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Last year, the Revolution and their fans were rather confident headed into the last month or so of the regular season. You couldn’t blame them, especially with what appeared, on paper, like two easy wins against Nashville SC, one of the newcomers to the league in 2020, on the upcoming slate headed into the postseason. They weren’t a team that looked capable of winning, given its positioning in the Eastern Conference table. Surely the thinking here in Massachusetts and Rhode Island went, the Revs would roll.
At least that’s how this writer remembers it.
That was not the case in either of their two meetings, either at Gillette or in the Music City: Nashville played a rather cynical brand of football against The Boys In Blue, parking the proverbial bus with nine and sometimes ten men behind the ball. Their bunkering in was flawless, their shape perfect. Nashville barely made an offensive move, save in the game at home when it scored first and forced New England to chase a result.
New England — which starts a stretch of three matches in nine days — should not be pulled into that type of complacency again this weekend (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., WSBK myTV38/myRITV), given that Nashville, 0-0-3 through the first three matches of the 2021 season, continue to play a rather bland — read: boring — cynical brand of soccer in its second season.
Nashville will do the same things it did to the Revs last year, if this past Sunday’s performance against Inter Miami is any indication. Against its fellow 2020 newcomers, Nashville bunkered in with the same numbers as it did against the Revolution. And while its defense is strong, it does lose marking ability on occasion and relies heavily on goalkeeper Joe Willis to keep opposing offenses honest. If there’s one thing I like about this Nashville side is that its defensive back line will rush and swarm a counterattack. New England has to be ready for that and bring the cavalry faster to give the counterattack more options. It also needs faster decisions on pulling the trigger. You delay, that moment is wasted.
Nashville came out Sunday in what was, on paper, a 4-2-3-1, however defensively one easily saw the multiple contention lines of a 4-4-2. It also came out pressing against Miami with a two-man high line. That eventually eased up, but would occasionally return and become a three-man press.
Offensively, Nashville is one-dimensional. On Sunday, the game plan was simple: work the flanks patiently and whip in crosses (Alex Muyl out on the right whips in with a solid right foot). Against Miami, I did not see Nashville utilize the center except when switching the point of the attack. When Jhonder Cádiz is on the pitch, expect him to be the focal point as Nashville’s DP striker. Free kicks will generally go in his direction as he is pretty good in the air.
Nashville also had CJ Sapong and Dominique Badji come off the bench against a short-handed Inter Miami squad. And Dax McCarty continues to patrol the midfield. Need I say more? We know what all of those players can do, given their experience in this league.
Will that experience come to hurt the Revolution Saturday afternoon?
Elsewhere in the league this weekend
Tonight sees Real Salt Lake host San Jose in a key Western Conference six-pointer to open the weekend beginning at 9:30 p.m. ET.
Saturday begins with four matches including the Revs at Nashville in the 1 o’clock hour: Chicago hosts CONCACAF Champions League semifinal-bound Philadelphia, which will be on the short turnaround from Tuesday’s 1-1 draw against Atlanta United, before the Red Bulls host Toronto, which is also on the short turnaround. Both of those are 1 p.m. ET start times. Columbus also takes on DC United at 1:30.
Vancouver hosts Montreal at 3 p.m. while Dallas hosts Houston (3:30 p.m., Univision/TUDN), Orlando City hosts NYCFC (6 p.m., ESPN), LA Galaxy hosts LAFC in El Trafico (8 p.m., FOX), and Colorado wraps up Saturday when it hosts struggling Minnesota United.
On Sunday, Inter Miami hosts Atlanta United (1 p.m., ABC), Portland hosts Seattle in the Cascadia Derby (3 p.m., ABC), and Sporting Kansas City hosts Austin in the weekend’s finale (7:30 p.m., FS1).
Also, I should note here that for some of these clubs — including New England — it will be interesting to see the XIs they put out, especially given a quick turnaround for midweek football on Wednesday.
In USL Championship
Following its 3-2 win against Red Bulls II last Friday, Hartford Athletic is on the road to The Miami FC on Saturday at the FIU Soccer Stadium. Kickoff Saturday night is slated for 7:30 p.m.
In USL League One
Revs II is still idle until Wednesday when it hosts Nicolas Firmino and Union Omaha, but there’s five matches on the slate this weekend, beginning with Firmino’s new side visiting Fort Lauderdale tonight at 7:30 p.m.
The rest of the third division breaks down as follows with all four games on Saturday:
Richmond hosts South Georgia (6 p.m.)
North Carolina FC hosts Greenville (7 p.m.)
North Texas hosts Chattanooga (8:30 p.m.)
FC Tucson hosts Forward Madison (10:30 p.m.)
NWSL Challenge Cup
And Saturday night marks the end of the second NWSL Challenge Cup competition! Portland, which went unbeaten (3-0-1) in the four group stage matches for the Western Conference, will host NY/NJ Gotham FC, also unbeaten in the East (2-0-2), will face off for the Cup at 10 p.m. Saturday (CBS, Paramount+).
That top five in the Bay State Soccer League’s first division looks like this entering the weekend:
Brockton FC — 16 points through 6
Broadway Gunners — 14 points through 6
Merrimack Valley United — 14 through 6
Kendall Wanderers A — 10 through 5
Providence City — 8 through 5
Still early goings and anything can happen, of course, but this might be a pivotal early weekend in the 2021 Spring. Four of those five squads play against each other this weekend: Brockton, which is putting up crooked number after crooked number with regularity, is slated to host Kendall Saturday (Time and site TBA), while Providence City hosts Merrimack Valley at Johnston High School beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday. Massive six-pointers at stake.
In the Ocean State Soccer League, Newport FC remains the lone unbeaten at 4-0-0, with St. Mendez coming up in second through four matches. Both of those sides are putting up serious goal-scoring tallies, with Newport averaging five goals a game. St. Mendez put up eight against the Providence Armada last weekend.
The OSSL is idle this weekend due to Mother’s Day.
The FA1 is in its second weekend of the season, and there are four matches on tap Sunday:
St. Michael FC hosts Lusitana Sports (10 a.m., Renwick Field, New Bedford)
Providence City A hosts Taunton Spirit (11:30 a.m., Bliss Field, Rehoboth)
Providence City B hosts Taunton Eagles (1 p.m., Bliss)
Milford FC hosts Fall River FC (6 p.m, Milford High School)
Flately FC and New Bedford City FC are idle this week. Will be interesting to see the scoreline from Eagles and PCFC B, as the Eagles put up six on New Bedford last weekend. The other four matches last weekend were rather competitive, which is always good to see.
In the UPSL, three matches on tap Saturday sees Lincoln CF host Seacoast United Mariners, while UNations FC hosts the Seacoast United SC Classics at Forekicks in Marlborough. Both of those are at 5 p.m.
And at 7:30 p.m., Jaguars United hosts Brockton FC United at Hormel Stadium in Medford.
The NPSL also returns to action this weekend: Kingston Stockage get the North Atlantic Conference’s season underway at 6 p.m. Saturday when it hosts the New York Shockers, while Greater Lowell Rough Diamonds play at Hartford City FC beginning at 7 p.m.
Boston City FC and Valeo FC are idle this weekend and will get their seasons started next weekend.