While they are not exactly peaking at the right time with a record of 2-7-1 in their last 10 games, Nashville is in a good spot heading into the 2021 playoffs. In their 6 matches against Orlando over the past two seasons, Nashville is 1-4-1 with each of the three games in 2021 ending in a draw.
Last season, Nashville finished off their inaugural regular season with a captivating 3-2 win over Orlando. On decision day, Nashville staged an improbable comeback behind the major impact following Hany Mukhtar's second half substitution.
Recently, Nashville has struggled generating the same attack we saw over the summer. The trio of Hany Mukhtar, Randall Leal, and C.J. Sapong went from a trio which scored just about every game to far more quiet as of late. Still, M-L-S totaled 58 goals and assists on the season and Hany Mukhtar continues to play at an MVP caliber level.
This slowdown has come for a few reasons, a major one being Nashville's shift in playstyle. With the absence of some of Nashville's most important midfield and defensive players, Gary Smith opted for a more defensive style as to not put too much pressure on players filling in.
As a result, much of the attacking pressure that comes with playing in the midfield lands on Hany Mukhtar who has played well but has been unable to link with other attackers. Mukhtar has been one of Nashville's few creative players and when the team is going forward with just three attackers and the occasional outside back, it is tough to create sustained pressure.
Because Nashville has been playing with 5 defenders, they rely on their outside backs to attack and are more willing to absorb pressure throughout the match. The defense has been sufficient but due to individual errors, Nashville has not gotten the results they expected and often deserved lately.
Defensively, it is important for Nashville to get everyone back and healthy, more so than at any other position. Nashville will be getting Dave Romney, who has started every game in club history besides 1, back from a sore Achilles as well as midfielder Dax McCarty from a hamstring injury. Both of these returns will have a major impact on Tuesday's game and puts Nashville in a much better spot.
Nashville's defense has had some issues. many of which are preventable, individual errors. I am certainly nervous about second year CB Jack Maher especially as it is likely that he will start on Tuesday. Overall, though, Nashville's backline is still among the best in MLS.
With everyone on Nashville's roster at full health besides Daniel Rios, we will likely see a 5-2-3 formation which will look something like this:
This is Gary's Smith ideal XI which we are likely to see on Tuesday. This is an extremely strong lineup that in stride, can win MLS cup. This lineup has strong defensive mids, fullbacks who can contribute to the attack and the best Centerback and Attacking Midfielder in MLS.
Keys to a Nashville SC win:
1. Stay disciplined
As aforementioned, many of Nashville's recent draws have come as a result of fluky, undisciplined errors. Just last game, Nashville conceded just 37 seconds into the game after a missed header just outside the six yard box. Another important thing to avoid is conceding free kick goals which has been a theme throughout the season. The defenders must also be wary of Daryl Dike, who drew a penalty against Nashville last month and will continue to look to draw fouls.
2. Contain Daryl Dike
At 6'2 220lbs, Daryl Dike is among MLS's most intimidating strikers. Following his loan spell at 3rd tier English side Barnsley, Dike has come back to MLS and scored 10 goals in 18 matches this season including 4 goals in his last 4 matches. Dike seems to make an impact every time he has played Nashville and has scored in half the matchups he has played against them. Related fun fact: Nashville selected CB Jack Maher 2nd overall in the 2020 MLS superdraft 3 spots ahead of Dike which makes Tuesday's game even more interesting.
3. Get the ball to the best players
This seems obvious but Nashville must get the ball to the feet of Hany Mukhtar, C.J. Sapong, and Randall Leal. As Sapong and Leal have struggled to get going lately, it is important to get the ball to them in the attacking third as it will result in goals.
If the keys are met, I feel good about Nashville's chances. While Orlando did make the playoffs by just 4 points, they are not to be overlooked.
I do not love that Nashville has shifted from a more defensive team who can constrain anyone to one more reliant on goals. However, they still do have the pieces in place to play a low scoring game in which they always have a chance to win.
Nashville had an extremely successful regular season in which they tied the league record for ties in a season, finished 3rd in the Eastern Conference and had multiple players who were among the best at their position but are not finished yet and with momentum, can make a deep playoff run.