You’ve probably heard this before. Nashville SC are about to play their first match in forever. Literally forever. After a 157 day break that included false starts, travel complications, and lots of training, Nashville travel to Frisco, Texas to take on FC Dallas in the first match of MLS’s post-tournament regular season.
157 days is a long time to go without playing, two or three times longer than a typical offseason. While the squad is largely the same, the pecking order could have shifted. In addition, head coach Gary Smith hinted at lineup tweaks to give the most in-shape players a start tonight.
With that in mind, here are the five players I’m most interested to see on Wednesday night.
Ríos has been talked about ad-nauseum during the break, and with good reason. Despite his lack of experience in MLS, he’s an instinctive finisher, and his holdup play connects the midfield and forward lines better than any of Nashville’s other forward options.
June 19, 2020
Badji is a faster, more physical option who pressed really well in the opening stages against both Atlanta and Dallas. There’s a case for him to start to try and disrupt Dallas’s back line without the ball. He’s also questionable with a hamstring issue, and Ríos has been due a start for a while. He’ll likely get the nod, and I’m fascinated to see how he does at the next level.
The Costa Rican designated player was a bright spot in Nashville’s first two matches, hitting the post a couple times and looking like a constant threat cutting in from the left. He’s a young player with a lot of upside, capable of moments like this:
Este fue el mejor gol del apertura 2019 ¡Aplausos de pie para semejante joya de gol! ?? ¡Grande @randall_leal! pic.twitter.com/Dmd7uFGIij— Deportivo Saprissa ? (@SaprissaOficial) July 25, 2020
We’ve only seen two matches of him in a gold shirt, and as he gets more comfortable in MLS, we should start to see what a special player he is. Hopefully we’ll be treated to some of that tonight.
Fresh off a new contract, Nashville’s best center-back slash best attacker will be a centerpiece for the Boys in Gold, not just for this season, but for years to come. Against his former team, Zimmerman will have to keep Nashville’s defense organized in just their third game together. It won’t be easy. Dallas is flexible tactically, full of energy, and really deep. Nashville will have their hands full with runners coming from several directions, and it will largely up to Zimmerman to hold the line.
A rookie right-back out of Wake Forrest, Johnston is probably a longshot to get the start. He’s highly rated by Nashville’s staff, who think he has the potential to be a long-term answer at the position. He has zero minutes of MLS experience on his resume, and there’s a case to be made for going with a more veteran presence in their first match back.
However, one of Johnston’s key attributes has always been his engine. He may not be experienced, but he’s more than capable of getting up and down the flank for 90 minutes, even in the Texas heat. If Smith is serious about starting players who can go for 90 minutes, Johnston shouldn’t be counted out.
Another player who’s probably not at the top of the starting list, but Winn is a young, pacey, exciting player who looks like a solid change of pace option off the bench.
where's your false god now pic.twitter.com/KD7zlOpSGG— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) March 1, 2020
Winn grew up in nearby Garland, TX, and if Smith wants players who can handle the heat, Winn could be an option. Late in the match, with five substitutes to utilize, against a Dallas team who are also coming off a five month break, don’t be surprised if Smith throws on Winn to provide a spark.
Which players are you looking forward to watch? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!