Match Preview: Nashville SC vs FC Cincinnati

After an extended offseason, MLS returns this weekend as Nashville SC welcome FC Cincinnati to town for their first MLS matchup. The former USL rivals have never beaten each other in regular time, and both teams will be searching for their first wins against each other. What can we expect from Nashville in their second season? How much has FC Cincinnati improved? Will The Boys in Gold start the season off with a win?


Nashville SC

The story of Nashville SC’s off season has been consistency and targeted improvement. With the second lowest amount of roster turnover in the league, Nashville will be able to build upon their success last season, as well as adding a few weapons on the offensive side of the ball. Long time veteran, C.J. Sapong joined from Chicago along with Rodrigo Piñeiro from Danubio in Uruguay.

Chances to see Nashville SC in the preseason have been non existent. But with Gary Smith still in charge, we have a good idea of what to expect from this team. With their solid defensive foundation, they will be able to weather any attack and look to quickly transition when winning the ball back. Nashville have modeled themselves after Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. The question will be, how does this team evolve? What does the next iteration of NSC look like?

In both our interview with Alistair Johnston and the pre match press conference with Dan Lovitz, they both mentioned that the fullbacks are looking for ways to contribute more in the attack. They each said that the spine of Dax McCarty, Aníbal Godoy, Walker Zimmerman and Dave Romney gives them a platform to push a bit higher up the pitch and offer overlapping runs. This would be an added dimension to a Nashville attack that was quite potent at the end of the season.

Nashville SC projected XI

At the USL level, Gary Smith’s year two evolution was a utilization of a three-back formation. While we may see that deployed more this season, tomorrow’s match should be a continuation of the 4-2-3-1. Several of Nashville’s key players were out on international duty for a portion of the preseason, and starting off with a system they are comfortable with allows them to hit the ground running

The story of the preseason was the battle up top for the starting striker position. Daniel Ríos is out injured, and while Jhonder Cádiz didn’t play in any of the preseason matches, expect to see him get the start. There are 10 matches before Nashville has to make the purchase decision and the team will give him as many opportunities as possible. There is a slight chance C.J. Sapong could start for Cádiz but either option should find opportunities against this Cincinnati defense.

In the three attacking midfield spots, Smith will deploy Hany Mukhtar in the middle with Randall Leal and Alex Muyl out on the wings. Leal will look to cut inside at times and allow Daniel Lovitz to make the overlapping runs. As for Rodrigo Piñeiro, the team has preached patience with him. He is a young player, playing outside of his home country for the first time and learning a new language. Smith and Nashville will look to ease him in to this team, and the improved depth on the wings means they’re not depending on him early on.

The consistency of the back seven will continue to be the foundation of this teams success. While the Cincinnati attack may be looking to build cohesion, their individual qualities will still make them dangerous. Dax McCarty and Aníbal Godoy will be tasked with keeping Luciano Acosta quiet and cut off his passing lanes to the forwards. If Acosta is able to break those lines, Dave Romney and Walker Zimmerman will have to deal with Brenner.


FC Cincinnati

After two very disappointing seasons, FC Cincinnati look to have made some major improvements. Quietly, the made some real defensive improvements toward the end of the season and now that Jaap Stam has had a full preseason, expect them to make even more improvements this season. If you want to learn a bit more about what to expect from Cincinnati, Ben Wright spoke with Tyler Snipes of SBI Soccer in his most recent Zoomed N piece.

Aside from the tactical improvements, Cincinnati heavily invested in the offensive side of the ball, bringing in Brazilian youth phenom Brenner from São Paulo and Luciano Acosta from Atlas. Acosta has had success in this league before with DC United and will look to rediscover some of that form after a rather quiet time with Atlas. He is going to be the lynchpin to FCC’s success as they not only struggled to score goals, but more importantly struggled to create chances.

Fc Cincinnati projected XI

Against Nashville SC and for most matches, Stam will use his favored 4-3-3 formation. Look for a lot of fluidity in this formation as Stam is a Dutch Manager to his core and a disciple of Total Football.

Up front, Brenner will lead the line with Jürgen Locadia and Álvaro Barreal on the wings. Locadia found some success with his move back out toward the wing and will at times switch sides with Barreal. The front three will probably get a few chances but I don’t expect we will see the best of this attack on Saturday.

The success of the Cincinnati attack is going to hinge on the performance of Lucho Acosta. He will be responsible for pulling the strings and trying to find gaps in the Nashville SC defense. It is a tough task for anyone but Acosta has proven capable many a times. One of the other interesting parts of this midfield is the reinvention of Yuya Kubo as a box to box midfielder. Previously a winger, he has made the move back into midfield and looks to be the starting eight.

At the back, Kendall Waston and Andrew Gutman are no longer with the club. However, it could be an “addition by subtraction” situation. Rónald Matarrita was acquired from NYCFC and will start tomorrow at leftback. He will look to push high up the field and get involved with the attack. Centerback is a concern, especially with Maikel van der Werff being listed as questionable. FCC should start with Nick Hagglund and Tom Pettersson together, who will be charged with keeping the Nashville attack at bay.


Injury report


Pod picks

Ben Wright

Score: Nashville 3 – 1 Cincinnati
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, Dave Romney, C.J. Sapong
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Hany Mukhtar gets two assists plus a goal.

Andy Simmons

Score: Nashville 2 – 0 Cincinnati
Scorers: Jhonder Cádiz, Randall Leal
MOTM: Walker Zimmerman
Bold Prediction: Nashville has over 60% possession and completes over 85% of their passes.

Jonathan Slape

Score: Nashville 2 – 0 Cincinnati
Scorers: Jhonder Cádiz, Randall Leal
MOTM: Jhonder Cádiz
Bold Prediction: Cádiz has a break out match with both a goal and an assist.

Davey Shepherd

Score: Nashville 2 – 0 Cincinnati
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, C.J. Sapong
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Mukhtar has both a goal and an assist.

Lucas Panzica

Score: Nashville 2 – 0 Cincinnati
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, Randall Leal
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar


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Match Info

Teams: Nashville SC vs FC Cincinnati
Odds: NSH (-130), CIN (+320), Draw (+260) via MGM
Date: Saturday, 04/17/21
Time: 7:30PM Central, Rentschler Field, Hartford, Connecticut
TV: MyTV30, ESPN+ (out of market)
Radio: 94.9 The Game 2 (English); El Jefe 96.7 (Spanish)
Forecast: 64°/43°. Cloudy. 20% chance of rain. 50% humidity.

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