Golden Goal Match Preview: From one Queen City to another

There’s no rest for the Gary.

Four days after outplaying FC Cincinnati [not just our opinion: check the stats], Nashville SC travels to Charlotte for a date with the ninth-place Independence, whom they defeated 2-0 at home in April.

Let’s get you ready for the match.

Match Details

Who

Charlotte Independence [9th place, 6-6-6, 24 points in 18 matches ] v. Nashville SC [5th place, 7-3-6, 27 points in 16 matches]

When

Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. CT

Where

Sportsplex at Matthews — Matthews, NC [Capacity: 2,500]

How to Watch or Listen

Local TV: MyTV 30 [John Freeman and Eddie Carvacho have the call]

Live stream: ESPN Plus

Stats: USL MatchCenter

About Charlotte Independence

  • Affiliation: Colorado Rapids [here’s some info about their partnership]
  • Stadium: Sportsplex at Matthews (2,500)
    • Charlotte’s stadium is the anchor of a 12-field soccer complex southeast of downtown
    • The team made its debut there in 2017
  • Coach: Mike Jeffries (5th season)
    • Jeffries coached the MLS’s Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas) from 2001 to 2003
    • He won the Hermann trophy in 1983, which is given to the nation’s top male college soccer player
    • Jeffries made three appearances for the U.S. national team in the mid-1980s
  • First Season: 2014
  • 2017 Finish: 13-10-9 (5th East, lost in Conference Quarterfinals to Rochester, 2-1)
  • Best-ever Finish: 2016 (14-8-8, 5th East, Conference Quarterfinals)
  • Supporters’ Groups: Jack’s Militia, QC Royals, Slogic Army
  • Three Fun Facts:The team is named after the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, a document that some claim was the first such declaration in the American colonies (although historians have debunked this and Thomas Jefferson called it a hoax)
    1. Charlotte ranks 10th in the league in scoring but only 28th in shots. That gives them the best conversion rate [20 percent] in the league. By comparison, Nashville scores on just 11 percent of its shots
    2. Four Independence players have been sent off this season. That’s more than any team in the Eastern Conference and only behind hot messes Las Vegas and Tulsa

Why it Matters for Nashville SC

Gary Smith loves citing the old adage that a good team should take three points at home and one on the road. Well, let’s switch that logic for this one. Nashville earned a hard-fought point at home against top-of-the-table FC Cincinnati Saturday at Nissan Stadium. There was no shame in that result, but it means the Boys in Gold need a win Wednesday to compensate.

One Burning Question for Nashville SC

How will the midfield look? Nashville’s manager switched up his midfield formation against Cincy, sending Lebo Moloto wide to the right and tucking Matt LaGrassa into the center, a departure from his recent role on the flank.

Results were mixed. Moloto was extremely dynamic in the first half, clanking one shot off the post and getting unlucky on a point-blank header thanks to a brilliant save by the FCC keeper. The team adjusted as the match wore on, and Moloto’s freelancing nature gave him a more central average position than LaGrassa’s by the end of the contest. Here’s the average position map, courtesy of the USL. Moloto is No. 10, of course, and LaGrassa No. 20.

AvgPositionFCC.JPG

How did each player perform in their slightly adjusted roles? Each created four chances, but Moloto’s were more dangerous. He managed three first-half shots on target [and that’s not even counting his 44th-minute ball off the woodwork], whereas LaGrassa’s four shots all missed the mark. Moloto was more active in distribution [with 46 passes to Matt’s 37] and negligibly more accurate [81.6 percent to 81.1].

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Matt LaGrassa battles Cincinnati midfielder Corbin Bone for possession / Golden Goal

Anecdotally, there were times when LaGrassa didn’t look entirely comfortable. He lost eight of his 10 duels and was the victim of poor luck — on at least two occasions, he found himself wide open in dangerous spaces but teammates didn’t see him or couldn’t connect.

What does that mean for this weekend’s match? Alan Winn has been effective enough to keep his role. We wonder if Taylor Washington will return in place of LaGrassa, with Moloto returning to his conventional central attacking midfield role.

Why it Matters for Charlotte

Because they’ve dropped points in their last seven matches, and things are about to get even tougher. Mike Jeffries’ team ranked near the top of the USL when it met Nashville the first time. But including that Nashville loss, they’re 4-6-5 since.

Nashville SC's Alan Winn scores a left-footed goal against Charlotte Independence at First Tennessee Park.

Nashville SC’s Alan Winn scores a left-footed goal against Charlotte Independence at First Tennessee Park. / Courtesy of Nashville SC

That said, they’re still very good at home, where they’ve only lost once, way back in April. This is an opportunity for the Independence to break free of their struggles at the start of a brutal seven-match stretch that sees them face six teams currently in playoff position.

