Flawed teams still win MLS Cups

Nashville is a flawed team. The regular season has been marred by dropped points from conceding set-piece goals. Wednesday night’s draw against Orlando City is just the latest iteration of this squad’s Achilles heel.

Nashville leads the league in the number of set-piece goals conceded, and it is not particularly close. Gary Smith’s side has leaked nine set-piece goals in 2021 (10 if you count Fabio’s goal for New York Red Bulls, which came directly after a set piece). The next highest total is just six set-piece goals conceded. It is a major problem. It is a problem that can sink a playoff run.

But like Aaron Rodgers before a slow start to an NFL season, I am here to tell you…. R-E-L-A-X. Flawed teams still win the MLS Cup all the time. 

Last season is a perfect example. The Columbus Crew went the entire season without winning a single away match. They caught a couple of lucky breaks in the playoffs and were able to enjoy home field advantage as higher seeds fell in the first round. 

In 2016, Seattle finished the season in the bottom half of goals scored only netting 1.26 goals per game. They entered the MLS Cup Playoffs as the fourth seed. It turns out, the Sounders didn’t need to score many goals to capture a championship. They leaned on their defense and conceded just one goal throughout the entire playoffs. Brian Schmetzer’s men did not even need to score in the final, playing Toronto to a scoreless draw. Stefan Frei saved the team’s bacon with the most iconic save in MLS history, and the Sounders buried their kicks in the penalty shootout to win the Cup.

Gary Smith himself provides arguably the best example of flawed teams capturing an MLS Cup. In 2010, Smith led the Colorado Rapids to MLS Cup glory. The Rapids entered the playoffs as only the fifth best team in the Western Conference. But they strung together results narrowly escaping a first round exit to capture the title. 

MLS history is littered with flawed teams winning it all. Since Colorado’s title in the 2010 season, only twice has the MLS Cup been lifted by a team that finished first in its conference during the regular season, Toronto in 2017 and Los Angeles Galaxy in 2011.

The average MLS Cup champion since 2010 finishes between second and third in their conference with 1.73 points per game. Nashville SC currently sits second in the Eastern Conference with 1.70 points per game.

Nashville certainly has its blemishes, and they were on full display Wednesday night against Orlando. My best advice to Nashville supporters is to always demand more from the club. After all, who doesn’t want to win every match? But just know that the sky is not necessarily falling after another night of dropped points.  

Nashville is putting together a special sophomore season with real potential for postseason magic. Flaws and all, this team is blowing expectations away.

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