Did you blink? If so, you may be forgiven for missing Nashville’s three-goal explosion early in the first half in Colorado. In a span of just nine minutes, the Coyotes raced out to a commanding lead, never looking back despite a few nervy moments late in the match.
Here are my three thoughts on the match:
A blistering start for the Coyotes
Nashville took just 17 minutes to deliver a shocking three-goal combination of gut punches to the home crowd. The Coyotes dominated the early proceedings racing out to a 3-0 lead before Colorado had a chance to really settle into the match.
Colorado entered the match with a 23-match regular-season home win streak, the fourth-longest in MLS history. The Rapids had also conceded just one goal in seven home matches, none from open play. Nashville snapped both streaks in sensational style.
The first goal came from a recycled set piece with C.J. Sapong poking in Walker Zimmerman’s spinning, volleyed attempt to ensure a goal. After Sapong’s goal, Hany Mukhtar took control of the match. Mukhtar’s scintillating form continued as he bagged two more goals. It brings his season tally to six goals and five assists, tied for third-most goal contributions in MLS.
When Hany Mukhtar is in form and playing his “A” game, Nashville’s ceiling is unlimited. There is only a select cadre of elite MLS attackers that possess the same level of creativity, dribbling, and shooting ability. All of which were on display on Mukhtar’s first goal.
Mukhtar was simply fantastic. But as good as the entire Nashville team were in the first 45 minutes, the last 45 minutes saw Nashville struggle in some familiar areas.
Panicco nervy in his first MLS action
I have to admit, I was surprised to see Elliot Panicco starting between the posts Saturday night. I called out Joe Wilis’ goal-causing blunders from the beginning. But I never thought in a million years that the ordinarily play-it-safe Gary Smith would make the goalkeeping switch for an MLS game.
It was a risk, but it does not seem so risky when your defense concedes only one shot on goal through the first 78 minutes. Nashville’s 10 field players largely took the pressure off Panicco as he was hardly tested for large portions of the match.
Despite the three-goal lead, Panicco certainly displayed signs of nervousness and shaky play in his first MLS action.
Here, Panicco hesitated as to whether he should stick to his line or come out and punch away. He eventually made the right decision, but the hesitation made the play closer than it needed to be.
Panicco struggled in distribution as well. He finished the night having completed just 39.4% of his passes. Whether it came from a coaching staff directive or his own choosing, Panicco rarely attempted to build out of the back. Instead, he launched a series of low-probability balls down the field that too often ceded possession back to Colorado.
I am really not sure where Nashville goes from here. Panicco struggled at times, but will his nerves settle with his first MLS win under his belt? WIll Joe Willis have shaken off his goal-conceding blunders after a restful international break?
Lurking in the background is Willis’ contract situation. Willis’ current deal only runs through the rest of the season, although Nashville holds a team option for 2023. At 33-years-old, Willis is the fifth-oldest regular starting goalkeeper in MLS. Goalkeepers can play late into their thirties, but Nashville must be keenly aware that they have an impending decision to make about their goalkeeping future.
Set-piece woes rear their ugly head
Just when you begin to think that Nashville had solved their set-piece woes, they show up again.
Colorado’s lone goal came from a direct free kick. Diego Rubio struck it wonderfully, but there are certainly a few questions that should be asked.
First, why has Nashville not adopted the modern trend of laying a player down directly behind the wall? The tactic is not just for appearances. It prevents a shot played on the turf and gives the wall confidence to jump as high as possible knowing that they do not need to protect against a sneaky attempt played underneath them. It is a game of inches. An extra inch or two of a jump could have potentially prevented a goal.
Second, did Panicco show too much of the near post for Rubio? The Colorado broadcast crew immediately knew where Rubio was going to go based on his past tendency. May have Panicco stopped the shot had he cheated a foot closer to his near post?
It’s one thing to be beaten from a well-struck direct free kick. I’ll save my larger concerns for Nashville’s failure to adequately defend a recycled ball following a set piece in the 86th minute. Daniel Lovitz is a step slow to react to the Michael Barrios cross allowing Rubio a clean header from 10 yards out.
Luckily for Nashville, the ball traveled straight into Panicco’s mitts. But could you imagine the amount of nervous nail biting that would have occurred in the final minutes had Rubio directed the header past Panicco? Set pieces and the disorganized state immediately following a set piece continue to plague Nashville as its Achilles heel.
Nashville will now enjoy a well-earned international break. After a three-week span of non-stop games, a solid rest will help Nashville recover. The Coyotes’ next match comes at home against the San Jose Earthquakes.