Nashville SC play their first match of the 2022 preseason today against Charlotte FC. Played at Bradenton’s IMG Academy, the match unfortunately won’t be streamed (as has become the custom for Nashville and most MLS clubs), and media aren’t allowed to cover Nashville’s preseason on site.
So what can we learn from a match that we can’t watch?
1. The lineup
While this is Nashville’s first match of the preseason, they’re several weeks into their training camp, and just 20 days from the start of their MLS season. While the lineup probably won’t be quite what we see in Seattle on opening day, Gary Smith will likely go with the strongest possible combination from the start.
Randall Leal is a starter when healthy, but after stomach issues kept him out of Costa Rica’s World Cup qualifiers, he may not be risked. Otherwise, the squad should be close to 100% healthy.
The key position to watch is up front. CJ Sapong was the starting option for nearly all of 2021, but $7 million man Aké Loba has been electric in preseason, by all accounts, and was brought in not just to be the starter, but to be one of the top attackers in MLS. He needs a strong preseason to start his season on the front foot.
Again, it’s still early. But substitutions can tell us a couple things.
One, how long the starters play is a good indication of the squad’s fitness. Gary Smith said that as preseason goes on, he hopes his core group will be able to play 70-90 minutes. While they likely won’t hit that benchmark today, I expect the starters to play at least the first half, and ideally into the second.
Two, who Smith brings off the bench can indicate the early pecking order. While he’ll want to run out as many players as possible, he’ll also reward players who have impressed in camp. Again, the primary data point we’ll get from today is a look at where the squad stands.
Nashville used a 3-4-1-2 formation for most of 2021, but with the upgrades they’ve made up front and on the wings, plus the hole at right back, could a return to a 4-4-1-1 be in the cards?
Smith will more than likely use both formations, both today and during the season. But what he utilizes today could give a glimpse into his thought process.
The match won’t be streamed, but we’ll have a recap later today, as well as post-match interviews with Gary Smith and Walker Zimmerman.