Golden Goal Match Preview: Nashville looks to steal points in the Steel City

When Pittsburgh traveled to Nashville to open its 2018 season, the 18,000 fans assembled at Nissan Stadium expected a romp for the Boys in Gold.

It didn’t happen. A scoreless draw controlled by Pittsburgh in the second half left fans disappointed.

Now, though, the result doesn’t look so bad. The Riverhounds are the only unbeaten team left in the United Soccer League, sitting in fourth in the Eastern Conference thanks to six draws in 10 matches.

Nashville’s return trip promises to be a stingy affair: the teams have combined for 12 clean sheets [Pittsburgh 7, Nashville 5] and have conceded the fewest [Pittsburgh: 5] and second-fewest [Nashville: 6] goals in the league.

Without further ado, let’s get you ready for the midweek showdown in Western Pennsylvania.

Match Details

Who

Pittsburgh Riverhounds [4rd place, 4-0-6, 18 points in 10 matches ] v. Nashville SC [10th place, 3-2-4, 13 points in 9 matches]

When

Wednesday, 6:00 p.m. CT

Where

Highmark Stadium, Pittsburgh

How to Watch or Listen

Live stream: ESPN Plus

Stats: USL MatchCenter

About Pittsburgh Riverhounds

  • MLS Affiliation: None
  • Stadium: Highmark Stadium (3,500)
    • Built in 2013, the stadium is on the Monongahela River just east of where it meets the Allegheny at Heinz Field
    • The field surface is FIFA 2-star certified artificial turf, the highest rating that an artificial surface can achieve, one of only six fields in the country to earn that rating
  • Coach: Bob Lilley (1st season — here’s the story about his hire)
    • Lilley previously coached the Rochester Rhinos, which are taking a one-year hiatus this season
    • He led the Rhinos to four consecutive playoff appearances from 2014 to 2017 and the 2015 USL championship
    • Lilley played alongside Penn FC coach Bill Becher for six seasons with the indoor Harrisburg Heat and one with the Hershey Impact. The two are longtime friends and speak well of each other
  • First Season: 1999 (then a member of the USL A-League)
  • 2017 Finish: 8-12-12 (13th Eastern Conference)
  • Best-ever Finish: 2015 (5th East, Conference Quarterfinals)
  • Supporters Group: Steel Army
  • Three Fun Facts:
  1. In its 19-year history in the A-League and USL, Pittsburgh has only won its division once and never qualified for a championship match; in fact, the Riverhounds have endured eight losing seasons in their last 10 campaigns
  2. Scottish midfielder Kevin Kerr is third all-time in appearances for the team; he has played in 146 matches since joining the squad in 2013
  3. Pittsburgh conceded the fewest fouls of any USL team in 2017

Why it Matters for Nashville SC

Survival before a long road swing. Nashville earned a hard-fought point Saturday against Charleston, another top-four team, and now it seeks a result against the league’s best defense before heading home for five tilts in its next six contests.

One Burning Question for Nashville SC

Can Nashville start quickly again? After enduring consecutive shutouts to start the season, Nashville has scored in the first half in six of its last seven matches. It opened the scoring in five of those contests. When the Boys in Gold score first, they are unbeaten: 3-0-2, with draws against New York Red Bulls II and Charleston.

But here’s the bad news: The Tri-Stars have only tallied two second-half goals all season. Once opposing defenses settle in, Nashville struggles to break them down. Thus, a speedy start is pivotal against the best defense Gary Smith’s squad has faced all season.

Why it Matters for Pittsburgh

Because Pittsburgh needs to figure out a way to win.

Sure, the unbeaten record looks great. But six of those ten results are draws, and at some point the Riverhounds are going to have to notch three points, not just one.

“We’re so easy to play against right now,” Lilley told Pittsburgh Soccer Now after the Hounds’ most recent draw, a scoreless stalemate with Penn FC. “Everyone’s talking about our shutouts. Being unbeaten is hogwash. We need to start winning games.”

Things look even more urgent when you consider that Pittsburgh is on the road for three of its next four matches, all of which are against teams in playoff position [New York, Charleston and Louisville].

One Burning Question for Pittsburgh

Can the Hounds find a finishing touch? Check out this analysis by Pittsburgh Soccer Now’s John Krysinsky. Against Penn FC, Pittsburgh controlled possession [56 to 44 percent] and had twice as many corner kicks [6 to 3], but failed to find the back of the net for the fourth time in league play this year. Going up against Nashville’s second-ranked defense will be an even tougher task than scoring against middling Penn FC.

Three Fun Things to Watch

  1. Adjustments in the rematch. Wednesday’s match is Nashville’s second rematch of the year. In the first one, Gary Smith’s team executed a four-goal swing, beating Louisville City 2-0 after losing by the same score in the opener. Can the Boys in Gold emerge victorious in their second grudge match?
  2. Pitch with a view. Highmark Stadium sits in one of the prettiest settings in the league: on the banks of the Monongahela River with the Pittsburgh skyline in the background. It’ll make for nice viewing.
  3. Scoring breakthrough? Amazingly, Pittsburgh hasn’t allowed a league goal at home this year. The Hounds have outscored visitors 6-0 in six matches at Highmark. It’s up to Nashville to break the drought if it wants to take all three points.

Starting XI

Nashville played just four days ago and returns to action in three days, so we can expect some squad rotation Wednesday — and probably even more Saturday against a weaker opponent in Penn FC.

NSHPITLineup

Goalie: With all due respect, you can stop asking. Unless it’s a cup match, Pickens is the choice here.

Defense: The back line was strong in the first half against Charleston but shaky at times in the second stanza. This is a good opportunity to swap Woodberry in for Doyle now that the former is back from a knee injury that’s kept him out for the majority of the season. We wouldn’t be surprised to see Kimura get a break Wednesday or Saturday, but we left him in for this one because Pittsburgh poses the more ominous offensive threat. We expect Justin Davis to play every time he’s healthy, with Bradley Bourgeois not far behind.

Midfield: Ryan James rotates in for Matt LaGrassa. While we could see him replace Kimura at fullback instead, we saw Smith make the James-for-LaGrassa swap late against Charleston and we’ll venture to say it was a test run for the move he plans to make Wednesday. James offers strength going forward and would be effective on the right flank of the final third if Nashville chooses to employ just one pure striker, as it has done recently. Reed and Akinyode have earned the right to serve as mainstays in the middle. Washington was active against the Battery and should start against his previous club.

Forward: Ropapa Mensah didn’t have his best match against Charleston and figures to get a break Wednesday before returning to face his former team this weekend. It’s a good chance for Allen to see extended action after appearing in a limited role for Mensah last Saturday. Moloto will play a CAM role, organizing the attack and setting Washington and James free to send pressure from either wing. Look for Mensah to come on late to provide a burst of offensive energy.

Projected Reserves (our predicted subs in bold): C.J. Cochran, Liam Doyle, Ismaila Jome, Matt LaGrassa, Robin Shroot, Tucker Hume, Ropapa Mensah

Final Score Prediction

It doesn’t take Nostradamus to warn you not to expect many goals. This match features the league’s best two defenses, after all, and Pittsburgh ranks 32nd in the USL in passing accuracy. We expect a close affair with most of the action played in midfield. And we won’t be surprised if the result is a reboot of the first meeting.

Pittsburgh 0, Nashville SC 0

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