Nashville SC fell to LAFC on Sunday night. It was always going to be a tough match against MLS’ best team, but it’s still disappointing to not pick up points at home.
Here are my three thoughts on the match.
A star-studded lineup
Sunday night featured a packed marquee of star appearances at Nashville’s newest entertainment venue. With Gareth Bale, Carlos Vela, and Giorgio Chiellini all in town, Nashville SC has never hosted such a star-studded assortment of players.
In their first two seasons, Nashville SC hosted a few well-known leading men. Nani, Gonzalo Higuaín, Alexandre Pato, and Blaise Matuidi each had storied European careers before calling Florida home. But none of those previous acts compares to hosting an A-list global soccer star, one of the most recognizable Mexican stars of his generation, and the fourth most capped player in Italian National Team history. Even the Grand Ole Opry wishes it could match the combined Q Score on display at GEODIS Park on Sunday night.
It is one of those moments as a relatively new club where it helps to step back and look at the big picture.
Nashville FC, the fan-created amateur club that served as the precursor to professional soccer in Nashville, played their first season in 2014, less than a decade ago. At that time, Bale had already completed his €100.8 million transfer to Real Madrid, Vela finished a 16-goal season for Real Sociedad, and Chiellini clinched his third straight Serie A title. In just eight years, soccer in Nashville has progressed from a standalone microphone at the corner of the neighborhood dive bar to hosting international stars on a primetime stage. It has been a remarkable journey that still needs to be appreciated from time to time.
Someone other than Hany needs to score
Nashville needs to find help for Hany Mukhtar…..FAST!
Mukhtar has taken his scoring to another level, already scoring 12 goals in league play. But even the MVP candidate can’t do it all on his own. Last night, the match was begging for another Coyote to lighten Mukhtar’s load.
A fellow forward has not scored since Aké Loba’s goal against Sporting Kansas City a month ago. It has been even longer for C.J. Sapong. Nashville’s starting striker has not found the scoresheet since May 28, a goalless streak that now spans eight matches.
It’s not just a matter of Sapong failing to convert chances. The underlying statistical numbers paint an unflattering picture. Since June 1, Sapong has generated only 1.57 expected goals (xG) in MLS play.
Sapong is not the only player with goal-generating issues. The entire squad has failed to produce quality scoring chances. Nashville, minus Mukhtar, have contributed just 3 goals on 5.03 xG over that same time frame.
With the transfer window open, Nashville needs to find attacking help for Mukhtar. As otherworldly as he has been, he cannot be expected to single-handedly shoulder Nashville’s title aspirations.
The man who scored LAFC’s first goal, Cristian Arango, will soak up a lot of those transfer wishes. But I don’t think a move for the Colombian striker is in the cards. Nashville appear poised to spend a lot of Allocation Money upgrading right back. Plus, Arango doesn’t seem to fit the mold of a Gary Smith striker.
As I mentioned in the latest episode of Speedway Soccer, I think Nashville should look to fill its open U22 Initiative slot with a promising young attacker that can be integrated into the lineup and provide stiff competition to the current starters.
A midseason trade for an MLS veteran attacker could also help lighten Mukhtar’s load. While Nashville did acquire Teal Bunbury and Ethan Zubak this offseason to step in for the departed Jhonder Cádiz and Daniel Ríos, neither has managed to replace the level of production. An MLS veteran like Danny Musovski (LAFC), Tom Barlow (New York Red Bulls), or Miguel Berry (Columbus) would all be interesting options that could be made available.
If Nashville want to think outside the box, they could look for a loan move from a player outside of MLS.
Fábio Gomes is looking for a move away from Atlético Mineiro. The Brazillian striker was with the New York Red Bulls on loan last season. He produced 0.41xG per 96 minutes, good for 27th overall in 2021.
Beyond Brazil, Nashville’s coaching staff could look to Europe for a loanee that could come in and challenge for a starting position. It’s a roster-building tactic used extensively by clubs outside of the Champions League to supplement their rosters without making a large financial investment. Inter Miami’s acquisition of Leonardo Campana on loan from Wolverhampton is an excellent example of the potential benefit. The Wolves forward has helped reverse the Herons’ fortunes having scored 8 goals in 20 appearances.
There’s no shortage of talented youngsters seeking loan moves each summer. Nashville could tap into this market to look for short-term help for its goal-scoring woes.
A 4-4-2 as a prelude to Shaq Moore?
For the second straight match, Gary Smith deployed his team in a 4-4-2 formation. In a vacuum, the formation switch would not register as particularly noteworthy. But with recent reports of Shaq Moore’s imminent arrival to Tennessee, I found the move to be quite interesting.
Gary Smith has long utilized more traditional four-man backlines throughout his coaching career. However, last season marked a noticeable shift. In the summer, Smith switched to a three-man backline that became Nashville’s default, defensive setup for the remainder of the 2021 season. This season, Smith has sprinkled in a four-defender formation with more regularity, although nearly two-thirds of matches have begun out of a three-defender formation.
With Nashville playing last night’s match out of a 4-4-2 formation, it is the first time the Coyotes have set up in a 4-4-2 in back-to-back matches since the opening weeks of the season.
I don’t think the timing of this switch is coincidental.
Moore is a natural right back. Like Daniel Lovitz on Nashville’s left side, Moore is a balanced player that is as equally adept in the attacking third as he is tracking back to defend. If the long-rumored transfer is completed, Smith may be tempted to utilize a four-man backline with more regularity in order to add another midfielder or attacker to the lineup.
We may be witnessing the beginning of a shift back to a predominantly back four.