Golden Goal Match Preview: Nashville SC charges toward Battery

The Holy City is culinary heaven.

Home to a blend of new-South farm-to-table dining, vintage barbecue haunts and low-country seafood boils, Charleston oozes with culture and flair. If you like good food, it’s a must-visit town.

But lately, the Charleston Battery have laid off the shrimp and grits. Instead, they’re devouring their opponents.

The USL stalwart is 3-0-1 in a four-match homestand that concludes against Nashville SC Saturday at MUSC Health Stadium Saturday at 6 p.m. Central. Meanwhile the Tri-Stars are unbeaten in their last three league matches and riding a high after dispatching defending champ Louisville City on Mothers’ Day.

Both teams’ plates have been full lately. Something has to give.

Match Details

Who

Charleston Battery [3rd place, 18 points in 10 matches ] v. Nashville SC [10th place, 12 points in 8 matches]

When

Saturday, 6:00 p.m. CT

Where

MUSC Health Stadium

How to Watch or Listen

Local TV: WUXP-TV [channel 1030 on Comcast]

Local radio: 94.9 FM [Golden Goal’s Wes Boling will man the play-by-play mic]

Live stream: ESPN Plus

Stats: USL MatchCenter

About Charleston Battery

  • MLS Affiliation: None
  • Stadium: MUSC Health Stadium (5,100)
  • MUSC Health Stadium is a soccer-specific facility 18 miles from downtown Charleston
  • The stadium is modeled after lower-division English soccer stadiums and features an on-site pub, called “The Three Lions”
  • Coach: Mike Anhaeuser (14th season)
    • Anhaeuser is a member of the USL Hall of Fame and has guided Charleston to two league titles (2010 and 2012)
    • Anhaeuser played five seasons for Charleston (1994-98), appearing in 115 matches and scoring two goals
  • First Season: 1993 (USISL)
  • 2017 Finish: 15-9-8 (lost in first round to Red Bulls II, 4-0)
  • Best-ever Finish: 2012 (USL Champions)
  • Supporters’ Group: The Regiment
  • Three Fun Facts:
  1. Charleston was the last second-division side to make the finals of the U.S. Open Cup, losing to D.C. United, 2-1
  2. In addition to its USL title in 2012, Charleston won the USL A-League in 1996 and 2003
  3. Despite ranking in the bottom half of the league in passing accuracy, Charleston had the third-most efficient attack in 2017

Why it Matters for Nashville SC

Momentum. With two games in hand on the majority of the Eastern Conference, Nashville has a shot at surging up the table. After earning five points in its last three matches, Gary Smith’s 10th-place squad visits a third-place Charleston team with which it could be tied if it wins its next two matches. After that things don’t get any easier: Nashville heads to top-five squad Pittsburgh Riverhounds next Wednesday.

“We’ve got two extremely tough away league games with Charleston and Pittsburgh waiting for us,” Smith said after Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup match win against Mississippi Brilla. “Two in-form sides, not going to be easy.”

One Burning Question for Nashville SC

Will Nashville incorporate its two latest signings? The club announced the signings of forward Brandon Allen and wing Ismaila Jome Tuesday. We’re very curious to see how quickly Smith works them into the starting XI, especially given the productivity Lebo Moloto [two goals] and Ropapa Mensah [one goal, one assist] have displayed in their last two matches. Then again, Allen tallied 32 goals in his last three USL seasons, so he may sit for nobody.

Allen and Jome give Gary Smith a valuable tool as he ponders how to rotate his squad: roster depth.

“There are a number of guys that I still class as first-choice players,” Smith said. “Ryan James is a first-choice player. London Woodberry has been out and a first-choice player. Tucker Hume has been terrific and a first-choice player. He’s been on the line, he’s not been used regularly but as you see he’s a handful and he’s an asset to have. So there are a number of guys out on that field tonight that have performed well, they’ve done their job tonight, and there might be some changes for Saturday.”

Why it Matters for Charleston Battery

Because Charleston needs to pack points for its upcoming three-game road trip.

An imbalanced schedule sent the Battery on the road for two of their first three matches before the ongoing five-game home stretch. Next up: trips to Indy, Richmond and Charlotte. Michael Anhaeuser’s club won’t tread on home turf again until June 23, so it needs to earn a positive result against a Nashville team brimming with confidence.

Charleston have plenty of energy right now themselves. Since switching to a three-man back line after a 5-2 loss to New York Red Bulls II, the men in yellow have outscored opponents 10-3 in a seven-match unbeaten stretch [they’ve gone 4-0-3].

“Their home form of old is always very very good. It’s a tough place to go to in Charleston,” Smith said. “It will be a good surface and they’ll be a good footballing side whilst also having all the qualities you might expect from the winning team. They’re physically well equipped, and their 3-4-3 shape has caused teams problems.”

