At long last, Nashville SC is mere hours away from hosting its inaugural USL season opener. The event was in such high demand, it had to be moved to a bigger venue. Now, Nissan Stadium prepares to host a match between the home town Boys in Gold and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
The opponent: The Riverhounds are led by new coach Bob Lilley. Lilley previously coached at the Rochester Rhinos in two previous stints (2009-2011, 2014-2017) before making his way down to West Pennsylvania. Prior to his arrival, the Riverhounds went 8-12-12 last season. However, the Riverhounds have somewhat reshaped with the arrival of Lilley and are an opponent that should not be underestimated.
“I honestly don’t think you can look at records from last year. Pittsburgh didn’t have the best of seasons and there’s a lot of changes there,” said Nashville SC coach Gary Smith.
“New coach, six or seven players brought over from Rochester with him that will understand his style and appreciate what the coach wants out of the team.” “They’re a side that’s starting their season. This is their first game, bye-weekend last weekend, and any team that come in a brand new season has aspirations of doing well. In the first game, if you’re not going to get a group of players that are going to give everything, they’re going to chase, shut down, they’re going to fight for every ball and they’re going to want to stay in the game. They’re going to, as much as possible, walk away from it with something.”
So what does Nashville SC need to do in order to pick up its first points of the season? Here are a couple of things.
1. Know the terrain:
Nissan Stadium is easily going to be one of the best fields both teams will play on all season. Having practiced on the field already, Nashville SC will have an advantage in that department in knowing how fast the ball will travel on the pitch. The pitch is also very wide, which also benefits the style of play Nashville SC wants to execute in getting the wing players involved in the offense.
“The pitch is massive. I think that suits our style well,” said defender/winger Taylor Washington.
Speaking of wing play…..
2. Keep Kosuke Kimura involved:
Kimura was Nashville’s most effective player on offense during last week’s game against Louisville. He was able to execute 10 long passes, second behind goalkeeper Matt Pickens, with most of those long passes being crosses. He also kept Louisville defenders on edge with his footwork and quickness. With such a wide pitch to work with in this home opener, it would be wise to get Kimura as many touches as possible so he can help create opportunities with his crosses.
3. Great wall of Pickens:
Despite giving up two goals in his Nashville SC regular season debut, Matt Pickens had a strong game. He commanded the backfield well, was strong at reading the crosses, and knew exactly when to stand his ground. He’ll once again need to be a wall between the posts, and a general in the backfield.
4. Forwards need heavy pressure:
The forward conundrum for Nashville SC seems to have carried over from the preseason to last week’s game against Louisville. Smith revealed that he could do some tinkering with the forward line for this game, but did not go into details. Whoever lines up at the top will need to pressure Pittsburgh’s backline and force them to make bad passes out of the backfield, thus leading to Nashville possessions and possible shots on goal.
5. Feed off the crowd:
There’s no doubt that the atmosphere at Nissan Stadium will be electric come Saturday, and Nashville SC must feed off that. Depending on what happens in MLS this weekend, there’s a chance this game being the biggest soccer crowd in the United States over the weekend. The possibility of breaking Sacramento Republic’s attendance mark of 20,231 for the USL unaugural home opener record is still in play, with over 18,000 tickets sold so far according to the club.
“The atmosphere will play a huge part with us on the field. We have over 17,000 people coming, and I’m excited for the boys to put on a good show for (the fans),” said Washington.
“It’s not everyday you get to play at Nissan Stadium in front of 17,000 fans. Even playing in front of 10,000 at First Tennessee is a great opportunity, but there is something special when your cleats hit that metal here.”
Prediction: 1-1. The home field advantage and atmosphere will have a lot to do with how well Nashville plays and controls the tempo of the game. However, I still think this team is trying to figure out what works best as far as the combination of forwards go, thus hindering them from picking up all three points.