Smith said his team has been working hard on the offensive side of the field and wants to offer his attacking players more freedom to perform.
“We have been working constantly to try and be more effective and offer those guys a little bit more freedom,” Smith said on Thursday at the team’s practice. “I’ve certainly stressed the importance of team, ethics and a good foundation.”
Lebo Moloto leads the USL in shots, but Nashville as a team is near the bottom in scoring chances created and shots on target. Tucker Hume is the only forward for Nashville with a shot on target. Luckily for Nashville, Bethlehem has allowed 14 shots and three goals this season. The Steel should be easier to breakdown than Louisville City and Pittsburgh.
Smith said he wants to see more creation and better interaction from his front line and midfield players, but knows this chemistry will take time. Smith has mixed up the forward pairs through the first two matches starting Michael Cox and Robin Shroot up top against Louisville and Shroot and Hume against Pittsburgh.
“Hopefully we can start to see a bit more creation and a bit better interaction, but I know full well time is going to be the real factor here in creating in what I would class an effective front line,” Smith said. “Once these guys start to understand and appreciate each other a bit more – certainly shape and dimension of the style we’ve been playing will come into it, but understanding and appreciation is going to be a key factor.”
Even though Moloto has been Nashville’s top offensive threat, Smith said Nashville fans have not seen his full potential.
“Lebo is an extremely talented individual. He’s intelligent and understanding enough to know ‘I need to be higher in more aggressive and dangerous areas’ or ‘I can help us build out here and I have the ability to pick a pass,'” Said Smith. “Strangely enough, his creative output has not been where we necessarily had imagined and I would think that’s because he’s on the end of a lot more rather than being a part of the process building into a lot more.”
Hopefully all of Nashville’s hard work on the training grounds will pay off and the Boys and Gold will get their first regular season goal on Saturday. An early goal against Bethlehem would help Nashville build confidence in the final third.
- Controlling Possession and Connecting More Passes
Nashville has only completed 67 percent of its passes, which is the second lowest in the USL. The Boys in Gold will need to cut out the sloppy play and be stronger on the ball to dictate pace of play and ward off Bethlehem’s counter attack.
Matt LaGrassa was one of the most proficient passers in the USL last season, but has turned over the ball too much for Nashville in his first two games. The 25-year-old midfielder’s passing accuracy is down 16 percent from 2017. This might be one of the reasons Smith subbed out LaGrassa for Bolu Akinyode in the 77th minute against Pittsburgh. Even though Akinyode only played 13 minutes, he solidified Nashville’s midfield completing 86 percent of his passes.
LaGrassa is not the only Nashville midfielder connecting on less passes this season. Moloto’s passing accuracy is down 10 percent overall and 21 percent in the opponent’s half. If LaGrassa and Moloto can return to their typical form, it will go a long way to helping Nashville control possession and build its attack.
- Disrupting Bethlehem’s Attack
Where Nashville’s passing game has fallen short so far this season, Bethlehem’s 82 percent passing accuracy ranks second in the league. Nashville will need to find a way to disrupt the Steel’s offensive flow and be ready to spring on the counter attack.
Michael Reed, Nashville’s captain, needs to step up and win more duels. The defensive midfielder has only won 36 percent of his duels, which is down 24 percent from last season. If Reed can turn this trend around, Nashville will slow down a Bethlehem team which ranks in the top 10 for number of passes and shots taken.
- Containing Brandon Allen
Nashville’s back line will need to be ready for Bethlehem’s Brandon Allen. The 2016 USL Rookie of the Year was the Steel’s top signing of the offseason and is a proven goal scorer. Allen scored 24 goals in 42 appearances for the New York Red Bulls II from 2016-2017.
“It’s hard to find anymore else in the USL that has scored more goals per game over the last few years as Brandon has,” said Steel FC Head Coach Brendan Burke.
Allen has already scored twice and taken five shots this season. The 24-year-old forward will be a challenge for Nashville’s defense. If the Boys and Gold can slow down Allen, they have a strong chance of winning the game.
Bethlehem Steel FC Fast Facts
- Affiliation: Philadelphia Union
- Stadium: Goodman Stadium (16,000)
- Goodman Stadium is home to Lehigh University’s football team
- The stadium also hosted Philadelphia Eagles training camp from 1996-2012
- Coach: Brendan Burke (3rd season)
- Burke began his coaching career as manager of Reading United in the U.S. PDL, where he went a remarkable 71-18-19
- He played as a center back for teams in the U.S. and Ireland
- First Season: 2016
- 2017 Finish: 12-12-8 (lost in Conference Quarterfinals (4-0, Louisville City FC)
- Best-ever Finish: 2017 (Conference Quarterfinals)
- Supporters’ Group: East End Army
- Three Fun Facts:
- The team’s name and colors are a tribute to Bethlehem Steel F.C., which played from 1907-1930 and won five U.S. Open Cups — tied for the most in U.S. soccer history
- The colors of Bethlehem Steel FC are navy blue, gold and red, combining the primary colors of both the original Bethlehem Steel F.C. and the Philadelphia Union
- The Steel won only two of their final 10 matches in 2017 (2-3-5)