Nashville SC delivered a statement win last night over visiting FC Dallas. With the season on the brink of collapse, the Coyotes righted the ship and found an elusive home win at GEODIS Park.
Here are my three thoughts on the match:
Complete and utter domination
Can you remember a more impressive 90 minutes from Nashville? I am hard-pressed to think of any better than last night’s display.
From the first minute on, Nashville’s attack wreaked havoc on FC Dallas. The four-goal output is proof positive. “Relentless” captures it best. The Coyotes constantly threatened Dallas’ backline. Los Toros simply had no answers. As splendid as Hany Mukhtar and the rest of the attack looked, Nashville’s defense deserves equal devotion. It was a vintage display that far too often has gone missing in 2022.
For the entire match, Nashville conceded just four shots with not a single one on target. Los Toros’ efforts were so inconsequential that they registered just 0.13 xG. You do not accomplish such a feat with your back four alone. That is an entire team effort. I can only imagine that Gary Smith’s right hand is imprinted on the back of each Nashville player. This sort of defensive display earned a back-slapping “atta boy” from the gaffer.
Let’s put into perspective just how dominant the Coyotes were as a whole. Twitter user @zeogbs asked for a breakdown of the 10-minute span between the 30th and 40th minutes.
It was a wonderful spell for Nashville highlighted by Jacob Shaffelburg’s one-man counterattack that led to a Hany Mukhtar golazo. But as great as those ten minutes were, one could argue that it was the worst stretch of the match for Nashville. After all, two of Dallas’ four total shots came during the timeframe. It highlights just how dominant Nashville were for all 90 minutes. In a stretch of time where the Coyotes played some of their best soccer of the year, it could classify as their most pedestrian of the match.
But in all seriousness, that ten-minute stretch was brilliant stuff from the Coyotes. It began with Shaq Moore shutting down a Franco Jara shot eventually leading to the blistering Jacob Shaffelburg counterattack that set up Mukhtar’s free-kick goal (more on Shaffelburg’s debut in a minute). Following the goal, Nashville settled into its organized defensive shape that has given opponents fits for the last two seasons.
Even when Nashville made a mistake, as Dax McCarty did with a cheap 36th-minute giveaway, the Coyotes raced back, hunted the ball, and regained possession. On the break, Nashville looked dangerous with Randall Leal having a go from distance that had you believing for a moment and a Mukhtar-Shaffelburg attempted connection nearly split Dallas’ defense.
Nashville dominated the contest from the opening kickoff. While you can’t expect that level of control each match, it is an encouraging sign that we may see the return of the Nashville defensive juggernaut.
Jacob Shaffelburg’s immediate impact
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
With his playing time cut due to the high-profile arrival of Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, Jacob Shaffelburg became expendable for Toronto FC. Where Toronto saw trash, Nashville saw treasure.
Shaffelburg arrived in Nashville on loan from Toronto FC. Mike Jacobs paid $225,000 GAM to acquire Shaffelburg for the remainder of the season along with a half-season rental of an International Roster slot. Shaffelburg has shown well in his young, professional career. The underlying numbers suggest that he is already an above-average MLS attacker on a per-match basis.
After receiving his visa this week, Gary Smith wasted no time integrating Jacob Shaffelburg into the squad. Just days after the young Canadian’s first training session, Smith gave Shaffelburg the starting nod over Alex Muyl. Boy, I’m glad he did. Shaffelburg shined with a golden debut.
Beyond the goal, the Nova Scotia native impacted the affair in a number of ways in his 45 minutes of action. Let’s take a look at some of my favorite Shaffelburg clips.
It took him the first fifteen minutes to get his feet wet. But after Shaffelburg warmed up to the match and his new teammates, he quickly made his mark. It began in the 17th minute with a whipped-in ball that nearly found Hany Mukhtar at the top of the six-yard box. Mukhtar signaled a thumbs up for the idea.
In the 31st minute, Shaffelburg showcased his speed and counterattacking ability. The run created Nashville’s third goal and drew a yellow card on Dallas’ leading midfielder, Paxton Pomykal. Even if Mukhtar does not score on the free kick, the Pomykal caution felt consequential at the moment by neutralizing the effectiveness of the Hoops’ best midfielder. Shaffelburg’s marauding run through the midfield highlights the added element he brings to the attack. For a club that makes its bones off playing exceptionally vertical, adding another speedy runner raises the ceiling for an already dangerous counterattack.
Despite being with the team for just a week, he already seems to have developed chemistry with his teammates. Here, Mukhtar nearly connects with Shaffelburg as he makes a darting run behind the backline.
As with any Gary Smith player, quality on the offensive end is not enough to earn a place in the starting lineup. You must also put in a shift defensively. Shaffelburg did just that. There were no obvious defensive lapses, and he did well to win a defensive duel at the edge of Nashville’s box.
Overall, you couldn’t ask much more from Shaffelburg’s debut.
Right back in the thick of the playoff race entering the fourth quarter
Beyond the sudden influx of good vibes, last night’s win provided a massive boost to Nashville’s playoff chances. They vaulted the Sounders, Whitecaps, and Galaxy ending the night in sixth place and once again above the playoff line.
Had Nashville failed to pick up all three points, they would have fallen further back and all but conceded any chance of hosting a playoff match. However, with the win, Nashville remains in the playoff field and still within striking distance of fourth-place Minnesota. Despite the disappointing summer, Nashville remain in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.
The MLS regular season now enters the fourth quarter with just 24% of the 34-match campaign remaining. Each quarter of Nashville’s season thus far has brought its own unique flavor.
The first quarter, conveniently framed around Nashville’s initial 8-match road trip, was wildly successful. The Coyotes claimed 11 points, a record haul for an extended opening away trip.
The second quarter brought excitement to Music City. GEODIS Park opened to great fanfare. On the field, Nashville earned 15 points from nine matches. At 1.67 points per match, the Coyotes’ second-quarter pace put the team on a trajectory to comfortably qualify for the postseason.
The third quarter concludes on a high note after the most disastrous run of form in club history. Over the last nine matches, Nashville earned just ten points despite playing six of nine in front of a home crowd. This most recent quarter of the season also saw Nashville fall to Orlando City in the U.S. Open Cup. The summer heat nearly melted Nashville’s season away. Every supporter will be glad to now have the third quarter in the rearview mirror.
The fourth and final quarter will define the 2022 season. A strong finish and a playoff berth without any Decision Day drama and for most, all will be forgiven. But a continued slide and renewed home struggles would see Nashville fail to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in club history.
With eight matches remaining, Nashville is in the thick of the playoff race and has everything still to play for.
I hope the construction work around GEODIS Park is taking into account Hany Mukhtar’s future statue. Personally, I am hoping for a monstrosity of a monument of the likes of the Colossus of Rhodes standing at the gates of GEODIS saluting all who enter. It will be magnificent and a well-deserved tribute to Nashville’s god of goals.