Coming off a 1-1 draw with New England, Nashville SC sits in 8th place in the Eastern Conference. They are 2 points ahead of Montreal, who they face on Tuesday, and are in a playoff spot. Nashville has looked impressive as of late, scoring a good amount of goals for such a defensive-minded team.
Nashville currently has a streak of 3 unbeaten, including 2 wins and a draw. The first match in that streak was a commanding 3-1 win over the Houston Dynamo. The game was taken over by designated player, Hany Mukhtar. Mukhtar scored an early solo goal then scored a tremendous free kick in the 23rd minute. Abu Danladi scored the other goal which was a header and came from a great cross from Taylor Washington.
Hany Mukhtar's freekick against Houston
The second match was a 3-0 win over FC Dallas. This win was another strong performance which included two deflection goals. Notably, the match included the first goal for Striker Jhonder Cádiz. Cadiz has appeared in the last 3 matches after Nashville signed him from Benfica in mid-September. Cádiz, 25, has experience playing in Europe and was brought in to solve Nashville's striker issue. Notably, Cádiz scored a goal against Paris Saint Germain (PSG).
Nashville's strikers and ability to score goals have been questioned since Nashville's inaugural match in February. Recently, the starting strikers have rotated between Dominique Badji, Abu Danladi, Daniel Ríos, and Jhonder Cádiz. Recently, Nashville has suffered many injuries. Badji, Danladi, and Ríos have all been injured as well as RW David Accam and CAM Hany Mukhtar. Nashville is tied for second to last in the league in goals for with 19. Regardless, they have a record of 6-7-6 (W-D-L) and are in a playoff spot.
As of late, Abu Danladi and Daniel Rios have stepped up. Both players have scored 2 goals in the last few games. Dominique Badji has started for most of the season though his injury has kept him off the team sheet recently.
In addition to improved play from Nashville's attack, head coach Gary Smith has experimented with new formations. Nashville played in a 5-3-2 over the last two matches and it has worked well. The two outside backs act like right and left mids and they go up and down the field.
Left Winger, Randall Leal, has played extremely well lately. He has just 2 goals this season but has created many good chances and has refined his shot selection. Leal has shown his speed and dribbling ability by taking on defenders 1v1. Additionally, RW Alex Muyl, who Nashville acquired in August via trade, has also played well. Muyl works extremely hard and can defend very well for an attacker.
Nashville's backline has been solid all season. The centerback pairing of Dave Romney and Walker Zimmerman have started every game but one. Both centerbacks have been outstanding and Zimmerman has scored 3 goals this season. Centerback Jalil Anibaba has also gotten some good playing time in positions across the backline. Left back, Daniel Lovitz, has started every game but 2, missing one of the matches after he accumulated 5 yellow cards. Lovitz has played very well defensively and has been able to get forward and play some good crosses. 22 year old Right Back Alistair Johnston has played well recently though missed a match due to a red card.
Nashville's midfield is among the best in the MLS. Center defensive midfielders, Dax McCarty and Aníbal Godoy are arguably the best pairing in the league. Each player has their own strengths. Dax is the captain and a leader on the field. He plays great through balls and can also defend well. Godoy is all around the field, constantly passing and moving. He makes great combination passes in the midfield and defense and can also go forward.
Nashville has just 4 matches remaining in the regular season. If they win 2 more matches, they can clinch a playoff position. They will face 2 teams they have not played (Montreal and Chicago) and two teams they have already faced (Dallas and Orlando).
Because of their strong defense, I believe NSC can compete with any team in the MLS. Nashville forces low quality shots from distance. They sometimes trail in possession and shots but that is the nature of Nashville's style of play. Recently, Nashville's attack has greatly improved. Combine that with multiple players returning from injury and they will be very hard to beat.
Last week, Nashville made a trade with the Seattle Sounders. They acquired Winger Handwalla Bwana in exchange for LB Jimmy Medranda and $225,000 in general allocation money. Bwana, 21, has 1 goal in 6 matches this season and adds to Nashville's depth on the wing.
Nashville SC has faced a lot of adversity in their inaugural season. They have finally reached the push for the playoffs and are well positioned to succeed going forward.