With 12 games to go in its inaugural USL season, Nashville SC has an opportunity to make the playoffs. Not only that, but there is still an opportunity for the Boys in Gold to also host a playoff contest.
Like most professional leagues, a USL playoff home game is reserved for the top teams in their respective conferences. In this case, it goes to the top four. Earlier this year, Nashville was well in the mix for one of those spots until the month of July, where Nashville only won once in five contests.
Despite that month, Nashville looks to be back on track after collecting four points from East leaders FC Cincinnati and playoff hopefuls Ottawa Fury and are currently in sixth place with 34 points. Both contests saw Nashville control the run of play and seem to be a positive step in the right direction.
— Nashville SC (@NashvilleSC) August 12, 2018
The objective of this side should be focused on earning enough points moving forward to catapult into the top four and force an opponent to travel to First Tennessee Park, where Nashville SC has been a nightmare for opposing teams (7-1-2 at home so far). Below are a few reasons why Nashville has a chance to host a playoff match, but also reasons why it’ll fall short.
Why they will
- The move to switch to a 3-5-2 continues to pay off: Since Nashville SC coach Gary Smith elected to go with a 3-5-2 formation on the field, as opposed to the different variations of the 4-4-2 he was running, the team has scored three goals in two matches. Considering that’s two more goals than the Boys in Gold scored in the month of July, it seems like a tactical move that is paying off so far. Smith might have to continue rolling out this formation if it gets them the goals they’ve been looking for.
- The injuries are minimal: Nashville looks to have possibly put its injury woes behind them. Both Michael Reed and Matt Pickens were scratched from the injury report before the Ottawa match, and Bradley Bourgeois was upgraded to questionable. Bourgeios was actually subbed on in the second half of that match, which could be a sign that he’s back to near full health from his hamstring injury. Missing these three throughout a good portion of July was a tough pill to swallow, and their experience will be pivotal as Nashville makes its playoff push.
- The defense continues to hold firm: Nashville is only allowing 0.7 goals per game and have only conceded 16. That’s the second fewest conceded goals in the Eastern Conference behind the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, who currently sit in second place in the East. Nashville has also blanked its opponents 11 times, with Pickens contributing 10 of those 11 clean sheets. So while the goals haven’t necessarily fallen for Nashville all the time, it’s their defensive unit that still keeps them alive in many of the contests. We’ll see if they can continue that success with the aforementioned tactical changes.
Why they won’t
- The poor finishing: Even though Nashville has scored three times in two matches so far this month, it’s still been a struggle for the Boys in Gold to put their chances away. Per Ben Wright of Speedway Soccer Pod, Nashville SC has the second-worst conversion rate in the USL, and is ten goals below it’s expected goal tally.
On the season, Nashville SC have scored 21 goals against a 31 xG – they've scored 10 less than you could reasonably expect and their 10.1% conversion rate ranks 31st of all @USL teams (only Rio Grande Valley has a worst percentage).
— Ben (@BWrightSSP) August 13, 2018
So if the push for the home playoff match is going to happen, Nashville must start putting away their chances.
- Potential dropped points at home: As mentioned above, Nashville is a tough nut to crack at home, and seven of their next 12 contests are at home. However, four of those contests are against opponents currently in the playoff picture. It’s a chance for Nashville to make leaps up the Eastern Conference ladder, but dropping points at home against those sides could prove costly.
- Road woes: Nashville’s outstanding home record sometimes overshadows its dreadful 2-5-5 record away from Tennessee. The good news is that only one of these road trips (at Louisville this weekend) features a team in playoff contention. As we’ve seen though, no victory is guaranteed no matter where in the table the opposition stands.
Nashville renews the I-65 North rivalry this weekend with a trip Louisville City FC. If the Boys in Gold can have a competitive outing in an environment they’ve struggled at (0-0-2 in two trips to Louisville in all competitions), it will go a long way in determining if this side can indeed host a playoff game.