For the second time this season, Nashville fell victim to Houston. The Dynamo wrestled control of the match after a controversial VAR review awarded a penalty kick to the visitors. A ruthless counterattack goal gave Houston a second in the first half. While Nashville found chances to claw back into the match, it came too little, too late.
Here are my three thoughts on the match:
Playoffs clinched, but an opportunity squandered
Before taking the field, Nashville clinched its third consecutive playoff appearance based on results elsewhere in the league. For an expansion club, especially one in a smaller market, it is a massive accomplishment.
However, you cannot help but feel that Nashville squandered an opportunity to host a playoff match. Nashville entered the match in fifth place, but a win over the Texas visitors would have seen the Boys in Gold leap into third place.
Houston, on the other hand, entered GEODIS Park occupying the bottom of the Western Conference. Yet, it was the Dynamo that found the net in the first half. Nashville largely controlled the first 20 minutes of the match. The Coyotes were knocking on Steve Clark’s net but never could find the opener.
The momentum swung sharply in Houston’s favor when the Dynamo were awarded a penalty from a Walker Zimmerman foul in the box. It was a harsh call made all the more jarring as Nashville thought they had found a goal on the other end from a Hany Mukhtar chipped effort.
Entering Decision Day, here are the scenarios that would see Nashville earn a home playoff match:
- Nashville wins; AND:
- FC Dallas loss; OR
- LA Galaxy draw or loss
- Nashville draws; AND:
- LA Galaxy loss; AND
- Portland draw or loss; AND
- Minnesota draw or loss
The path is certainly more difficult than had Nashville taken care of business at home.
Striker issues must be addressed
Nashville must sort out its striker issues. It’s been a familiar refrain this season, but one made all the more poignant Sunday night.
C.J. Sapong received the starting nod and failed to leave his mark on the match. He finished the night with a solitary shot, a headed effort that traveled high and wide of the net.
Most disappointing was his reaction to Hany Mukhtar’s chipped effort in the first half. As a striker, you simply cannot sit back and celebrate goals that have not found the back of the net.
This match also served as final confirmation that Nashville must move on from Aké Loba this offseason. Despite trailing two goals, Loba made only a brief, late-match cameo. If he can barely get in when the game state dictates throwing numbers forward, what hope is there that he will ever make good on his Designated Player status? If there is any, it is razor thin.
With enough sample size, his limitations are clear. How many times have we seen loose touches in the midfield immediately concede possession?
Perhaps the biggest indictment of Nashville’s forwards, outside of Hany Mukhtar, is the goal tally. Walker Zimmerman’s stoppage-time header gave him his fourth goal on the season, tied with Teal Bunbury and just one behind C.J. Sapong. Sapong’s last goal came on May 21, 21 games ago.
Four also happens to be the number of goals scored by Daniel Ríos on Saturday night. Remember him?
There is nothing Nashville can do to sort out its issues this season, but big changes up top are needed.
Home record on the year
Nashville closed out the first season at GEODIS Park with a 6-5-6 record (1.41 points per game). It is the worst home record in the Western Conference.
I am not going to dwell on this thought long. The home woes have been well documented. Whether it was an adjustment period to new digs, a reflection of tired legs after a grueling eight-match road trip to start the year, or something entirely else, Nashville needs to find a way moving forward to make the Castle an impenetrable fortification.
I am soooooooooo glad that MLS is moving to Apple TV+ next year. The words blackout and geofencing will no longer need to be in MLS fan lexicon. Luckily, I was able to figure out a workaround, but this sort of thing should never be an issue in the first place.