Nashville SC. Less than five minutes into their match against Minnesota, Dax McCarty received the ball in space about thirty yards out. Anibal Godoy, C.J. Sapong, and Hany Mukhtar turned to run toward the goal. McCarty crossed to the back post. Mukhtar re-directed the ball across the face of the goal; Sapong finished it. And I’m uncertain if I saw three runners in the box for Nashville for the rest of the game.
Later in the match, Mukhtar carried the ball into the box and attacked the Minnesota defense 2 v 6 – though honestly, Sapong was a spectator waiting to see what his strike partner could come up with. Everyone else played defense.
The match featured a 45-minute break in play for lightning in the second half and the field was clearly sodden and muddy when play resumed. But even before that, Nashville seemed inclined to drop into their low block and absorb wave after wave of attacks.
In contrast to the Revolution, Nashville is not an offensive juggernaut. The game plan is based on defense. Nashville had 18 draws last season – five more than the next closest squad. Opening 2022 with eight games on the road, Gary Smith (head coach for Colorado in 2010 #stillbitter) and company seem content to pursue the same strategy.
Rated number one in this week’s Power Rankings, Nashville enters the weekend on four points with a win and a draw in the early going. But I don’t buy the number one.
A quick note about the Seattle match: Ruidiaz did not feature. Lodeiro was a late substitute around the time Morris was subbed off. Squeezed between CONCACAF fixtures, Seattle was not playing their best eleven. And the lone goal came late in the match after a blown clearance when Seattle defender Alex Roldan lost his mark at the back post and Godoy was wide open for a tap-in. Until that defensive collapse, the game was on its way to a nil-nil draw.
Be prepared to watch Nashville park the proverbial bus (as New England did last week in the second half) and dare Dallas to break them down.
Player Notes for Nashville:
Hany Mukhtar: In 2021, the 26-year-old German led the team in minutes played, goals (16) and assists (12). Offensively, almost everything Nashville attempts will flow through Mukhtar – the team is more dependent on him than the Revolution is dependent on Gil. If he is not an MVP caliber player, Nashville drops from front runner status to just play-off caliber.
C.J. Sapong: The primary recipient of Mukhtar’s assists in 2021, Sapong notched 12 goals and 5 assists. At 33, he is now playing for his fourth MLS team. In addition, the veteran forward provides good hold-up play that allows Nashville to transition on the counter. Former Sporting teammate Teal Bunbury joined Nashville in the offseason to provide backup. If you hear the name Ake Loba, he’s the expensive Ivorian forward who was brought in last year to lead the line... and he seems to be behind Bunbury now. Yikes. But maybe Gary Smith decides that Dallas is an opportunity for him to get some minutes.
Walker Zimmerman: Nashville tied for the lead in the fewest goals allowed last season (33) and that begins with Zimmerman as the most dominant defender in MLS. The former FC Dallas man is also a focal point for set-pieces (though strangely defensive set-pieces have been a liability).
Dax McCarty, Anibal Godoy, Randall Leal, Sean Davis: I know Sean Davis’ leaving RBNY for Nashville is supposed to be a big deal, but I’m not familiar enough with his game to tell you why. What I can tell you is that if you look at the passing chart from the Minnesota match, these guys have a combined four passes in the final third (left back Daniel Lovitz had five [Eric Miller had none]). Leal especially seemed to have very few touches given that he’s the most advanced midfielder in the formation.
Their job collectively is to advance the ball to Mukhtar... then get the ball back and do it again.
Predicted Formation: 4-1-2-1-2
C.J. Sapong Hany Mukhtar
Anibal Godoy Sean Davis
Daniel Lovitz – Dave Romney – Walker Zimmerman – Eric Miller
No injuries; no suspensions
Game Time: 7:30 PM at Toyota Stadium, 12 March, 65 degrees
Fun Fact: Nashville’s mascot apparently is Tempo the Coyote. However, I feel a need to call them the Yellowjackets... the Sunshine Gang... or the Submariners... those kits are just so yellow.