One Burning Question for Charlotte

Will Charlotte put the “D” back in “Independence?” The Men from the Tar Heel State have posted only three clean sheets all year and none in their last seven matches. Two of those shutouts came against a pair of the league’s worst teams, Ottawa Fury and Toronto FC II. Charlotte has conceded the ninth-most goals in the league and surrendered multiple goals in its last three.

Oddly, those concessions haven’t come against the league’s best teams. Charlotte has allowed just five goals in four games against top-five sides. Against everyone else, they’re conceding nearly twice per game.

Three Fun Things to Watch

  1. Adjustments in the rematch. Gary Smith is 3-1 in rematches this season [wins over Louisville, Pittsburgh and Penn FC; a loss to Indy]. Those second tilts all came against teams that took points from Nashville the first time around. This is Nashville’s first rematch against a team it has previously beaten.
  2. Best attacking tandem in the league. Jorge Herrera can’t be stopped. Neither can teammate Cordell Cato. The two have combined for 17 goals, more than any other duo in the USL — yes, even more than the 16-goal Ledesma-Konig pairing Nashville faced against Cincy. It held those two guys scoreless. Can it do the same against the best Charlotte has to offer? At least one of the tandem has scored in each of the last four games.
  3. Avoiding dirty laundry. If Matt Pickens notches his third straight clean sheet Wednesday, he’ll have more USL shutouts this year [10] than he did all of last season in Tampa Bay. Not bad, considering Nashville hits the halfway mark after this match. And yes, that clean sheet mark leads the USL [in a tie with Pittsburgh keeper Daniel Lynd].

Starting XI

NSHCLTLineup

Changes? Yes. Lots of them? No.

Sure, Nashville only enjoyed three days off between matches. But the Boys in Gold also have next weekend off and won’t play again for 10 days, so they can afford to drain a few players.

Goalie: Need you ask?

Defense: Kimura gets a breather. His 34-year-old legs aren’t built to play multiple matches in a week, as dependable as he has been. Even though he notched an assist against Charlotte last time, we’ll pick him to sit and Ryan James to rotate into the lineup. Smith told us recently that James is unfortunate not to see more playing time, and this is a good chance to slide him into the XI — even if it’s on the right instead of the left, where he has usually started. We’re guessing Woodberry will play center back in place of Bourgeois. No. 22 left after 52 minutes Saturday with what we’re guessing is lingering knee soreness, and that spot is really a 1A vs. 1B situation anyway. If Bourgeois is healthy, put him at center back and move London to the right defensive wing.

Midfield: Winn has been far too good to sit. He tallied a goal and an assist against Atlanta United 2 and was unlucky not to score on a second-half header against Cincy. He completed 90 percent of his passes against FCC [86 percent in the opposing half], and Nashville needs him to continue his strong form. He’ll take the field in the state where he played his college ball, but he’ll invert from the right like he did against ATL2 instead of playing on the left as he did versus Cincy.  He scored from that side of the pitch in the first meeting with Charlotte.

Taylor Washington gets the nod on the left side, where he started against ATL2 and connected successfully with teammates 86 percent of the time. Nine of the 11 times TW has started, he’s lined up on the left. Reed and Akinyode are fixtures at this point — they’ve started all but three combined games all season.

Forward: This was our biggest dilemma. Brandon Allen has cemented his status as the starting striker, joining the XI for six of the team’s last seven USL matches. But Saturday was only the second time he went the full 90. Smith has emphasized his desire to keep both Allen and Ropapa Mensah energized and included, and we think that philosophy — combined with Allen’s tired legs — leads to the Ghanaian’s inclusion in Wednesday’s lineup. After all, Ropapa has scored every time he has faced a team from North Carolina. Okay, fine, that’s just two times, but it’s a fun stat. He’ll get a chance to make it three Wednesday. Slot Moloto underneath him in an attacking-midfielder-ostensible-forward role.

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Lebo Moloto examines his options against a pair of Cincy defenders / Golden Goal

Projected Reserves (our predicted subs in bold): CJ Cochran [back from his Fresno loan as of Monday], Bradley Bourgeois, Kosuke Kimura, Ish JomeMatt LaGrassa, Tucker Hume, Brandon Allen

Final Score Prediction

Nashville has yet to score multiple goals in a road match, and they’ve won just twice in their eight games away from home [granted, six of those road contests came against teams in playoff position]. Like many teams, there’s a marked difference in mentality when this team goes on the road, and we foresee a cautious approach marked by a half-dozen key moments.

One of those moments will see Alan Winn sneak past the Charlotte back line and score a second-half winner.

Nashville SC 1, Charlotte Independence 0

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