Ivey’s Three Thoughts: A disappointing draw for Nashville SC

Nashville SC extended its home unbeaten streak to 25 matches but dropped points at home yet again. The San Jose Earthquakes, sitting just second from the bottom of the Western Conference, escaped GEODIS Park with a point. 

Here are my three thoughts on the match.

Gary Smith’s post-game comments 

Nashville SC started the match missing three starters including the club’s top two center backs. After the match, Gary Smith discussed how he entered the night fearful that Nashville would suffer its first home loss at GEODIS Park because of the various absences.  

Frankly, the comments rubbed me the wrong way. Let’s break down why.

San Jose, Nashville’s opponent Saturday evening, has not exactly set the world on fire. The Earthquakes hold the third-worst record in MLS and have conceded the most goals this year. It is an even bleaker picture for the Bay Area side on the road. San Jose has failed to win a single road match and has picked up draws only at Vancouver and Columbus, neither of which stands above the playoff line. In a league with one of the heaviest home-winning percentages, this is a match Nashville should expect to win, regardless of personnel. 

It is no secret that missing both Dave Romney and Walker Zimmerman threw a wrench in Nashville’s defensive backline and Randall Leal’s continued absence is less than ideal. But it is not as if the missing pieces were one-sided. San Jose were missing three starters of their own. Marcos López and Francisco Calvo were both absent on international duty while Jackon Yueill sat unused on the bench nursing a thigh injury. 

Nashville having been reduced to Jack Maher as the only natural center-back starter was cause for concern. But the Coyotes’ defense has managed missing pieces before. Saturday was a time for adjustment, not lowered expectations.

Adjustments would have been easier with center-back depth 

A week ago, I wrote about Nashville’s need to acquire veteran center-back depth. Saturday night’s match with San Jose put that need into crystal clear focus. 

Gary Smith does not have a natural center back that he trusts outside of the starting three of Walker Zimmerman, Dave Romney, and Jack Maher. Nashville’s reserves Josh Bauer and Ahmed Longmire have failed to make an appearance. If a spot-duty start was going to happen, Saturday was the night. 

Last season, Nashville leaned on Jalil Anibaba to replace Walker Zimmerman for several matches as the latter recovered from a hamstring strain picked up while on international duty. Simultaneously in an August trip to Toronto, Robert Castellanos provided a one-match starting cameo when Anibaba was unable to travel to Canada due to border restrictions. Castellanos earned MLS Team-of-the-Week honors as he scored Nashville’s lone goal.

Under a similar scenario this week, Gary Smith veered in a different direction. Rather than throw Bauer or Longmire off the deep end, Gary Smith opted for a lineup that featured all four of Nashville’s fullbacks. Given Smith’s comments highlighted above, it is a situation that caused doubt to creep in as to the Coyotes’ ability to stop San Jose’s attack. 

All credit goes to both Daniel Lovitz and Eric Miller. They both played the center-back role excellently. It is a position much more familiar to Miller than Lovitz, but both hardly took a wrong step all night. 

But it is a situation that Nashville fans and its manager probably do not want to see again. Mike Jacobs needs to find a veteran center back that can be a trusted deputy to Nashville’s starting trio.

Give credit to JT Marcinkowski

Nashville will surely exit the match feeling as if they had performed well enough to win the match. There were numerous half chances throughout the match that just never resulted in the breakthrough goal. 

But credit should go to San Jose goalkeeper JT Marcinkowski. He rightfully captured Man of the Match honors. He was excellent throughout the night in his positioning and shot-stopping. 

An early breakaway for Luke Haakenson was the first such opportunity for Marcinkowski to affect Nashville’s attackers.

Live, I thought Haakenson bottled the opportunity to stamp his name on the match. However, after watching the replay, I am really not all that sure what he could have done differently. Marcinkowski established an excellent position. He cut down the angle, stood tall, and made himself as big as possible. A chipped shot would needed to have been inch perfect to clear Marcinkowski. Haakenson did well to round him, but all credit to Paul Marie for racing back to get in position to block that shot. 

In the 33rd minute, a Hany Mukhtar free header in the box generated Nashville’s statistically best chance of the night. Mukhtar found space in between San Jose’s defenders and delivered a headed effort low and away from the keeper that required Marcinkowski to make a diving save.

Marcinkowski really was excellent all night for the visitors. 

In first-half stoppage time, Mukhtar again found himself with an opportunity in front of the net. Marcinkowski narrowed the angle and covered his goal well. He may have got a fingertip on Mukhtar’s shot. But even if he did not, his hand positioning would have had him in position to make a save had Mukhtar’s attempt been on frame. 

In the 76th minute, Marcinkowski came up big again with a diving stop on a C.J. Sapong header.

Sometimes, you just run into nights like this. Nashville generated plenty of good looks in front of the net. But the Coyotes ran into a keeper on a heater. There is only so much you can do offensively when the opposition keeps coming up with excellent individual plays.

Bonus thought 

In a scoreless draw, the most memorable part of Saturday night’s match was the pitch-invading squirrel. That can be interpreted as either the best thing or the worst thing ever. I will let you decide. 

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