In its first two seasons of Major League Soccer, Nashville Soccer Club has been one of the most successful teams and has solidified itself as one of the best performing expansion teams in league history.
Highlighted by back-to-back Defender of the Year Award Walker Zimmerman and MVP snub Hany Mukhtar, Nashville SC has immense talent. A defense-minded team in its inaugural season, Nashville became more balanced in 2021, and was ultimately more successful.
The team’s 2021 season ended in heartbreak when the team lost in a penalty shootout against the Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
In 2020, Nashville SC became the 6th expansion team in league history to make the playoffs in its first season. The success continued into 2021 when the team finished 3rd in the Eastern Conference and gave up just 33 goals, tied for the lowest total in the league.
After a successful 2021, Nashville made a couple major moves in the offseason, including moving on from 23-year-old right back Alistair Johnston. Johnston, the team’s starting right back for the club’s first two seasons, was drafted by Nashville as the 11th overall selection in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft. In January, he was sold to Montreal for $1,000,000.
Johnston’s versatility made him valuable to Nashville. He spent 2021 starting across the backline, playing right wing back in Gary Smith’s 5 defender system and in the playoffs, playing right center back.
A major addition to the team was midfielder Sean Davis. Davis was coming from the New York Red Bulls, where he played every single minute of the 2021 season and was captain of the team. Davis came into an already strong Nashville midfield group, consisting of veterans Dax McCarty and Aníbal Godoy, as well as the younger Tah Brian Anunga.
Even more important than its incoming transfer players, Nashville must improve players who were already on its squad.
Nashville signed 23-year-old Aké Loba in the middle of the 2021 season for 6.8 million dollars, the most expensive transfer in the team’s history. Loba had the speed and dribbling ability to play in any attacking position and spent most of his time at his former club, Monterey, playing striker.
Loba appeared in just 19 matches for Nashville last season, most of the time coming on as a substitute. Nashville’s attack was already in good hands, led by league leader Hany Mukhtar in combined goals and assists, veteran striker C.J. Sapong, and 25-year-old Costa Rican winger Randall Leal.
To fit Loba and Davis into the team, Nashville needed to shift its lineup. They spent the first portion of 2021 playing a formation with 4 defenders, then changed to a formation with 5 defenders and stuck with it for most of the season.
In the playoffs, the choice to play a more defensive playstyle with 5 defenders limited the team in the attack. Now the best decision for Nashville was to revert back to its 4-2-3-1 formation to assure the best players are on the field:
Lovitz Romney Zimmerman Miller
With five defenders, Nashville played more defensively and relied on just a few attackers, especially Hany Mukhtar, to generate offensive chances. With a traditional front three and more firepower this season, Nashville can have a great offensive season.
With these adjustments, the team will not be forced to sit back and defend for huge portions of the game and can dictate play.
While the new season starts on February 27th in Seattle, Nashville will not play its first home game until May 1, when they will face the Philadelphia Union and open its home stadium at the fairgrounds. The stadium will be the largest soccer-specific stadium in the United States.