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Know Thy Enemy: New England vs Nashville’s Must Win Early May Game(?) Edition

Expectations are an odd thing in MLS, a win for the Revs this weekend could cement their status as a top team in the East while Nashville looks to stabilize a slow start to 2021 with their first win.

MLS: New England Revolution at Nashville SC Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Expectations are a fickle thing in Major League Soccer. Both the New England Revolution and Nashville FC likely had increased expectations coming into 2021. The Revs were coming off a strong playoff run with a now healthy Carles Gil in particular and have started the year well, with only a lackluster 15 minute opening spell in Chicago keeping New England from a full nine points through three games.

Nashville SC has not been as lucky, but they have been just as scrappy as they were a year ago. Like the Revs, Nashville has been on the comeback trail already in 2021, playing in not one but two games where they came back from an 0-2 deficit to tie the game and earn a point. Combined with a 0-0 draw against Inter Miami, Nashville has started the season with three draws, all at home, with the Revs coming into town tomorrow afternoon.

Down below we’re going to talk to Ben Wright from Broadway Sports Media, and I tend to agree with his larger point here. It is difficult to call any game a “must-win” in early May, especially just four games into the MLS calendar. But as Ben will detail, Nashville’s schedule at the end of the year is very road heavy, so dropping a lot of points at home isn’t a good thing for them right now. Certainly a loss to the Revs tomorrow would not be season ending, but it would perhaps necessitate a drastic change in expectations for Nashville, who perhaps might not be ready to take a big next step in Year 2 and might still be a club fighting for one of the last playoff spots.

Contrast to that, a road win for New England could have the opposite effect, and cement their status as favorites in the East and legitimate MLS Cup contenders. The Revs themselves are not usually known for being fast starters, I think there is a sense of urgency from New England to really be at the top of the East from start to finish this year. Perhaps to prove that last year’s playoff run wasn’t a fluke, perhaps knowing that keeping this roster of players together long term might not be an option with European offers looming, or any other combination of things. But now that the Revs have this early momentum, it would be nice to maintain and build on it for the rest of the season.

Nashville is in a different boat, but with similar expectations. They have two new DPs who have started the year very well, a solid group of veterans like Walker Zimmerman and Dax McCarty, and probably shouldn’t be sitting on three points after three games. There was a lot to like from the steady Nashville side last season, especially defensively, and Randall Leal and Jhondar Cadiz have really improved on the attacking end. Yet Nashville still sits in a precarious position just three games into the year wondering when, or if, their results will match their improvements in the offseason.

Trying to build out of an early hole in the standings isn’t fun, happens in New England far more than it should with the Revs, so I understand this feeling. The Revs for years played a lot of solid soccer games, with little to show for it in the standings and I think Nashville so far in 2021 has fit that mold. Maybe tomorrow is the day Nashville as a club or fanbase draws the proverbial line in the sand and win, lose, or draw, does some serious reflection on what they can and can’t do this season and that’s fine. Perhaps actually that’s a very healthy thing to do.

You can’t win a championship or title in the first month of the season, but you can lose one early on or at the very least make it significantly harder to win it all. Just remember Nashville, you’re still five soul crushing MLS Cup loses behind us all time. I think you’ll be fine.

Be sure to check out my answer’s to Ben’s questions over at Broadway Sports. The Revs-Nashville game kicks off at 1:38pm from Nissan Stadium in Nashville, TN.

TBM: You tweeted out this is a must win game for Nashville, talk about why this game in particular is so important just four games in and what Nashville needs to do to build on their first season.

BW: Must win is a bit open to interpretation. Nashville’s season isn’t over if they lose or draw on Saturday. But they were open before the season about how important this stretch of home matches was to open the season and wrack up some points. They haven’t done that so far. Getting three or four points from four home matches would be a disaster, especially with 11 of their last 17 matches on the road.

Last year only NYCFC made the playoffs without a win in their first four matches (not counting teams who were added into the play-in round). Since 2017, only seven teams have qualified without a win in their first four. The start to 2021 hasn’t been ideal for Nashville. If they don’t get a win on Saturday, it may be too big a hole to climb out of.

2. After three home draws, including salvaging a pair of 2-2 draws from 0-2 deficits, but what’s getting Nashville into trouble early that is causing all these comebacks and how to they break through into the win column?

Slow starts to the match were killer against Cincinnati and Montreal. After Nashville went down two goals in both games, they were absolutely dominant. They actually played some of their best soccer I’ve seen under Gary Smith and were probably unfortunate to only score four goals in those games. They should have won both.

But because of the slow starts, they dropped points.

Against Miami, Nashville cleaned things up defensively (even though they were pinned back again to start), but their focus on defensive stability sacrificed their attacking production. They need to find balance and land somewhere between the Cincinnati/Montreal performance and the Miami performance. If they can put it together (and I think they will), they’ll be a very good team. It just becomes a question of whether or not it’s too late.

3. Now I did have to bench Jhonder Cadiz and Randall Leal from my fantasy team this week for obvious reasons, but I am a big fan of both of these players. There’s no real question here, just talk about your DPs.

Leal has been absolutely fantastic this season. He’s been by far Nashville’s best player, and really has benefited from playing with Costa Rica in Olympic qualifying. He hit the season in better form than the rest of the squad, and has been one of the best in MLS so far.

Jhonder Cadiz is on loan through June 30, and it’s still not a guarantee that Nashville triggers his purchase option. He’s had moments, and obviously scored two goals. That’s great, but he probably should have five. His linkup play and pace sometimes leaves a bit to be desired, so I’m interested to see where Nashville lands with him.

Hany Mukhtar always has great movement and gets in the right spots, but the final shot or pass just hasn’t been on for him so far. Nashville really need him to produce if they’re to hit their ceiling. I still think he’ll pan out this season, but they need more from him.

And then Rodrigo Piñeiro got on the field for the first time last match in stoppage time. He’s a high potential U22 Initiative signing, but it’s taking him a while to adapt and it will take him some time to break into the first team squad.

Lineup/Injuries/Predictions/Etc.

Daniel Ríos has been out with a foot injury this season. He may be back in training - we’ll find out soon enough. Brian Anunga missed last week with a left leg injury, and again we won’t know if he’s ok until the injury report. And then Abu Danladi has been out as well. Of those three, Ríos is the biggest miss, and Anunga is very crucial depth. I don’t see any changes to the lineup this week, and I really think Nashville will turn up on Saturday and win 2-1.