Following a very successful Inaugural Season which saw Nashville SC advancing to the Eastern Conference Semi-Final and narrowly losing to the eventual MLS Cup Champions, the 2021 MLS season is just days away. Anchored by their strong defense, Nashville SC was able to compete with the best teams in the league last season, something most MLS Expansion teams cannot say.
Over the offseason, Nashville SC made a few additions but ultimately kept every key player from last season on the team. Every player who consistently started games throughout 2020 was retained, which is good news for an already strong group of players.
Nashville made acquisitions at each position, some of the biggest being RW Rodrigo Piñiero, CB Nick Hinds, and ST C.J. Sapong. Striker, a position which lacked for Nashville through the first half of the season, improved greatly as the season progressed and was also addressed in the offseason with multiple acquisitions.
Here are the top 3 reasons why Nashville SC Can Win the MLS Cup in 2021:
1. More Time as a Group
Whether it is the tornado in March of 2020 which greatly disrupted Nashville, the global pandemic that hit early in the MLS season, or Nashville SC's positive Covid-19 tests which forced them out of the MLS is Back tournament in Miami, Nashville had an arduous inaugural season. The current group which makes up Nashville SC's roster has shown their potential through their playoff run and many strong performances last season. Head Coach, Gary Smith, has been with Nashville since they were in the USL and has built a very strong team which works very well together and is very organized. Smith has a history of success and when given the time, I believe he can lead Nashville SC to the top of MLS. As the team, which is very similar to last season, continues to work together, they will only improve.
2. Goal Scoring Improvement
Scoring goals was sometimes an issue for Nashville in 2020 as they had a lot of rotation at Striker and often struggled to combine in the attacking third. With multiple additions at striker and more time for loanee, Jhonder Cádiz, to get acclimated, 2021 is shaping up to be a better season for Nashville as far as scoring goals go.
Importantly, Nashville's roster is full of talent in attacking positions. Hany Mukhtar emerged as one of the most technically gifted players in the league and improved greatly as the season progressed. Randall Leal, who was 2nd on the team in goals+assists with 8 (trailing Hany Mukhtar with 9), provides the ability to beat any defender one on one as well as score from anywhere on the field.
3. Nashville's playstyle
Nashville's playstyle, which involves forcing low quality shots throughout the game, is a sustainable playstyle which can lead to wins over the top teams in MLS. When building the team, GM Mike Jacobs clearly placed a lot of importance in the middle of the field as the CDM pairing of Dax McCarty and Aníbal Godoy are among the best in the league. The Defensive trio of of Dave Romney, 2020 MLS Defender of the year, Walker Zimmerman, and consistent GK, Joe Willis, which started every game but one together last season, is another key to Nashville's strong defensive structure. When asked, Gary Smith referred to his team being called a "defensive team" as "misguided". Going forward, Nashville builds up play quickly, constantly playing balls out wide to the wingers and letting them beat defenders and play in crosses. Nashville has talent across the board, which makes the upcoming season so promising.
With their season kicking off on Saturday against Cincinnati, I am predicting that Nashville will finish the season in the top 4 of the Eastern Conference and will make a deep playoff run to the Eastern Conference Final and possibly beyond. Due to their overall skill, great coaching and playstyle, Nashville SC can have a lot of success in 2021 and can win the 2021 MLS Cup.