This weekend, Nashville SC picked up a road draw at Minnesota United under miserable conditions. Here are my three thoughts on the match.
1. Gary Smith repeats his lineup in face of similar opposition
A week ago, Gary Smith surprised everyone by trotting a 4-1-3-2 / 4-4-2 Diamond formation. Against Minnesota, Smith relied on the same starting XI. It was not a surprise. Seattle and Minnesota share a lot of similarities. They deployed a similar formation with a number of quality attackers that can threaten even the best MLS defenses.
In retrospect, the tactical shift from last year’s three-center back formation should have been considered as a potential wrinkle. By replacing Jack Maher with Sean Davis, Smith adds another ball-winner and MLS veteran to the midfield.
It allows the Coyotes’ midfield to hunt in packs and create additional pressing opportunities further up the pitch, like this one featuring all three of the aforementioned midfielders.
Speaking of Sean Davis, the man keeps popping up in all the right places. Two games in and you can already tell that Davis is a classic glue guy. His contributions can be easily missed when watching live, but he keeps popping up on second viewings when you can pause and slow things down.
In the 42nd minute, Davis altered Luis Amarilla’s shot helping to diffuse a dangerous situation. When Amarilla received the ball and turned Walker Zimmerman, Davis was a couple of steps behind at the top of the box. He quickly diagnosed the action, scrambled to help Zimmerman, and stuck a foot in to alter Amarillo’s shot. Davis saved Nashville from conceding a goal.
In true box-to-box fashion, Davis flashed on the offensive side as well. He was extremely unlucky to not collect his first assist in the blue and gold. Davis made a well-timed run behind Minnesota’s backline and played a superb cutback ball for Randall Leal.
Davis’ play makes it easy to see why Smith opted for the much-discussed tactical switch.
2. Alex Muyl’s final third defending leaves a lot to be desired
One of the big talking points in preseason concerned the competition at the right fullback/wingback position vacated by Alistair Johnston. Keen observers of Gary Smith always rated Eric Miller as the favorite. But plenty of supporters hoped to see Alex Muyl seize the role. Muyl offers more going forward and is always near the top of the league in miles run per 90 minutes – indicative of a stamina trait that is required of modern fullbacks.
Alex Muyl entered Saturday’s match following the hour-long rain delay. Muyl patrolled the right flank from end line to end line. But his defending in Zone 16 left a lot to be desired.
Below, Muyl’s reckless foul provides Minnesota a set-piece opportunity deep in Nashville territory. This is the free kick from which the Loons scored their lone goal.
Muyl can absolutely be that aggressive further up the pitch. But deep in the final third, Muyl cannot concede cheap fouls, especially given Nashville’s set-piece woes.
Later in the match, a stutter step allowed Oniel Fisher to beat Muyl to the ball and fire off a cross from the end line. Ultimately, no harm was caused as Jo Willis picked off the ball. But you want to see Muyl win that battle in the future by recognizing where the ball is headed and out-positioning Fisher to shield the ball harmlessly out of play.
Muyl’s defensive instincts in the final third are something I have questioned going back to last year. This Inter Miami chance is a core memory seared into my brain. Muyl lost track of the back-post runner nearly resulting in a Brek Shea goal.
While I have concerns about Muyl’s defending in the final third, there is no doubt about his relentless pursuit of the ball further up the pitch. He is an absolute animal. This tackle to win back possession was a thing of beauty.
It is not an easy task to become a defensive fullback after years spent as a pressing winger. There is an entirely different mindset involved. But if Muyl wants to make a serious claim for a starting role over Miller, then Muyl will really need to clean up some defensive mistakes in the final third.
3. Sometimes live soccer wins over televised soccer
My thoughts may be colored by not having watched the Nashville match live. I spent the weekend in Charlotte taking in a record crowd at Bank of America Stadium.
It was a great experience. The city was truly buzzing in anticipation. Soccer fans in crisp new Charlotte FC jerseys flooded uptown and the surrounding neighborhoods. Maybe it was the perfect storm of a new team, gorgeous weather, and the sense of finally moving past the Omicron threat, but I have never seen Charlotte create an all-day party like this for a Carolina Panthers game.
After a weekend of breweries and a four-hour drive back to Knoxville on Sunday, it made watching a replay of Minnesota and Nashville a bit of a slog. But at least it was not a loss to go back to. Nashville has now gathered four points from its first two road matches establishing an excellent pace to start the 2022 season.