On a field in Louisville reminiscent of the fur of a mangy dog, it wasn’t just the ball that got off to a bumpy start. Nashville SC, playing their first official game as a professional soccer franchise, were defeated 2-0 to defending USL Champions Louisville City.
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds will be starting their USL campaign on the road to Nashville this Saturday. What can they expect?
Tactics and Formation
Nashville, under head coach Gary Smith, came out in a 5-3-2 formation that made great use of their fullbacks as the fulcrums of the offense. Kosuke Kimura, a 33 year old veteran midfielder with over 250 professional matches under his belt and an 8 year MLS career before coming to USL, handled the distribution on the right side, while in this match, pacey winger Ryan James prowled the left flank, making dangerous runs at the back.
James will be familiar to Hounds coach Bob Lilley, as the 23 year-old played for him in Rochester in 2016 and 2017.
Nashville played Louisville City cautiously, keeping most of their players deep and opting to try and launch the ball long through the air from their back line. The team has a number of big, tall players, including 6’2” striker Michael Cox and 6’5”, 202 lb striker Tucker Hume, so going to the air, while not pretty, seems to be at least a well-conceived plan. Louisville City had most of the possession in this match and Nashville were content to let their purple-clad opponents have the ball. Even after falling behind in the second half, attempted to generate offense on the counter attack or via the long ball. The club from Tennessee struggled to string together more than 4 or 5 passes at a time. Sometimes that was a result of the sometimes bumpy, sometimes barren pitch, and sometimes it was due to a ferocious and constant Louisville press. But other times, it was just the result sloppy play.
Nashville didn’t have too many set piece or corner kick opportunities, but their aforementioned height makes them a definite threat in these situations.
As mentioned above, Kosuke Kimura is possibly the most important player on the field for Nashville, as he gives and receives smoothly and effectively, and acts as field general from a spot tucked into the right at the back. The creative threat for Nashville SC is former Pittsburgh Riverhound Lebo Moloto, who came to Nashville from Swope Park Rangers where he regained his form with a seven goal and four assist season after struggling in Pittsburgh in 2016.
The 27 year-old wears the number 10, and acts the part perfectly: he is a constant threat with the ball at his feet in the final third of the field. Louisville’s main method of containment was to keep him from getting the ball by harassing the ball carrier midfield before they could pick out the pass. Also, once Nashville fell behind 1-0, and then 2-0, Moloto would move further up field, and became less and less effective, as his teammates couldn’t easily pick him out for a pass.
Defensive midfielders Michael Reed and Matt LaGrassa were defensively sound but looked unsure of themselves when in possession of the ball. The back line of Justin Davis, Liam Doyle, and London Woodberry were exposed numerous times and struggled to hold a consistent line. Nashville’s net is defended by former Colorado Rapids number one goalkeeper Matt Pickens, who is consistent and excellent, and had a few difficult saves to make that kept a 2-0 defeat from having been a 4-0 defeat.
Nashville have only played one game in franchise history, and lost, 2-0, on the road to Louisville City.
In their preseason matches, Nashville had a number of impressive results, including a 3-1 win over MLS side Orlando City SC and a a 3-1 win over Chattanooga FC in their final pre-season tune-up on March 10.
For look at Nashville’s last match, here’s the game in its full entirety.