Nashville SC lost a second straight match this weekend falling 2-1 to Real Salt Lake. Here are my three thoughts on the match.
1. Nashville needs to either find starts for Aké Loba or look to sell
Whatever patience Nashville supporters had left with Gary Smith over the Aké Loba situation has completely evaporated. The pre-match comments were heated, and the temperature continued to rise as Teal Bunbury delivered a disastrous fifty-seven minutes.
Until now, Gary Smith could explain Loba languishing on the bench by pointing to C.J. Sapong’s goal-scoring form dating back to last season and a string of positive results. Those stated reasons no longer hold water. With Teal Bunbury receiving the starting nod Saturday night at Real Salt Lake, it is anyone’s guess as to when Loba may ever see the field with any regularity.
It is abundantly clear that Smith does not view Loba as a focal-point striker within his system. Don’t take my word for it, Smith has alluded to it before.
“Listen, this lad’s got a tremendous amount of talent. He was in his offseason in Mexico, he’s come in, he’s worked very, very hard, he’s still trying to find his match legs and some sharpness and some fitness. But to your point about systems, listen, this lad’s capable of playing in just about any system. What I do think he will benefit from are the likes of CJ, Jhonder [Cádiz], Daniel – somebody who’s a more comfortable individual in their back to goal.Gary Smith, August 19 2021
Shout out to Tim Sullivan of For Club & Country for the transcription.
Read what Smith is implying. In Smith’s mind, Loba needs to play alongside a big-bodied, target forward. That leaves no room for Loba to play alongside Mukhtar as the two primary forwards.
It begs the question, why did Nashville SC spend a club-record $6.8 million dollar transfer fee on Loba? Is there a disconnect between Smith and Mike Jacobs? Why spend the money on a striker that does not fit Smith’s preferred style?
I am at a loss.
The only way the Loba transfer makes any sense is if Hany Mukhtar has privately expressed a desire to return to Europe as soon as this summer transfer window.
Barring that travesty, the Coyotes need to find a solution to the Loba situation. They are sitting on a rapidly depreciating $6.8-million-dollar asset whose continued presence on the bench will do nothing but divide the fanbase and waste a precious Designated Player slot. Wait any longer and the ability to move Loba dwindles.
Of course, an alternative exists. Smith could ever so slightly deviate from his preferred set up by employing Mukhtar and Loba together. For a team that generates its most dangerous attacking opportunities in transition, a Mukhtar-Loba pairing could be a lethal combination. But we will never know for certain until the two get some on-field time together.
Whether it is a sale outside the league or an increase in playing time, something has to give before the end of the summer.
2. Set-piece defense is hard when you allow free runners
Nashville’s set-piece woes have been well documented. After conceding the most goals from restarts in 2021, Nashville failed to fix the issue over the offseason. They have already shipped two set-piece goals in the first four matches.
On paper, this should not be a problem. Nashville features a bevy of strong aerial threats. But the issue isn’t height and strength, it is tactics and execution.
Let’s analyze Bobby Wood’s 2nd-minute goal for Real Salt Lake.
Nashville employed what appears to be a zone and blocking system. In the still image below, the zonal defenders are highlighted in orange and the blockers in blue. The orange-colored defenders are Nashville’s best aerial defenders. It is their responsibility to win one-on-one battles with anyone who enters their space. The blue-colored blockers must do everything possible, short of drawing a foul, to block and prevent RSL’s attackers from getting a free run into the box.
Aníbal Godoy, Randall Leal, and Eric Miller all do a fine job of triple-teaming Justen Glad. But they allow Bobby Wood an unimpeded run straight to the near post. One of those three, likely Godoy or Leal, must pick up Wood’s run and force him off his path. With a full head of steam, Wood easily beats Teal Bunbury to an advantageous position and flicks in a goal.
Bunbury certainly shoulders some of the blame. He is slow to recognize Wood’s run and is beat to the spot. But Nashville’s blockers did him no favors.
Hany Mukhtar looks as dangerous as ever
The 2021 Landon Donovan MLS MVP runner-up has yet to find the back of the net this season. But it is not for a lack of creating dangerous opportunities.
Mukhtar tallied his second assist on the season by dropping an absolute dime of a corner for Walker Zimmerman to slam home.
Later, Mukhtar flicked a beautiful ball to put Daniel Lovitz open on net.
In the dying embers, Mukhtar nearly leveled the score with a lightning-fast turn and shot that barely missed the upper 90.
Hany is once again putting Nashville’s attack on his back.
The beard is working for Hany.