Nashville SC put the train back on the tracks last night with a victory over CF Montréal. After an abysmal loss in Houston over the weekend, the 2-1 win quickly brought the good vibes back to Nashville soccer.
Here are my three thoughts on the match:
Nashville make most of limited opportunities
Montréal finished with more expected goals, possession, shots, completed passes, and duels won. But Nashville finished ahead in the one category that ultimately matters, goals scored.
Despite Montréal maintaining a statistical advantage in several key categories, the Impact never seemed to truly threaten Nashville’s net. The one goal came from an absolute gift, wrapped in a tidy bow by Joe Willis.
Nashville, on the other hand, took advantage of their limited trips into Montréal’s penalty area. Alex Muyl scored an absolute banger to open up the scoring for the Coyotes. According to MLS’ stat tracking, Muyl’s shot only had a 5.25% chance of scoring before he rifled the shot into the top corner.
The second Nashville goal came from a classic C.J. Sapong and Hany Mukhtar interchange on the counterattack.
It is no coincidence that both Nashville goals came from playing direct. Montréal is a tough team to break down. They came into the evening first in the Eastern Conference for a reason. They are a well-coached side that plays within their individual roles. On a whole, Montréal did well to limit Nashville’s chances. It takes quite an effort to hold Nashville to just 0.6 xG in The Castle.
Montréal did well, but Nashville made the most of their limited opportunities.
Wanting to see more of the high press
In the 12th minute, the Coyotes nearly created the opening goal from a ruthless high pressing action as Montréal attempted to build out of the back.
Dax McCarty initially steps up to force Montréal’s keeper to quickly pass the ball off. As Rudy Camacho receives the pass, McCarty immediately runs to help cover up the nearest teammate. With his first option taken away, Camacho attempts to play a line-splitting pass to Mathieu Choinière. Brian Anunga reads the pass like a book and flies in with a challenge that sends the ball careening right to the feet of C.J. Sapong in Montréal’s box.
It is a brilliant bit of teamwork that nearly created an open look for Nashville.
In the 20th minute, Nashville again keyed in on a high pressing trigger to deny Montréal the ability to play out of the back. Watch the second line of Nashville defenders as soon as the ball is played back to Montréal’s keeper. That pressing trigger sent Nashville’s midfield in motion to hound the Impact.
I absolutely want to see more of this. Nashville has plenty of attacking players willing to put in the work defensively to deploy a dangerous high press. By no means should Gary Smith start implementing a gegenpressing system, but an effective high press can serve as a tactical wrinkle for Nashville to generate opportunities and unsettle opponents.
A third consecutive start for Luke Haakenson
Luke Haakenson has now started three consecutive matches since Randall Leal went out with an ankle injury midway through the Real Salt Lake match.
It is quite a remarkable feat for the former fourth-round MLS Super Draft pick. It is the area of the draft in which plenty of teams simply “Pass” rather than make a selection. By just making it in the league and sticking around, Haakenson has already become one of the more notable fourth-round selections in the last decade.
Haakenson has certainly made the most of his opportunity. In a way, it should not be surprising. He is a hard-working, defensively-sound, and versatile midfielder that will always be loved by a manager like Gary Smith that places such a high emphasis on those qualities of all eleven players, even if they do occupy a more traditionally attacking role.
Last night, Haakenson finished with a 95.2% passing percentage. He once again looked like he belongs on an MLS pitch, but he failed to make a measurable impact on the match.
Things could have shaken out differently for Haakenson. In the 40th minute, Haakenson positioned himself well in the box for a cutback pass from Hany Mukhtar. But the pass never came. Mukhtar clipped a ball that was immediately gobbled up by Sebastian Breza.
Haakenson should have a few more starts heading his way. Gary Smith relayed that Randall Leal is still a couple of weeks away from returning to the lineup. Haakenson may never get an extended run of matches like this ever again. It is up to him to make it count.