Leading the way: Ataullah Guerra, who has scored in four of the team’s last six league contests and leads the team with five this season. On the other end of the pitch, the Battery’s staunch defense has allowed just two goals at home this year and just one from the run of play.

One Burning Question for Charleston Battery

Will a conservative, counter-attacking style work against Nashville SC? Charleston hasn’t been afraid to bide its time on the offensive end. Fourteen-year coaching veteran Michael Anhaeuser saw his team manage just two shots on target in a scoreless draw with Ottawa Fury, the sixth time in 10 matches Charleston scored either once or not at all.

But games like Atlanta — where ATL2 possessed the ball two-thirds of the time but lost 3-0 to the Battery — might not play out the same way if Charleston tries that style against Nashville, which trailed Louisville in possession 57-43 two weeks ago but won 2-0.

While Charleston must remain organized in the back, it could stand to threaten Nashville more in its own end than the team has done recently.

Three Fun Things to Watch

  1. Nashville’s newest additions. Will Allen and Jome play right off the bat Saturday? We’ll get to that in just a moment, but we at least expect them to be available. Nashville fans may get their first league introduction Saturday.
  2. A vintage USL side. Charleston has been around since 1993. That makes the Battery the oldest side Nashville SC has played this year. It has been a good run for Holy City; they’ve finished in the top six in the conference every year since 2008.
  3. Messi worshiper. Charleston’s Guerra is a talented striker, but when he’s standing next to the one and only Leo Messi, he knows his place.

Starting XI

Will Gary Smith work in his two newcomers? How will he balance them with a lineup that has consistently produced as of late?

Keep in mind that Nashville plays again Wednesday [at Pittsburgh] and Saturday [at home against Penn FC], so Smith may not play his best 11 against Charleston. That said, we think he’ll employ most of his stalwarts.

NSHCHALineup

Goalie: Matt Pickens aims for his third clean sheet in four matches this weekend. While he wasn’t consistently tested against Louisville, he made plays when it counted. He’s Nashville’s league starter unless a freak event happens.

Defense: We like Davis and Bourgeois to start as usual at left and right center back, respectively. London Woodberry and Liam Doyle are a 50-50 proposition in the heart of the defense, but we’ll go with Woodberry on a coin flip. Whoever we don’t see against Charleston should start in four days against Pittsburgh. Keep in mind that David Edgar is no longer on the squad after parting ways with the club in a mutual decision.

Midfield: We expect Nashville to revert to a 3-5-2 formation rather than the 4-4-2 it has recently employed. Doing so accommodates two strong center forwards — more on them in a minute — with an active Lebo Moloto feeding them the ball. Spoiler alert: We think Alan Winn will sit in favor of Brandon Allen. Since Winn is best on the left offensive flank, in his absence it makes sense to push defender Taylor Washington forward in a left wing role and drop Reed and Akinyode back as holding mids. Kosuke Kimura should man his usual place on the right wing since he’s been so sturdy there lately.

Forward: Bring on Brandon Allen. We expect the striker to see his first league action for Nashville alongside Ropapa Mensah, who is a fixture in the lineup at this point. Look for Alan Winn and Tucker Hume [who is in strong Cup form] to provide insurance from the bench if Allen doesn’t adapt quickly to his new squad. Allen and Mensah should be given freedom to roam throughout the final third in order to vex the Charleston defense.

Projected Reserves (our predicted subs in bold): C.J. Cochran, Liam Doyle, London Woodberry, Ismaila Jome, Matt LaGrassa, Alan Winn, Tucker Hume

Final Score Prediction

I [Wes] am providing the radio play-by-play call for this match, so out of deference to that role I won’t give a score prediction. But I think we can expect a low-scoring game with few chances for either side. These are two defensively driven teams who are good at picking their moments in the final third, but don’t overwhelm you with pressure — especially Charleston. I don’t think we’ll see more than two combined goals in the match.

For Nashville to win, it needs to:

  • Apply pressure in Charleston’s midfield. The Battery are extremely stable in the back, and it’ll be tough to generate goals from standard possession. If Nashville can fluster Charleston’s midfielders, who are solid but not breathtakingly athletic, it can force mistakes and strike quickly. The Boys in Gold can’t count on outsmarting the Battery’s cagey back three.
  • Guard against the counter-attack. When Charleston does generate offensive fireworks, it’s often on the break. However aggressive Nashville may be in midfield, its back three need to be as reliable as they were against Louisville. Ataulla Guerra and Gordon Wild are clever, and if they have numbers they’ll make Nashville pay.

As nice as a win streak would be for the Boys in Gold, Nashville supporters should be content if this match ends in a low-scoring draw. If Gary Smith’s squad can take four points in its road matches against Charleston and Pittsburgh, it will set itself up for a season-defining start to the summer, which features five home games in six matches.

And with apologies to the Battery, that could supercharge this Nashville team.

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