Match: Penn FC at Nashville SC
Date: Saturday, June 2nd
Time: 8:30 p.m. Eastern, 7:30 p.m. Central, 5:30 p.m. Pacific, 12:30 a.m. UTC
Venue: First Tennessee Park (Nashville, TN)
Refs: REF: ERIC TATTERSALL AR1: BENJAMIN HALL-VOLPENHEIN AR2: MICHAEL SMITH 4TH: TIFFINI TURPIN
How to Watch: ESPN+ (Subscription Required)
How Nashville will look: Nashville comes into Saturday’s match riding a five match unbeaten streak that includes wins over 2017 USL Champion Louisville City FC and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Nashville was out in Pittsburgh Wednesday night, and their 1-0 victory over the Hounds made them the first team to defeat Pittsburgh in league play in 2018. So it’s safe to say they’re riding on a bit of a hot streak right now.
Just last week, Nashville acquired a shiny new striker by the name of Brandon Allen from Bethlehem Steel. Penn FC fans should be familiar with Allen, as he had a habit of scoring often when playing against the Harrisburg City Islanders with New York Red Bulls II. Allen started Wednesday’s match alongside former City Islander Ropapa Mensah in a dangerous two striker formation, but Ropapa was subbed out of the match early due to injury. With the short turnaround between matches, it seems unlikely he’ll play against his former team on Saturday.
How Penn FC will look: Penn FC’s last game was also against the Riverhounds, but they had to settle for a nil-nil draw against their in-state foes. Coincidentally, 0-0 was also the scoreline when these two teams met back in April. But Penn FC came into that match on short rest and Nashville had had some time off, so the situation is reversed this time.
Penn FC had a tough go of it in Pittsburgh, but their starting XI for that match was pretty close to their strongest available, so expect to see most of them again in Nashville. Veterans Ken Tribbett and Lucky Mkosana were shaking off nagging injuries last week, so they didn’t make the trip to Pittsburgh. With the extra time to recover, they may be available for selection Saturday night.
What to expect: For the sake of comparison, it’s useful that these teams have their most recent opponent in common. Sure, Nashville got the win over Pittsburgh while Penn FC had to settle for a draw, but both game unfolded very similarly. Nashville managed to take 10 shots against Pittsburgh while Penn FC only had 4. But Penn FC actually had more shots on goal (3) than Nashville (2). Based on how well both of these teams are playing defensively, taking quality shots on goal is going to be key during this matchup.
The key players for both of these teams Saturday night will be their goalkeepers, Matt Pickens for Nashville and Romu Peiser for Penn FC. Pickens has managed six clean sheets this season and Peiser has gotten three of his own while splitting time with Sean Lewis. Each keeper will need to rely on their defenders to effectively sweep away any loose balls in the box to prevent any tap-in goals like Pittsburgh suffered Saturday night. If the defenses can manage that, then I expect the veteran keepers to each make a spectacular save or two to deny a strong shot from distance. Just because they’ve both been doing it all season.
So how do two struggling offenses manage to break through two of the best defenses in the USL? Well there’s two routes they could take. You could rely on your strikers to demonstrate some of the solid finishing that they’ve only shown flashes of so far in 2018. Nashville has Allen and Lebo Moloto for this task while Penn FC is looking for Tommy Heinemann to have another breakout game like he did against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
The other option is to try and slip around the defenders using speed as a weapon. For Nashville they’ll need Alan Winn to return to the lineup to pull this off. But he’s been hurt off and on so far in 2018. So while he should be available, they might not want to play him for the full ninety minutes. Penn FC will need players like Freddy Opoku and Richard Menjivar to use speed and passing to create some goal scoring opportunities.
PREDICTION: Calling for another 0-0 draw for this match is quite tempting. Nashville’s at home, but they’ll have the tired legs for this one. Penn FC is fresher, but they haven’t done well on the road. But I don’t think it’ll be 0-0 again. Let’s go with 1-1 this time.