Nashville SC has made the playoffs in each of their first 4 seasons in MLS.
While this is an accomplishment, we have seen an eerily similar on-field product every season for better and worse.
The 2023 season included some impressive feats. NSC had a majestic Leagues Cup run, defeating 2 of the 3 top teams in Liga MX before narrowly falling to Messi’s Inter Miami in the final. This was a tremendous stretch, showcasing a new possession-based playstyle and contributions across the board.
In the weeks and months that followed, however, the team crumbled. For the remainder of the season, the team went a shocking 2-5-5. They went scoreless in 6 of those games before also being shutout in the team’s 2-leg playoff series against Orlando.
After a disappointing end result, many anticipated a serious transition in the offseason.
The team moved on from the club’s first captain in Dax McCarty, a winger that contributed consistently in 2023 in Fafà Picault and a couple others. Somewhat unexpectedly, the core remained largely intact and also featured a few compelling acquisitions:
Dru Yearwood, 23 , Midfielder
Formerly of Brentford in the Premier League, Yearwood has underperformed by some pundits' standards. For just $75k in GAM and a very athletic skillset for a central midfielder, though, this is a low risk, high potential acquisition.
Watch Yearwood's highlights here
McKinze Gaines, 25, Forward
Nashville acquired Gaines on the eve of the MLS Superdraft, sending the 38th overall pick to Charlotte for the winger. Having spent time in Bundesliga 2 as recently as 2021, Gaines is an intriguing depth piece that could find some meaningful game time with Picault's departure.
Tyler Boyd, 29, Forward
The biggest move of the offseason, Boyd brings domestic and international experience to Nashville’s attack. He has scored goals for the United States and at many clubs abroad like Beşiktaş (Turkey), Vitória de Guimarães (Portugal) and Wellington Phoenix (New Zealand). A fan favorite with the Galaxy, Boyd is a versatile attacker that will slot in and make an impact immediately.
Watch Boyd's highlights here
While Nashville made a few notable transactions, is it enough to bring different results?
While I would not anticipate the lineup being drastically different, Nashville's recent player acquisition process is an intriguing one.
By keeping the reliable core of Zimmerman, Mukhtar, Lovitz, and Godoy intact and upgrading other positions along the way, the XI is taking shape.
The team has made some significant upgrades across the board in Shaq Moore (Summer 2022), Sam Surrige (Summer 2023), and Tyler Boyd (Winter 2023.)
Not to say things are perfect, particularly with the number of competitions NSC will have in 2024, but the lineup is coming together:
In addition to the multiple positions that are now among the strongest in MLS, the team's tactical approach is also shifting.
Manager Gary Smith was asked about how this season's team may look different:
"You should be able to walk into this two or three games in and go, 'I can see exactly the differences.'" he said.
Some fans have grown tired of his moderately impressive results and defensive focus but in his 7 seasons with Nashville across USL and MLS, Smith has gotten results.
With a refreshed lineup and new approach that focuses on Nashville's early 2023 successes, the team and attack in particular could take a notable step forward.
With a focus on possession and reduced reliance on lower percentage longer passes, the team will grow far more consistent in each phase of the game.
Offensively, it will be easier to get the ball to Hany Mukhtar's feet. By receiving the ball more often, even if in the team's defensive or middle third, he can dictate the game and improve the attack in many facets. Because the team is likely to build out of the back, Mukhtar is not solely reliant on service from others to get on the ball.
A persistent issue throughout the team's history, 2024 will be a year of improved depth scoring for Nashville.
Boyd provides a dynamic skillset, Mukhtar can connect the many points of attack, and players like Leal and Shaffelburg will return to full health. After his first full offseason in Nashville, Surridge will feel more comfortable too.
A healthy mix of counterattacking between Mukhtar and Surridge and service from wide areas will help Surridge emerge as a top goalscorer alongside Mukhtar.
With a more reproducible playstyle and attack, consistent results and widespread contributions will return in 2024.
While the team's shift may not be entirely possession-focused, any adjustment that distributes the scoring while maintaining Mukhtar as the focus is a welcomed one.
Gary Smith has an ingrained way of managing his teams but the attack-focused personnel combined with the shift in attitude inspires confidence for 2024.