Not every expansion team is going to come into the league like Atlanta United or Los Angeles FC, scoring a million goals and spending a zillion dollars.
Most of the time, you’re going to do exactly what Nashville SC did in their first year - get a lot of really good league veterans and build from the back. And I really like this style, it’s certainly working well for a team like the Philadelphia Union who took several years to get off the ground but are now a solid organization top to bottom.
Players like Dax McCarty, Walker Zimmerman, Jalil Anibaba,, winger David Accam, keeper Joe Willis and young strikers Abu Danladi and Dom Badji are all fairly well known players to those who follow the league. And the backline in particular has been pretty solid so far this year, allowing just 14 goals so far this year in 13 league games. Comparatively, the New England Revolution with clear USMNT #1 keeper Matt Turner, have allowed only 12 goals in 14 games.
However, there are some questions about Nashville’s offense so far this year, but I think already having 10 different goal scorers is absolutely impressive. Having your leading scorer with just two goals, perhaps less than impressive. Then there’s a small issue regarding today:
That is a brutal injury list to an already struggling attacking corps. So how exactly is Nashville going to setup today to deal with all these injuries? We’re going to chat with Ben Wright of Broadway Sports out of Tennessee about not only Nashville’s offensive outlook today and overall in 2020, but in particular a 4-2 win over Atlanta were a lot of things seemed to click well for the Gold and Blue. Be sure to check out my answers to Ben’s questions from yesterday over on their site.
TBM: Nashville has had 10 different players score this year, but Daniel Rios leads the team with just two goals. Is this scoring by committee by design or are there some major growing pains in the attack for the expansion side?
BW: I wouldn’t say it was by design, but it was certainly no surprise. Scoring goals was always going to be the biggest issue for Nashville, so I don’t think anyone down here is shocked. I’ve certainly been surprised at how shared the scoring load has been. It’s been nice, but probably not sustainable. I still believe that Daniel Rios is the best finisher on the team (he was the first player in USL history to score 20 goals in consecutive seasons), and he started to show that, scoring two goals in the last two matches. He came off early in the second half against Houston last Saturday, so he’ll be a late decision for New England.
GM Mike Jacobs was consistent before the season, though, that the club was always going to take a “slow rollout” approach to their attack. They clearly went with a defense-first build, and that’s been effective. The plan was always to take time to evaluate the attack before making a move, and they’ve done that now, bringing in Jhonder Cadiz as a designated player. The striker just arrived in Nashville on Tuesday, and while he won’t be available this weekend, it looks like he has a chance to be involved in next weekend’s match. He will hopefully lift the attack and bring some much-needed quality in front of goal.
TBM: New England and Nashville are no strangers to low scoring games this year, but Nashville’s 4-2 win over Atlanta had some impressive attacking output including a first minute goal. What worked well in that game in particular?
BW: I honestly think that game was as much a reflection of Atlanta’s issues as it was of Nashville’s quality. Atlanta played right into Nashville’s hands, allowing them to win the ball in midfield and get to goal quickly.
That’s really been the blueprint for this side; pressure the defense with the front line, have McCarty and Godoy win the ball in midfield, and get to goal fast. They’ve been pretty effective at it, too, but just have either missed the final chance, or been on different pages when it comes to the final ball. The Atlanta win was nothing new from Nashville, they just ran into a team who let them have plenty of those opportunities. If New England tries to control the game through possession this weekend, that’s where Nashville is at their most dangerous.
TBM: There’s a lot of solid MLS veterans in that defensive line including Jalil Anibaba, Walker Zimmerman, Dave Romney...and let’s not forget Joe Willis in goal and Dax McCarty. Can this squad hold onto their playoff position this season and is there a good foundation setup in Nashville to build on in the coming years?
BW: I really like the foundation this Nashville side is laying. The core of the team is really, really strong, with Zimmerman, Romney and Lovitz all some of the best in their position throughout the league, and the midfield pairing of Anibal Godoy and McCarty a big strength. McCarty is 33 and Godoy is 30, so I expect to see a TAM-quality midfielder brought in before too long, but the foundation is set. Hany Mukhtar and Randall Leal, the other two DPs, haven’t quite hit the ground running, but there is quality there, and I imagine a more normal 2021 season would let them show that. I think the playoffs are very much an achievable goal, and would be a huge building block moving forward.
BW: Injuries... yikes. Six starting-caliber players (Dom Badji, David Accam, Daniel Rios, Abu Danladi, Jimmy Medranda and Alex Muyl) were listed as out on this weekend’s injury report, as well as Ken Tribbett, who hadn’t made a matchday squad before his injury. From Gary Smith’s press conference Thursday, it sounded like he thought Danladi would be available, and Rios could make a late push to be involved. I guess they could still pass a late fitness test on Saturday morning, but if things stay like this, Nashville won’t have a healthy striker available. Derrick Jones played as a striker after Rios went off injured (yes, Derrick Jones, a holding midfielder), and he could fill in there again. Randall Leal, Alan Winn or Hany Mukhtar could do a job up top as well. It’s not ideal, though. I’d guess the final lineup looks something like this (right to left):
Willis; Johnston, Zimmerman, Romney, Lovitz; McCarty, Godoy; Winn; Jones, Mukhtar; Leal
Without injuries, I’d like Nashville’s chances to get a draw, but without a goal scorer it’s a big ask. I’ll go with a 1-0 New England win.