Nashville SC kept the good vibes rolling with a third-straight, multi-goal victory. The Boys in Gold overcame a slow start and pounced on the Rapids in the second half en route to a 4-1 rout.
Here are my three thoughts on the match:
A tale of two halves
Wednesday night featured a tale of two halves. In the first 45 minutes, Colorado dominated the proceedings, while not the scoreline. Nashville struggled to gain a foothold offensively with seemingly every attack broken up by a stifling Rapids midfield.
Bryan Acosta deserves the credit for Colorado’s early success. He blanketed Hany Mukhtar, sticking to him like white on rice. Rumors have it that the Broncos’ secondary coach are already reviewing the game film in search of a new cornerback.
Acosta cut off space and made build-up play through the feet of Mukhtar near impossible. It was an impressive first-half defensive performance. Acosta came to MLS as an attack-minded midfielder on a DP contract. He flopped in Dallas but has reinvented himself in Colorado.
As good as Colorado were in the first half, there is no stopping Hany Mukhtar. You can only hope to momentarily contain him. Mukhtar and the rest of Nashville came out on fire in the second half.
While the goals will grab the headlines, I would be remiss if I did not mention Nashville’s defense. The Coyotes conceded just two shots on goal with none coming in the second half. Limiting opponent opportunities has been just as big of a driver of Nashville’s recent resurgence. As the defense succeeds, Nashville’s attack is given the space and ability to flourish.
Defense turns into offense
Nashville’s second-half goals perfectly encapsulate how the defense can create offense for the Coyotes. The squad, as currently constructed, is never going to pick teams apart with methodical build-up and positional play. They are at their best when turnovers turn into blistering counterattacks.
Nashville’s second goal highlights this well. I started the sequence clip a lot earlier so you can get a sense of how Nashville generated offense from its defense. Colorado aimlessly passed around the horn unable to find a seam through Nashville’s defense to break lines. The ball eventually made its way back to William Yarbrough.
The back pass to the Colorado keeper triggered Nashville into pushing its lines up high to deny an easy build-up phase. Yarbrough attempted to pass over Nashville’s defense. The pass itself was well placed, but Jonathan Lewis failed to corral it. The turnover instantly sparks a blistering counterattack. In less than seven seconds, Nashville found the back of the net.
Shaq Moore finds Randall Leal who slips in a through ball for Mukhtar. The MVP finds that space because Keegan Rosenberry is still out of position by the time Leal receives the ball. Rosenberry stretched himself wide to provide Yarbrough a passing option. When Yarbrough went long, it left Rosenberry in no man’s land racing back to close Mukhtar. Cleverly, Mukhtar aims his run right at where Rosenberry just came from. The Rapids defender was unable to change course in time, and Nashville found its go-ahead goal.
Nashville’s third goal echoed the same story, Nashville’s defense fueling the offense. Mukhtar and Sapong hunted in a pack and pestered Lalas Abubakar into a giveaway that immediately sparked another Coyotes’ attack. Only eight seconds lapsed from the turnover to Sapong’s shot in the box. The shot was blocked but Jacob Shaffelburg picked up the loose ball and found the back of the net for the backbreaking goal that sealed the lead.
Nashville nearly found another just minutes later. The Coyotes pressed high up the field forcing a loose pass that was immediately intercepted by Daniel Lovitz. He quickly found the feet of Randall Leal and the counterattack was on. In just five seconds, Leal fired off a shot that required Yarbrough to make an excellent diving save. Defense creating offense.
I’ve said it at various times this year: Nashville play their best when the front line is pushing high and aggressively pressing opposing backlines. The Coyotes are not a slow, possession-based team. They score goals with lightning-quick counterattacks that give opponents no time to regain their shape. The second and third goals took less than ten seconds to go from defense to the ball in the back of Colorado’s net. As long as the ‘Yotes keep playing with that level of aggressiveness, the sky is the limit.
The playoff picture sharpens, but the field remains jumbled
Wednesday night felt pivotal in the Western Conference playoff race. While not eliminated mathematically just yet, the Rapids and the Sounders all but buried their playoff chances with critical losses. Vancouver, while off last night, are on the edge of dropping from the race as well. It leaves eight teams competing for seven playoff spots. In this sense, the playoff picture is beginning to sharpen as the likely field narrows. But the possible seeding remains a jumbled mess behind leaders LAFC and Austin FC.
Currently, Nashville sit two points behind third-place Minnesota United and four points ahead of the LA Galaxy occupying eighth. As an exercise of prediction which will inevitably look laughable in a few short weeks, I have attempted to forecast the end of the season standings.
Nashville have three home matches remaining. But two of those three are against quality competition. The Galaxy match is a certifiable “six pointer”. Nashville routinely steals points on the road, but Austin and LAFC make it tough sledding. The Coyotes should be content to steal one draw against either foe.
Prediction: 50 points (13 wins)
The Loons are the hottest club in MLS, but a slight dip in form should be expected after losing Dibassy for the season. Four of their final six are on the road with a home match against uber-talented LAFC sandwiched in between. An away victory against an eliminated San Jose will boost the point total, but I caution against expecting all three at Sporting Kansas City. Sporting have won three of their last four at home with summer transfers boosting SKC.
Prediction: 53 points (16 wins)
Dallas have been a tough team to peg all year. When firing on all cylinders, this team can make a Cup run.
Prediction: 50 points (13 wins)
The LA Galaxy are best positioned to jump Nashville with seven matches remaining, two more than Nashville. They also avoid the Western Conference heavyweights. With just two matches against playoff teams, the Galaxy are poised to pick up a plethora of points.
Prediction: 50 points (15 wins)
Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake hold a game in hand on Nashville with an even number home and away. The road matches are brutal. It would not be surprising if RSL fail to pick up a point from any of the three. DC United should provide an easy win, but Portland and Cincinnati fighting for their playoff lives will be tricky affairs.
Prediction: 50 points (13 wins)
Portland jumped the Galaxy last night with a monumental three points in Austin. They sit three points behind Nashville after Wednesday night with just five matches remaining. Crucially, Nashville holds the first tiebreaker over the Timbers (total wins). Portland could go on a late-season run, as they did last year. But my total has the Timbers falling short of the playoffs. For the first time since 2014, the MLS Cup will not feature either the Sounders or Timbers.
Prediction: 48 points (11 wins)
For those keeping track, that is four teams tied on 50 points. In my forecast, LA Galaxy would win the first tiebreaker (total wins) and earn a home playoff match. But it demonstrates just how tight the race for a home playoff match will become. One unexpected result can drastically change the playoff picture. It should be a fascinating race as the regular season enters the stretch run.
With today (Thursday) being the start of the Tennessee Volunteers football season, I cannot help but appreciate Tony Husband’s continued use of “It’s Soccer Time in Tennessee” to begin each match. It is a subtle nod to legendary Vols sportscaster John Ward who announced the opening kickoff with “It’s Football Time in Tennessee”.
Husband is not a Tennessee native nor this country. He certainly did not grow up hearing John Ward call games through the radio as I did when I was not planted in front of a television. But with that one simple phrase, Husband creates a throughline for certain sports fans in this state that connects the history of two different types of football while paying tribute to a legendary broadcasting figure.
I do not know exactly how the Apple TV deal will shake out next season. But it looks readily apparent that team-specific broadcasts will be a thing of the past with the movement towards national broadcast teams. It likely spells the end of “It’s Soccer Time in Tennessee” after this season. But I will be no less grateful that Husband found a way to incorporate the phrase into his broadcasts these last three seasons.