What Questions Remain for Nashville SC's 2019 Season
NASHVILLE - The finish line is nearly in sight. After a seven-month regular season grind that has included numerous three-match weeks, road trips to 13 states plus Canada, and injuries to numerous players, the Boys in Gold have reached October.
Three regular season home matches remain, and with a playoff spot clinched, Nashville SC will play at least one more match following its regular season finale at First Tennessee Park on Oct. 19. Big questions linger as the USL Championship Eastern Conference race remains extremely tight at the top of the standings in the final month of the season. We'll break down what is still to play for in the final three matches.
Can Matt Pickens Win the Golden Glove?
Nashville SC's first-ever professional signing, MLS veteran Matt Pickens, has proven to be the most consistent performer for the Boys in Gold over the last two USL Championship seasons. His 26 clean sheets in 53 appearances over the last two seasons are six more than any other keeper in the league.
Pickens' 2019 season has been even better than his 2018 campaign, in which he was a USL Goalkeeper of the Year finalist. He has 12 clean sheets this season in just 22 starts and currently leads the USL Championship with a 0.68 goals against average, the stat that the Golden Glove is based on. The next closest competitor is John McCarthy from Tampa Bay Rowdies, who has a 0.77 goals against average.
Obviously, three more clean sheets would seal the deal for Matt Pickens. But with a sizable lead over McCarthy, Pickens could afford to allow two more goals in the final three matches and still win the honor, even if McCarthy keeps clean sheets in his final three matches.
Can Daniel Ríos Win the Golden Boot?
Nashville SC's top scorer Daniel Ríos missed some time in August and September with a minor groin injury. Ríos missed three full matches and made a 16-minute substitute appearance in a fourth, significantly limiting his offensive production of late. Because of the time missed, Ríos, who has 18 goals this season, fell behind Phoenix Rising FC's Solomon Asante, who leads the league with 22 goals.
With three matches left, Ríos will need at least five more goals, and three goose eggs from Asante, to win the Golden Boot. It is certainly possible for Ríos as he has three multi-goal matches this season and has scored in 15 of his 28 league appearances. He will need to reverse his home form though, as only six of his 18 total goals have come at home, and five of them at First Tennessee Park.
Will Nashville SC Host a Playoff Match?
To host a playoff match, Nashville SC will need to finish in the top four of the East. With four teams separated by just two points between second and fifth, Nashville SC included, Nashville will need to be focused on wins in its final three matches. In reality however, Nashville will only need two more wins (six more points) to officially clinch a top four spot.
Because Tampa Bay Rowdies and Indy Eleven will play each other on October 12, one will drop three points or both will drop two points in a draw. Nashville SC owns the overall wins tiebreaker against Tampa Bay, 17 to 16, and that advantage could come into play if Tampa and Indy did draw in their match.
Regardless of that outcome, Nashville SC needs six points from two victories to host the first round of the USL Championship Playoffs at First Tennessee Park.
Can Nashville SC Win the Eastern Conference?
Following Indy Eleven's fourth consecutive loss on Wednesday night, Nashville SC controls its own destiny for second place in the Eastern Conference as each of the top five teams in the East have all played 31 matches. Nashville sits a point ahead of New York Red Bulls II and Tampa Bay and two points ahead of Indy. The goal remains to win the Eastern Conference, and while they will need some help from the opponents of first place Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, first place is still well within reach for the Boys in Gold.
The Riverhounds, who are undefeated at home, will play one final home match before traveling to St. Louis and Birmingham in their last two matches. If Pittsburgh loses one of its final three matches and Nashville wins each of its final three, Nashville and Pittsburgh would tie on points. Nashville SC would hold the tie breaker, however with 20 wins to the Riverhounds 19, boosting Nashville to first place.
Don't miss any of the final three matches of the regular season, including Nashville's match against North Carolina FC on October 12 at Nissan Stadium.
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