NASHVILLE – To say this is a must-win game, or even a must-result game for Nashville SC would be less than responsible not even halfway into the USL season, but there is no doubt that Saturday’s clash against FC Cincinnati in the backdrop of Nissan Stadium is a chance for Nashville to stake its claim as one of the best teams in the league.
With a large crowd expected, and a matchup pitting the first and third-best teams in the Eastern Conference and a firework show after the game, Nashville SC and Nissan Stadium will provide quite an atmosphere for fans of all ages.
FC Cincinnati currently sits at the top of the table in the Eastern Conference, and will finish Saturday there; win, lose or draw. It’s no accident that they are up there either, as they lead the USL in goals scored, and boast a solid defense that is middle of the pack in clean sheets and goals conceded. Bound for MLS in 2019, Cincinnati has been one of the premier teams in the USL since joining in 2016. This year’s squad might be the most complete yet, featuring three players with seven or more goals this season.
One interesting piece to watch will be who patrols the central defensive midfield for Cincinnati. Normal starter Richie Ryan has missed the last few games and is unlikely to play against Nashville SC. He has been a defensive rock in the middle of the field with 87.7 pct. passing success and almost 75 pct. tackle success, his presence could be missed on Saturday. Michael Lahoud filled in admirably at that spot in Cincinnati’s 2-0 win against Ottawa Fury FC last Saturday, and could be the man again against Nashville.
It will be a classic offense vs. defense matchup at Nissan featuring the top USL offense against the second-best USL defense. Against the other best three defenses in the USL (Pittsburgh, Louisville and Charleston), Cincinnati is 1-2-1 with just three goals scored in the four games. Nashville has also just allowed three goals in seven games in the city of Nashville, two of which came in a loss to Indy Eleven in late June. Keeper Matt Pickens leads the USL in shutouts with eight. All of those factors lean Nashville’s way for a positive result on Saturday.
Nashville SC found its goal-scoring touch last Saturday in a 3-0 win over Atlanta United 2. It was a much-needed rebound after Nashville scored one goal in its previous two home games. The only other time Nashville SC played at Nissan, it didn’t score in a 0-0 draw against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. With the offensive additions of Brandon Allen and Ish Jome and the growth of offensive chemistry on the team as a whole, Nashville looks poised to get its first goal at the biggest venue in the city.
Head Coach Gary Smith
“The environment will certainly have an impact. I think we’ve gotten into a pretty good routine and rhythm at home and we’ve been successful. So, if we look at First Tennessee Park, I think we’ve started to find a good balance between how we play, how we get the most out of it, the fans appreciate it, and we’ve created a really good atmosphere and vibe there. It’s different at Nissan, just the pure size of it and the acoustics of it. Even though we’ll have a very, very good crowd there, we have to come to terms with a new field and a new environment. I’m sure we’ll get the most out of it, but it certainly poses a different question.”
Watching the East
It’s a prime match on Saturday with the first and third-place teams facing off, and it’s a perfect chance for both Cincinnati and Nashville to create separation. A Nashville win would continue to solidify a top four in the East of Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Nashville and Louisville. A draw or a Cincinnati win could push the USL attendance leader further ahead of the pack in the East.
How to Watch
Tickets are still available for the game, and can be purchased at NashvilleSC.com/tickets or at the Nissan Stadium box office. If you can’t make it to the game, you can watch locally on MyTV30 or nationally on ESPN+. If you are in the car during the game, tune into ESPN 94.9 Game2 or El Jefe 96.7 to hear the game.