Updated: Jul 9, 2020
Update 7/9/20: Nashville SC vs has been removed from the "MLS is Back" tournament after 9 positive tests. Read more here.
Nashville SC plans to kick off their return to play on July 8th, in the second match of the "MLS is Back" Tournament. Nashville has been training since mid-May, preparing to return.
Unfortunately for Major League Soccer, there have been about 15 positive tests since players began arriving in Orlando, including members of Nashville SC. In the league’s original plan, teams were to arrive in Orlando no later than July 1st and as of July 3rd, just 13 of the 26 teams had arrived.
On Sunday afternoon, it was reported that 5 players from Nashville SC tested positive for Covid-19. One player tested positive twice prior to the trip to Orlando and 4 more tested positive after the arrival. The 4 additional positive tests are waiting to re-test their results.
As a result of the positive tests, Nashville SC had 2 flights to Orlando postponed before eventually traveling on July 3rd. These failed attempts subsequently forced Nashville to miss out on 4 planned training sessions. At the time, there was just one positive test within Nashville's team.
It was not announced who within Nashville SC had the first positive test and whether they traveled with the team or not.
On July 4th, the MLS announced that the F.C. Dallas vs Vancouver Whitecaps game, that was supposed to take place on July 9th, has been postponed after 9 players and 1 staff member of Dallas tests positive. Since the players are contained in a “bubble” at ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, they can quarantine until they test negative but the recent false negative tests have spread concern.
With all the confusion, positive tests, and late arrivals, it is extremely likely that the Nashville SC vs Chicago Fire match, planned for July 8th, will also be postponed.
Since teams have been late in arriving to Orlando, they will need more time to train to help avoid injury. According to The Athletic, the MLS does not have a Plan B and plans to follow through with their current plans, despite the positive tests.
Prior to the 5 positive tests, Nashville planned to train on Saturday but that did not happen. In an effort to avoid the heat and humidity of Orlando, games will take place at 8:00am CT, 7:00pm CT, and 9:30pm CT. Nashville plays at 9:30pm, 7:00pm, and 8:00am respectively.
Nashville will face the Chicago Fire in their first match of the tournament. Chicago has been pretty poor the last few seasons, finishing last year 8-8-18. The Fire are the former team of Nashville captain, Dax McCarthy. Additionally, Chicago is the only team that Nashville has ever faced in Group A. The match came in the preseason and Chicago won narrowly.
As far as Nashville's chances of competing in this game and beyond, they are good. While they did not get the result they wanted in the first two matches of the season, Nashville’s midfield looked great and the team showed many promising signs. The clear problem through 2 games was finishing the chances that the midfield and attack generated.
Especially in their second match, Nashville dominated in the shots and chances categories but were unable to finish those opportunities. As a result, my guess is that there will be a change at Striker. Dominique Badji started the first 2 matches up top and played OK but I think Manager, Gary Smith will make a change. Badji did what he could and the blame should not be on him for the lack of goals but I think there will be a change made regardless. The most apparent replacement would be Daniel Ríos, who was subbed on in both matches and played well. Here is my projected lineup for the first match of the return:
The lineup is the same as the first two matches besides Ríos at Striker. Another possibility is a change at Right back. While Eric Miller played just 2 games, he made a couple costly errors that cost Nashville 2 goals. Although Jimmy Medranda has played Left Back in the past, he may come in for Miller or sub in a few different positions.
All clubs will be allowed 5 Substitutions compared to the normal 3 because of many factors, the biggest being injury. The most likely subs include Dominique Badji at Striker, Alan Winn on the wing, Derrick Jones in the midfield, and Jimmy Medranda on defense.
In their second match, Nashville SC will face the Philadelphia Union, who have reported no positive tests. The Union, who started the season 0-1-1, were part of the match of the season so far. The Union tied LAFC 3-3 and the game included some incredible goals.
In the past, Philadelphia has been above average, finishing as the 3rd and 6th seed in the East in the past two seasons. This will also be David Accam and Derrick Jones’ first match against their former club.
In their third match, Nashville faces 2015 Expansion Team, Orlando City SC. This is Nashville’s only morning match and they are facing the hosts of the tournament. Orlando has struggled greatly since their inception, not making the playoffs once and finishing on the bottom of the Eastern Conference multiple times. In their first two matches, Orlando City drew Real Salt Lake 0-0 and lost to Colorado, 2-1. Additionally, Orlando has been poor against 1st year expansion clubs, winning just 1 game (against Cincinnati) and losing 4.
Depending on Nashville's performance through 3 games, they could advance to the Round of 16. The top 3 teams from Group A and the top 2 from every other Group advances.
Nearly all analysts predict Nashville SC to win no games. My prediction for the tournament is that Nashville will beat Chicago and Orlando and draw Philidelphia. I think the connection between the Midfield and the Attack will be better and Nashville we be able to generate more goals.
Nashville is certainly under the radar and I am convinced they can perform well on the national stage.