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Nashville SC's Elite Form Must Continue vs Messi and Miami

For the first time in club history, Nashville SC will play in a cup final with Lionel Messi and Inter Miami visiting Geodis Park on Saturday.

This comes after an impressive run of games which included a thrilling shootout win over Club America, a 5-0 battering of Minnesota, and Tuesday's 2-0 victory over Mexico's top club, Monterrey.

Winning 5 of 6 so far in Leagues Cup, Nashville is in the best form we have seen from them in their 3 year history. Beating Mexico's best teams as well as the top team MLS is no fluke.

Among the most important factors have been the midfield that has been consistent in possession, the team's calmness in buildup play, and the diversity of chance creation that has not stemmed solely from Hany Mukhtar.

Sam Surridge has come in and made a notable impact. Beginning with his first appearance against Club America which featured the club's latest regulation goal in history to tie the game and a panenka in the shootout, Surridge sure seems like the #9 Nashville has been long searching for.

On the wing, Fafa Piccault has used his pace and looked particularly good when combining with Surridge and Mukhtar. Both Randall Leal and Jacob Shaffleburg's status for Saturday's game remain uncertain but that depth could be a factor if they were able to play. Particularly with Surridge on the field, crosses from the wings and outside backs have been effective.

Dax McCarty has been on a level not seen since Nashville's inaugural season. His calmness in high-pressure situations has been on full display and he has even pulled out a few Messi-esque passes. Both Godoy and Davis have also been good on both ends of the field, playing as consistently as they have in their Nashville careers.

Defensively, Nashville has given up their fair share of chances but in spite of this, have come up big in key moments. Against Monterray, Eliot Pannico came up with 3 huge stops throughout the game and we saw some of the best individual performances of the season by Walker Zimmerman and Shaq Moore.

A new competition in 2023, the Leagues Cup offers a good way of measuring MLS to Liga MX and world football more broadly. While some teams may not take Leagues Cup or other domestic competitions as seriously as they do MLS, the potential of winning silverware should not be overlooked.

Now, shifting toward Saturday's game:

In an incredible turn of events over the last few months, Lionel Messi is playing in Geodis Park. The 4 time champions league winner, 10 times LaLiga winner, 7-time Copa del Rey winner, 3 time Club World Cup winner, 3 time European Super Cup winner, 8 time Supercopa winner, 2 time Ligue 1 winner, Copa America winner, Gold Medalist, 9 time LaLiga MVP, 6 time Euorpean Golden Boot, 7 time Ballon d'Or, and World Cup Champion took over a very poor Miami side and worked his magic.

Miami has scored 19 goals in their last 5 games and won 6 straight which happens to be every game Messi has played in. In MLS, they remain a league worst 5-3-14 but are a new animal.

The Messi effect has truly been alarming. Inter Miami's move from bottom of MLS to Leagues Cup final, which they reached in dominant fashion, is hard to fathom. Almost as hard to fathom as the greatest soccer player of all time playing in Nashville this weekend.

The team also added fellow Barcelona teammates, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, who have been valuable pieces in their run.

Messi has unlocked the potential of former league MVP and fellow attacker, Josef Martinez, and raised the level of everyone on the field.

Obviously, the graphic that described Messi as the "Argentenian Mukhtar" is not completely serious. However, there is no doubt that these are the two best players in the league and will make for a thrilling matchup between the two #10s.

All this is said not to say that Nashville cannot complete. In fact, Miami was outshot 19-5 against Philadelphia and has needed some late game heroics to advance, much like Nashville. With both teams on elite form, it will be no easy feat for either side. Below are 3 keys to a Nashville SC victory:

1. Respect Messi but not too much

Messi is the greatest player of all time. While you need to prepare for the other team's stars, too many teams in this tournament have gone in scared. I think players like Daniel Lovitz or Anibal Godoy would do a good job of largely ignoring who is on the other side of the field from them but it must be a team-wide belief. It is important not to let the moment get overwhelming and for Nashville to play as they have for the last couple weeks.

The midfield can't be afraid to tackle on the counterattack and accept the yellow. As an emerging possession team, mistakes will happen and Miami will counterattack. Because Messi is so dangerous on the counter and can dismantle the defense with one line-breaking pass, sometimes it is necessary to stop it by whatever means it takes and respect his ability.

Also in the midfield, it is easy to run around in circles when playing Sergio Busquets. He does not look like he is doing all that much but the midfield must not give into his style. While it is good to press and keep him honest, there is no use in Godoy stepping up 20 yards to Busquets just for him to play a pass behind him into open space.

2. Commit to Possession

Particularly in their leagues cup run, Nashville has greatly improved their consistency in and dedication to a more possession based playstyle. They have proven that it can work against some of the best teams in the tournament and that will be no different on Saturday. Moving other team's around has allowed for a diversity of chance creation from the wings, through the middle, and occasionally, over the top.

Frankly, I think the biggest barrier to sticking with this playstyle is the personnell. It is imperative that Nashville start Sam Surridge at striker and Jack Maher alongside Walker Zimmerman in the back. It truly only takes one misplaced pass by Teal Bunbury or Lukas McNaughton for the final to be lost.

3. No nonsense

This goes with the aforementioned misplaced passes but Nashville cannot take any risks on the defensive end. While the lack of discipline has improved since Nashville's recent stretch of red cards, any penalty against will result in a goal and a careless error almost certainly will as well.

In the attack, there can be no misses like Alex Muyl's point blank squandering against Monterray. While I think an attack consisting of Surridge, Mukhtar, and Piccault would produce a more than adequate number of chances, clinicality is vital.

All things considered, this match could absolutely go either way. The buzz is unmatched given it is Nashville's first cup final and biggest game in history as well as Messi's 7th and biggest game in MLS and first in Nashville. The two best players in the league are facing off against eachother in what is sure to be a memorable match.

My prediction is a 3-2 Nashville win with goals from Surridge (2) and Zimmerman for Nashville and Messi and Martinez for Miami. Nashville is strong in every facet of the game, on incredible form, and their home field advantage will be on display this weekend.

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