Update (11/20/20 9:30am): On Thursday, Inter Miami had five players test positive for Covid-19, including 3 starters. Additionally, Miami's head coach, Manny Diaz, has also confirmed that he tested positive. The starters include Gonzalo Higuaín, Fredrico Higuaín, and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. The 5 players who tested positive did not travel with the team. As of now the match will be played tonight at 8:00pm CT in Nashville. If the match cannot be played, it will need to be rescheduled or else Inter Miami must forefit. My biggest worry is that the match is played, Nashville advances, but they are forced to forefit their next match because they were infected by Miami.
In their inaugural season, Nashville SC earned the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference and a playoff berth. They are set to face the other 2020 Expansion team, Inter Miami, on November 20th in the play-in round of the MLS cup tournament.
Their most recent result came last Sunday against Orlando City. Going into the match, Nashville was 0-1-1 against Orlando and Orlando sat in 2nd place in the MLS with 41 points. The match was an extremely entertaining win that ended 3-2.
The match began with an early goal by Orlando's Daryl Dike who scored 2 goals against Nashville in a prior meeting. Nashville struggled to generate attacking chances until the 20th minute when LB Daniel Lovitz scored a great, weak foot goal from outside the box. Both defensive mids, Dax McCarty and Aníbal Godoy, received yellow cards in the first half (Dax should have gotten a 2nd yellow card and been sent off). As a precaution, Coach Gary Smith subbed off both at halftime.
In the 60th minute, Nani scored a nice freekick, giving Orlando a 2-1 lead. In the late stages of the match, Nashville began to make a comeback. In the 86th minute Hany Mukhtar, who has battled injury recently, scored a header, tying the game 2-2. Finally, in the 92nd minute, designated player Jhodner Cádiz scored a game winning header off a freekick from Hany Mukhtar. This match showed Nashville's resilience, ability to score goals, and ability to compete with the best teams in the MLS. To that point, Orlando SC had not lost a match at home all season.
Since it is each team's first season, Nashville SC and Inter Miami have a limited history. Nashville has faced Inter Miami twice, beating them once and tying them once. In Nashville's win, they won 1-0 behind a great goal by Aníbal Godoy.
Miami has had a bit of an up and down season, finishing the season 7-3-13, the worst record among playoff teams. They also have the fewest points among 2020 playoff teams with 24. They made two big name signings during the season, acquiring Gonzalo Higuaín and Blaise Matuidi from Italian powerhouse, Juventus. As the players become more acclimated, Miami could be a tough team to defend going forward.
Miami's -10 goal differential is a bit surprising as they have a very strong roster. Like Nashville, Miami plays a 4-2-3-1 and also has very strong defensive mids. They have Matuidi and U.S. international, Will Trapp. Their attack is perhaps the concerning part of their team, lead by Higuaín and Rodolfo Pizzaro.
Nashville has had a different type of season, conceding just 22 goals this season, the 3rd least in the MLS. This season, the centerback pairing of Walker Zimmerman and Dave Romney have been outstanding. They have started every game together except one. Additionally, Nashville has greatly increased their goals per game, averaging 1.4 over their last 10 matches compared to 1.0 over the prior 10 games.
In order to win this match, Nashville must do a few things. My keys to the match:
1. Force low quality shots
Nashville's defense has been so successful in large part due to forcing low quality shots. They don't always lead in possession but when defending, they make the other teams shoot from outside the box.
2. Be creative when attacking
Outside of Randall Leal and occasionally Hany Mukhtar, Nashville's attack lacks creativity. Nashville has some speed up top with Abu Danladi, Alex Muyl, David Accam, and Randall Leal but they must utilize that and get everyone involved. Often times, Nashville's only chances are on the counter attack and their build up play is too slow otherwise.
3. Get the Strikers Involved
As the season has progressed, Nashville's attack, specifically their strikers, have greatly improved. Jhonder Cádiz has proven he is clinical in front of net and Daníel Rios has emerged lately and has scored a team-high 4 goals this season. In order to score goals, Nashville must get their strikers involved.
Since the MLS restarted in August, Nashville has battled with injuries. Notably, ST Dominique Badji and RW David Accam have missed significant time. Most recently, Hany Mukhtar, Randall Leal, Daniel Ríos, Abu Danladi, and Aníbal Godoy have had injuries. Badji and Accam have not played since September and hopefully they will be fit enough to come off the bench against Inter Miami.
Randall Leal and Aníbal Godoy were both called up to their national teams, Leal to Costa Rica and Godoy to Panama. Leal is slated to play in Austria this week and due to a mandatory 10 day quarantine upon arrival back in Nashville, may miss Nashville's playoff match against Inter Miami. Unfortunately, Godoy suffered a hamstring injury in Nashville's win against Orlando and will be unable to play for Panama. He opted to stay in Nashville to rehab. If either player is unable to play for Nashville next week, it will be very unfortunate as they have been 2 of Nashville's best players this season.
If Nashville beats Miami in the play-in round and advances, they will face Toronto FC, who they have not played yet this season. The other side of the play-in bracket is a match between New England and Montreal, two teams Nashville is very familiar with.
My prediction is a 2-1 Nashville win. While Miami has some good individual players, Nashville SC has shown the ability to play as a team even with key players out injured. I am guessing Hany Mukhtar will have a big role in Nashville's win as he has had in many games recently.
After a fantastic first season, Nashville looks to win their first MLS playoff match in club history. This matchup is between two teams in similar positions and carries great significance.