NASHVILLE – Nashville SC will make its second consecutive weekend trip to the Tar Heel State on Saturday when it takes on North Carolina FC at 4 p.m. CST. It’s the first of just three more road games this regular season for Nashville, who will play five of its final seven games at home. The game packs a playoff-type feel as SC sits in a tie for the final playoff spot, just four points ahead of North Carolina.
North Carolina Breakdown
To say North Carolina season has been inconsistent would be an understatement. One can look no further than the club’s last two games. Two weeks ago, North Carolina took care of Charlotte Independence 6-2 at home in its highest scoring game of the year. Just a week later, still at home, NCFC feel 3-0 to a weak Tampa Bay Rowdies team. North Carolina won one of its first six games to start the season. Currently, NCFC is on one of its better runs of the season, the Tampa game notwithstanding. Over its last 10 games, North Carolina is 4-2-4 with wins over Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and Charlotte.
Up top for NCFC is one of the best scorers in the league in Daniel Rios. Rios is on loan from C.D. Guadalajara, more commonly known as Chivas, one of the best sides in Liga MX in Mexico, and he hasn’t disappointed in his first season in the U.S. So far, Rios has scored 15 goals in 25 goals, accounting for more than a third of the team’s goals this season. Tack on his four assists and Rios has had a hand in 19 of the team’s 42 goals this season. Stopping Rios will be the key to slowing down the North Carolina offense.
While there have been solid road draws recently, at Louisville City FC and at FC Cincinnati, Nashville SC hasn’t won on the road since May 30. There would be no better time than this week for Nashville to break its road slump. A win over North Carolina would further the gap between the top eight and the rest of the Eastern Conference. While Nashville would still have work to do to lock down a playoff spot, coach Gary Smith and his squad are treating this like a playoff game because of the ramifications it could have on the standings.
With a Team of the Week honor and now a USL Player of the Month nomination in hand, Matt Pickens has continued to defy Father Time and been one of the best keepers in the USL this season. His .70 goals against average is the second best in the USL and his .807 save pct. is tops in the league. He has been the key for quite a few of Nashville’s results this season, and another strong performance could be what decides the match on Saturday night.
(Midfielder Bolu Akinyode)
“I think for us, looking at the table, looking at how many games left and points it’s kind of like a playoff match for us. We get three points here, and we can push them out further down the table where if we lose we go down and they go up. I think for us if we want to be realistic in being in a good playoff spot at the end of the season then this is a must win game.”
Watching the East
Nashville SC is tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, however Nashville does have one advantage on the teams above it – it has games in hand on the five teams head of it in the standings. A win on Saturday, when many teams have an off weekend, would push Nashville into solo seventh place. Fans should keep an eye on Pittsburgh vs. Bethlehem Steel FC and Charleston Battery vs. Tampa Bay this weekend.
How to Watch
Nashville SC at North Carolina FC will air locally on MyTV30 on 4 p.m. CST. Nationally the game will be streamed digitally on ESPN+. Of course, fans can follow @NashvilleSC on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for in-game updates and highlights.