Ivey’s Three Thoughts: A win at Sporting KC

This weekend, Nashville SC captured a win at Children’s Mercy Park against Sporting Kansas City. In honor of Nashville’s third win of the year, here are my three thoughts following the match.  

1. Mission accomplished

Nashville SC began this season with a daunting eight-match road trip as the club puts the finishing touches on GEODIS Park. Gary Smith set a goal of eight points from the opening eight matches. Any extra points and he would be doing a jig in celebration. 

Mission accomplished. I will impatiently wait for the Nashville SC digital team to release Smith’s TikTok dancing debut. 

Beyond the gaffer, Nashville supporters ought to join in on the jig. The Coyotes have now cleared 35% of their road schedule for the season and have earned 1.67 points per match. It is a significant increase from last season’s average of 1.24 points per match on the road. The difference is that Nashville are finding ways to turn draws into wins. 

What is fueling these wins? The answer is simple, they are scoring goals. 

Nashville are averaging 1.0 goals per game and have been held scoreless just once. It is a massive improvement from 2021. 

If you remove the scoring fests against FC Cincinnati and Inter Miami, Nashville averaged only 0.6 goals per away match last year. Additionally, the Coyotes were held scoreless in 8 of those 15 away matches (53.3%).  

It’s impossible to win if you don’t score a goal. Just putting one ball into the back of the net each match is paying massive dividends for Nashville.

2. Anunga’s defensive lapse mars an otherwise steady night

Against Sporting Kansas City, Brian Anunga made his second straight start in place of veteran Aníbal Godoy.

In his three years with Nashville, Anunga has carved a depth-piece role within Nashville’s roster based on his steady play and superb defending. But Anunga’s offensive, ball-progressing contributions still leave a lot to be desired. To maintain his role within the team, Anunga must remain locked in defensively. 

On Sporting’s lone goal, Anunga bears partial responsibility. A botched handoff by Alex Muyl and Jack Maher of Ben Sweat’s overlapping run created the opportunity. But Anunga is caught napping as the pullback flashes right in front of him. 

One mistake is not going to put Anunga in Gary Smith’s doghouse. There has been far too much trust built-up between them over three years. But when your role is as a reliable, defensive stalwart, you cannot afford to risk that reputation. 

Beyond the one vital mistake, Anunga produced his typical steady shift. 

This tackle and toe-poke pass to Hany Mukhtar was a thing of beauty. 

Anunga rarely plays many line-splitting passes. He is at his best when he keeps the ball moving quickly. Here, Anunga displayed excellent vision to know where the empty space would be to serve as a pressure release valve allowing Nashville to retain possession.

Anunga’s one mistake will stick with memories, but the rest of his performance gives reason to believe that we will keep seeing the same, reliable Brian Anunga moving forward.

3. Continuing to track Nashville’s set-piece defense

Until it proves no longer an issue, I’ll continue to monitor how Nashville deals with defensive set-pieces. Luckily for Nashville, Sporting Kansas City showed little urgency in dead-ball phases. 

Here is a recap of Sporting KC’s six set-piece opportunities: 

16th minute: The corner kick is overhit and Sporting’s targets fail to make any threatening runs towards Nashville’s six-yard box.

60th minute: Sporting play the corner to a man above the box. He immediately feeds it back to the corner taker who floats the ball to the back post. It results in a looping header that hardly troubles Joe Willis. 

72nd minute: This was SKC’s most dangerous corner of the night. Johnny Russell flicks on the initial service. The second ball is played back to him as he makes a run to the far post. Nashville stayed organized, kept the danger further away from the goalmouth, and had defenders in position to block Russell’s powerful header. 

84th minute: A poor ball is easily dealt with by Jack Maher, Nashville’s zonal defender positioned toward the back post. 

88th minute: The free kick is easily claimed by Joe Willis.

90th minute: Sporting KC looked physically gassed lacking energy, even while chasing a goal. Sporting’s attackers offered little movement and fail to attack. Nashville’s numerical advantage of seven defenders versus four attackers in the six-yard box allows Nashville to handle the corner with ease. 

Throughout the match, Sporting Kansas City failed to truly test Nashville’s shaky set-piece defense. But kudos go to Nashville for handling its business. They can only answer the questions that opponents ask of them. We will continue to keep a watchful eye on set-piece defending as future opponents test whether Nashville has truly fixed its dead-ball woes.  

Bonus though

My thoughts are going on a two-match hiatus as I travel across the pond. In a way, it is fitting that the return of this Monday morning column will coincide with Nashville opening up GEODIS Park. It will truly be a special occasion.

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