Nashville SC was once of the most highly anticipated MLS expansion teams in recent history. Nashville built a strong roster over the course of a few months and looked good through 2 games. Before the season, it is so hard to know what to expect, especially with an MLS expansion team. A few things stood out both positively and negatively as Nashville fell in their first 2 matches.
Nashville's inaugural match against the 2018 MLS Champions, Atlanta United, was a very
hotly contested affair. In the 28th minute, CB Walker Zimmerman recorded the first goal in Nashville SC club history and tied the game 1-1. Nashville eventually fell 2-1 after Atlanta took the lead off a great volley in the 37th minute. Nashville finished the game with 14 shots and 4 on goal compared to Atlanta’s 6 shots and just 2 on goal.
The second match one week later was away against the Portland Timbers. Portland has some of the loudest and best fans in the MLS, making Portland a tough place to play. Nashville went
in to their second match with the same line up after performing well the week prior. Portland’s Diego Valeri scored an outstanding volley in the 11th minute and it was ultimately the deciding goal. There is no doubt Nashville played the better match in which they lead 14-3 in shots, with Portland not recording a shot for 60 minutes straight.
Through 2 games, I have noticed a few positives and negatives, the first positive being the strong midfield. With the lineup staying the same, Nashville’s midfield consisted of Anibal Godoy and Dax McCarty at CDM, Hany Muktar at CAM, and Randall Leal and David Accam at Left and Right Mid. Godoy and McCarty were very strong defensively, allowing just 4 shots on goal through 2 games. Both CDM’s played many insightful balls and did well in the attacking third.
The other midfielders, Muktar, Leal, and Accam, showed their pace and skill on many occasions. Muktar seemed to take awhile to settle in but he showed off his foot skills and pace with the ball. Both Leal and Accam were very good on the outside and did a great job taking on defenders. Accam showcased his blistering pace and Leal sped past many defenders with the ball at his feet. Using the outside mids, Nashville was able to generate some chances through crosses and balls across the face of the goal. While the build up play was good when it went through the outsides, Nashville had trouble getting their striker, Dominique Badji, involved in the game.
Badji, 27, totaled just 2 shots in the first two games of the season and was ruled offside 3 times. He was subbed off in favor of ST Abu Danladi in the first Match and ST Daniel Rios in game 2 and through both games, he totaled about 150 minutes on the field. Nashville clearly had trouble getting Badji involved, especially in the attacking third. Badji is a pretty big target at 6”1 and showed the ability to hold the ball up on multiple
occasions. He was a non-factor for the majority of both games because Nashville’s quick build up play rarely involved the ST. I don't think that Badji’s lack of involvement is his fault because he clearly gave a lot of effort when he received the ball and he was made an effort to defend when he needed to. If the wingers try to beat defenders 1v1 less often and target Badji in the middle, I think it will open up a lot for Nashville SC’s attack.
As a result of not getting Badji involved, Nashville's chance quality was generally pretty low. Nashville had a few prime opportunities against both teams but many of the shots had a low probability of going in. Unluckily, Nashville nearly scored against Portland on multiple occasions and hit the post multiple times.
Nashville’s defense was decent through 2 games but a few errors cost them both games. Against Atlanta, an error by Right Back, Eric Miller, allowed Atlanta to open the scoring. After he was beaten by a move from Atlanta’s Ezequiel Barco, he backed off instead of stepping to the man with the ball, allowing Atlanta an uncontested shot from about 20 yards out. This is not completely his fault because he was attempting to cover an Atlanta attacker on the left
side but a lack of communication with the Center Backs ultimately caused the goal. Atlanta's second goal was unusual and unfortunate as a majority of the Nashville players stopped playing because the linemen put his flag up for offside. The linemen lowered his flag soon after raising it, likely after the main ref told him the play was not offside. Ultimately, the play was not offside because the ball took a deflection off a Nashville player but the flag threw off the Nashville SC players.
Against Portland, it was another defensive error that cost Nashville a goal, which eventually decided the game. After a cross, Eric Miller failed to step up which left Portland’s Diego Valeri onside and open for a shot about 8 yards out. Outside of these errors, I thought Nashville’s defense was solid. Centerbacks Walker Zimmerman and Dave Romney had 2 great games along with LB Daniel Lovitz.
Despite beginning their inaugural season with 2 losses, Nashville SC had an admirable performance against fierce competition. While they don't build slowly out of the back and keep possession for extended amounts of time, they had a good counterattack and showcased many skillful players.