Preview: Nashville SC (h).
When? Sunday November 11 12.30 p.m. PT, 3.30 p.m. ET and 8.30 p.m. GMT
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL
How can I catch the action? MLS Live on ESPN+, Fox 35 Plus and My TV 30. The game is not currently scheduled for broadcast in the U.K. The game is also available locally via radio, check local listings.
Whilst this game undoubtedly has the feeling of being right after the Lord Mayor's show, its importance should not be understated. Momentum is everything in play-off soccer. Whilst Oscar Pareja will doubtless ring changes, each player deputising will be desperate to earn a starting spot for the play-offs. A win in this game will serve them well for the beginning of the end of season soiree that everyone wants a ticket too. There is also the very real possibility that Orlando City could find themselves up against this weekend's opponents in the play-offs. A win would be huge, psychologically speaking.
It's fair to say that many onlookers expected Gary Smith's team to be the perennial whipping boys this season, à la FC Cincinnati and *gulps*... us. Nothing has been further from the truth, however. They're a compact defensive unit, who utilise a low-block to ensure they limit their opponent's opportunities as much as possible. They then use their combative central midfielders and pacy wide players to hit their opponents on the break. It's an approach that has made them difficult to beat.
Nashville are a team who are quite happy to let the opposition have the ball, averaging 46.2% possession per game. They also average an impressive 14.2 tackles per game, which gives you a little insight into the way this team plays. They will press at the right times, win possession and break. It's an effective strategy when you have the likes of Aníbal Godoy, Dax McCarty and Walker Zimmermann down the spine of your team. Godoy and McCarty are particularly adept at winning possession in the midfield and getting the ball moving. Both average just under 2 tackles per game, 1.7 and 1.8 respectively. Whilst simultaneously averaging similar numbers for interceptions, 1.9 and 1.7 respectively (all stats, figure 1). This is a team who will pounce on any mistake you make, before getting the ball wide and hitting you with their pace; as illustrated by the passing network graphic from their recent win over Montréal (figure 2).
Figure 1 shows you how important Godoy and McCarty are to the way this team plays, with their low-block/counter method.
Figure 2 shows you how much Nashville like to get the ball outside when countering, particularly when the play goes through McCarty (6) and Godoy (20).
Oscar Pareja has revealed that both Uri Rosell and Joao Moutinho will both be missing for this game. There had been hopes that Spaniard, Rosell could be available. However, Pareja has ruled him out for this game. Mauricio Pereyra sits this one out, as he serves his suspension for yellow card accumulation. The club have also appealed Nani's pathetic red card from the game against Columbus. The club were hoping to hear something by the close of play on Friday. At the time of writing there was no update. The club are understandably confident of a successful appeal, however.
Gary Smith has some injury concerns ahead of this game. Ken Tribbet (calf), David Accam, Dominique Badji and Abu Danladi (not medically cleared) are all set to sit this one out. They still have some good options, particularly in forward areas. Gary Smith will be hoping to jump into 6th place, and give some of his injured troops a chance to get back on the field ahead of the play-offs. The actual play-offs. I can say that now. Bypassing that play-in tie will undoubtedly be on Smith's mind.
Possible starting XI
Whilst Oscar Pareja has the luxury of resting his players ahead of this clash, Gary Smith does not. Whilst the Music City based club have clinched a play-in spot, they are currently 8th and with 6th spot in their sights. You have to fancy that they will head into this game with as strong a line-up as possible. I would expect to see Daniel Ríos, Randall Leal and Alex Muyl line-up. The experienced Walker Zimmermann and David Romney will pitch up in defence, sat behind an equally experienced midfield. Godoy and McCarty have been shrewd additions. This team will pose a considerable challenge to any XI Oscar Pareja puts out.
The mercurial Costa Rican has enjoyed a solid first season in Tennessee. Signed from Saprissa in the winter, the 23-year-old has chalked up 3 goals and 4 assists from 18 starts and 2 substitute appearances this season. His direct style can cause issues. The winger completes an average of 1.4 dribbles per game, and draws 1.7 fouls per game. He also averages a respectable 1 key pass per game and 2.1 shots. He's acclimatised well to life in MLS, and will be looking to hit the ground running when the play-offs come around.
Orlando City head into this game in fine fettle. An 11-8-3 record has seen this club rise to 3rd in the east, with a morale boosting 3 wins from 3, further underlining their MLS Cup credentials. The highly contentious, and not to say emotional, win over Columbus will have given this squad a lot of confidence. The second highest scoring team in the conference, will be keen to add to their tally against a Nashville side they've already bested this season.
Nashville themselves have enjoyed a very positive first season in MLS. Gary Smith's team are still very much in the running for 6th spot, and will doubtless throw everything at avoiding the play-in round. With a 7-8-7 record on the season, this club has to be proud of its maiden season in the league. The momentum gained by their impressive 3-0 victory over FC Dallas has been tempered somewhat by some patchy form, however. The expansion side have registered 1 defeat, 1 victory and 2 draws since that win over Dallas. that being said, they've still had a fine debut season.