Cincinnati Soccer Talk’s March to Matchday podcast will return for a second season in 2018. For now, host Bryan Weigel (@BryanWeigel) wanted to exchange some questions with Tim Sullivan, Publisher of For Club and Country
(@ClubCountryUSA) a Nashville SC blog. 2018 will mark the first season for expansion team Nashville SC in USL. Tim gives our readers some insight into the clubs first-year process and how competitive they hope to be in 2018.
1. Nashville SC has been receiving praise for their initial USL roster for 2018. What players will Coach Smith count on in 2018?
There are a few key players at each level on the field. Smith signed a couple players (keeper Matt Pickens and right back Kosuke Kimura) from his 2008 MLS Cup-winning Colorado Rapids, and has poached some pretty good talent from USL and elsewhere, too – including center backs Justin Davis and London Woodberry from MLS’s Minnesota United and New England Revolution, respectively. Defensive midfielders Michael Reed and Matt LaGrassa are keys in supporting the backline in a 5-3-2 formation. The offensive talent has been in a little more flux, with strikers Robin Shroot, Michael Cox, and Ropapa Mensah getting the majority of the time, Smith looking for a way to get winger Alan Winn (who was drafted by Colorado Rapids back in January but left their camp to sign with NSC) on the field – whether by playing him as a striker or slightly altering the base formation – and attacking midfielder Lebo Moloto making an impact, too.
2. Can you recap Nashville’s preseason performances?
They’ve played five friendlies so far, starting out with the well-publicized tilt against Atlanta United that they dropped 3-1 in a monsoon. Feelings were pretty good coming out of that one because NSC played pretty evenly with the most expensive team in MLS, and two of Atlanta’s five goals were weather-related semi-flukes. They headed to Florida last week for friendlies against the Chicago Fire (0-0) and Ottawa Fury (1-1) at IMG Academy – neither being a particularly interesting game, if we’re being honest. Sunday, they played a closed-door friendly against Orlando City, and while the nature of “no media” means we don’t know much about the overall balance of play, they returned to Music City holding a relatively dominant (at least on the scoreboard) 3-1 victory. Thursday, they played local NCAA Division I program Lipscomb, but pretty much exclusively backups on the field to avoid fatigue heading into the Cincy friendly.
3. How was your first home experience? Many fans expected to travel up to Cincy on Saturday?
The weather certainly could have been a damper – and might have been in a lot of cities – but Nashville fans were extremely excited to finally see their team take the field. The game was a sellout (albeit with plenty of Atlanta fans, too) in a 9,000-plus seat stadium, and the supporters groups led the way in terms of fan interaction. By all accounts, it couldn’t have gone much better, and it really set the tone for the off-field aspects of the gameday experience this season. It went well enough that NSC has moved two games – the home opener and the home contest against Cincinnati – to the Titans’ Nissan Stadium to be able to accommodate more fans.
As for travel this weekend, there will certainly be folks heading up, but probably not as many as you’d otherwise expect for a couple reasons. First, it’s a road trip that fans will be making during the regular season, so the urgency to see a game in the Queen City isn’t quite as great. In addition, the next two weekends have reasonable road trips (a friendly in Chattanooga next weekend, and the regular-season opener in Louisville the following weekend, but around two hours’ drive), so to a certain extent, people who have to find babysitters, take off work, etc. are saving their efforts for those. I would expect a couple dozen fans.
4. Give us a realistic expectation for teams performance in 2018?
If NSC doesn’t make the USL playoffs, it will be considered a failure. Competing for a top-3 finish or so in the East is a somewhat lofty goal, but one that’s achievable. The solid preseason performances (particularly against Atlanta and Orlando) have given a boost to folks’ opinions of how realistic the goal is. One issue I see though is depth. There are some pretty good backups available, but there’s a notable dropoff man-to-man if you look at the second unit as a whole. It’s a long season, so maintaining health and fitness is going to be a major priority.
Making it out of the third round of the Open Cup and earning a home game in the USL playoffs (so a top-4 finish in the league) would be a successful season.
5. Starting XI?
The starting XI is pretty well established as a 5-3-2 with wingbacks getting pretty high in a 3-5-2 shape. The second group often (though not always) comes out in different formations simply because of the available personnel.
Mensah-Cox (or Shroot)
If they go to the second unit (pull Hughes from midfield and put Ian McGrath at middle center back if they have the confidence to go 5-3-2)
Stay tuned to Cincinnati Soccer Talk for the most up to date news regarding FC Cincinnati. CST will have match coverage of Saturday’s contest vs. Nashville SC. Check out @CincySoccerTalk for live tweets of the match.