FC Cincinnati will travel to expansion side Nashville SC this weekend for their first of three regular-season contests between the two teams. Bryan Weigel (@BryanWeigel) exchanged some questions with Tim Sullivan, Publisher of For Club and Country (@ClubCountryUSA) a Nashville SC blog to see how their inaugural season has progressed and their hopes for the remainder of the season. We hope you enjoy.
1. Nashville SC is currently in a tie for third place, how has NSC been successful?
It’s mostly been about defense. That starts at the back with veteran keeper Matt Pickens, but really they’re stout back-to-front, and head coach Gary Smith will always focus on defending first. That’s the position group most loaded with MLS veterans (Justin Davis, London Woodberry, and Kosuke Kimura have experience there, while Taylor Washington and Liam Doyle are former DC United SuperDraft picks who haven’t made it quite yet).
The team went to another level, though, when the offense opened up a bit. NSC signed Brandon Allen away from Bethlehem Steel, while rookie Alan Winn and youngster Ropapa Mensah have come into their own as USL players. Combined with the veterans on the team, it’s the right recipe for balance on both ends of the pitch and solid performances.
2. The expected crowd at Nissan Stadium for this weekend?
The club is expecting a bigger crowd than the 18k they hosted for the home opener against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (that was on a cold, rainy evening – they actually announced the attendance through the gates, rather than the 21k tickets that were sold), but it’s doubtful they’ll challenge the 27,500 that would necessitate opening sections outside of the primary areas in the lower bowl.
3. Who has been the most surprising NSC players of 2018?
It may be a little unfair, but Brandon Allen is a huge surprise, only because he wasn’t with the team to start the year (indeed, he went 90 minutes against Nashville SC for the Steel early in the season). Since arriving, he’s done what’s expected of him: get into the right spots and finish goals. I would also count Mensah in this category. I was very high on him when he signed, based on production in limited minutes for Harrisburg last year, but to come out and look as fantastic as he has at times is still a pleasant surprise. Of course, his consistency and 90-minute fitness have prevented him from seeing as much of the field as fans might yearn for.
Defensively, it has to be Bradley Bourgeois. With a backline loaded with MLS vets, a 5-11 centerback doesn’t seem like the sort of guy who’d be an every-game starter. However, he saw the field early in the season due to an injury situation at the position, and has done everything possible to not relinquish that. He’s been outstanding, and the low expectations only make it all the more impressive.
4. Would you say this group (currently in third) has been disappointing, meeting expectations or surpassing expectations?
Definitely surpassing. At the beginning of the year, I was pretty high on them as maybe a 4th- or 5th-seed playoff team, but they seem destined to battle with FCC for the top two spots in the East at this point as long as both clubs continue performing as they have been. That may not seem like much of an improvement on expectations, but the eyeball test backs up that they’re better than it would have seemed.
Given that my expectations were among the higher ones to begin with (most pegged them as one of the last couple teams into the playoffs), from a larger scale, they’re well ahead of pace. In a first-year club, there may be more mid-season growing pains or hitting a wall at some point, of course, but so far, so good.
5. What will NSC need to do to win on Saturday?
Figure out a way to score without putting enough numbers forward to leave themselves exposed at the back. NSC has had trouble scoring at times, and while some of the shuffling in personnel has helped alleviate that, getting shut out at home by Indy and nearly so by NCFC indicates there’s no magic bullet fix.
Cincy has scoring talent, and they’ll definitely take advantage of anything Nashville leaves open on the defensive end. If FCC’s defense (which obviously hasn’t been of the same form as the other end of the equation) struggles before Nashville needs to open things up, I trust NSC’s defense to hold. However, it hasn’t only been the best defensive play that has stymied Nashville and forced them to leave the back exposed at times this year.
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.