“The toughest part about playing so many road games is that if you get into a mindset of being really defensive.”
Dave Romney knows playing on the road isn’t always pretty. The Nashville SC defender was honest about Nashville’s approach to playing the first eight matches of the 2022 season away from home. The Coyotes have foregone a more attractive style of play, favoring a more pragmatic approach that has served them well. They’ve earned 10 points from their opening six games, with their two losses coming to FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake, both currently in the Western Conference top five.
“That’s probably the hardest part [of the road trip], knowing that being super defensive won’t be our identity for the long run but we’ll find ourselves in that scenario in some of these tough games on the road.” Romney told reporters after their 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City, a match in which Nashville ironically played some of their more expansive soccer of the season.
Nashville showed a glimpse of that more attacking identity in Kansas City. The ‘Yotes took 19 shots, more than they’ve taken in a match all season. Their 3.04 expected goals were their highest ever on the road and their second-highest ever in MLS. And despite games like Columbus, in which they didn’t take a shot after the 34th minute, Nashville have been significantly more aggressive on the road. They’re averaging 1.36 xG per match, a 134% increase from 2021. That’s not just gamestate muddying the waters, like their 2-1 loss to Salt Lake where they chased a lead for the entire match. When the score is level, Nashville’s expected goals have increased 203% from 2021.
Numbers and nerdiness aside, Nashville have been more aggressive on the road then they were last year.
“We all felt that this game, after last week’s victory and the confidence that we gained from that, this game was one that we felt we could just turn the screw a little bit more. And it worked,” said Gary Smith.
“I’m not saying every week will be that way. I’m not saying every week we’ll perform in this manner, but today, the way the guys went about their business against this team in this environment, it worked. Therefore we can look back on this footage and we can draw on this. When we need to turn the screw again, we’ve not only got the tools, but we’ve got the confidence from this performance.”
The win in Kansas City ensured that Nashville will finish with more than a point per game from their first eight, regardless of how things play out in their last two matches before they open GEODIS Park on May 1. But with a trip to San Jose next weekend, the Boys In Gold will certainly play for a win against the final remaining winless side in MLS.
“When you look at today’s performance, there’s a real belief and a fiber within the group that is consistently growing, game on game now,” said Smith.
“When you look back at the performances across these six games already away from home, really it’s only the Dallas game we could say that we underperformed, certainly to the standards that we have set… I think there’s more to come from the group. I think there’s other dimensions to the group. But what we are seeing is a team that is gaining tremendous understanding, rhythm and confidence out of some really, really tough road games.”
With just two games to go before their long-awaited return home, Nashville are hoping to build on more attacking performances like the one they had against Kansas City. And with the hardest part of their schedule already out of the way, there’s a real chance to put the league on notice.
“We know that’s not our identity, that’s more of a result of eight straight games on the road and just trying to claw points on the road,” laughed Romney.
“We know once we get ourselves at home for a stretch of games, we’re going to be a lot more aggressive, a lot more attacking.”