Nashville SC secured a tough road win away to the Columbus Crew over the weekend. Here are my three thoughts on the match.
1. Alex Muyl adds a final third threat from the wingback role
Alex Muyl found the back of the net for Nashville’s lone goal on Saturday night. The serendipitous chance was certainly aided by Pedro Santos’ unfortunate slip, but Muyl deserves heaps of credit for getting into a position to take advantage of the opportunity. As C.J. Sapong pushed out to the left flank, Muyl replaced the vacated space essentially acting as Nashville’s striker in the box.
It is a run and position that has not always been made by Nashville’s wingbacks. As beloved as Alistair Johnston was in blue and gold for his steady passing and omnipresent defensive positioning, he never added much offensively in the final third. In two seasons for Nashville, Johnston tallied just one goal and two assists. The goal came in stoppage time against Inter Miami when the ‘Yotes enjoyed a comfortable three-goal lead and the Herons’ defense had already mentally checked out. It was a rare foray into the penalty area for Johnston.
Muyl’s history as a winger working higher up the pitch adds another element to Nashville’s attack. He’s not afraid of getting into the box and looking for ways to create dangerous opportunities.
The 28th-minute goal was not Muyl’s only threatening run into the final third. A few minutes earlier, Muyl found himself all alone on the back post as Mukhtar sucked attention toward him. It was a great position to get into, even if Muyl does not see the ball in that sequence.
On the Hany Mukhtar controversial non-goal, Muyl found himself unmarked in the box ready to slam home any rebound that does not travel straight to Eloy Room.
I still think Muyl needs to grow as a defender, especially when pinned back deep in Nashville’s defensive third. Muyl nearly conceded a penalty late in the first half. Muyl was caught flat-footed resulting in an awkward collision in the penalty box.
But there is no doubt that his presence as a wingback adds an attacking layer not seen from Eric Miller or Alistair Johnston before him.
2. The win puts Nashville ahead of schedule
One point earned per away match is the expected pace of an MLS playoff team. With Nashville starting the season on an eight-match road trip, one point per match is the target that has also been set by Gary Smith.
The Coyotes now have seven points from their first five matches and are ahead of schedule in establishing a playoff pace.
Smith may not be dancing yet. But with either two draws or just one win over the final three matches of the season-opening away trip, the Coyotes will be cueing up the fiddles.
3. Inconsistent in set-piece defense
Nashville managed to keep a clean sheet Saturday night and secured all three points. Conceding via set-pieces has been the club’s Achilles’ heel for over a year. I have personally vowed to watch for any trends that may explain Nashville’s penchant for shipping goals following restarts.
Early in the match, there were encouraging signs. Eric Miller and Brian Anunga stonewalled their marks leaving ample space for Sean Davis to take a couple of steps before launching off to head the ball away from danger.
This is what you want to see from Nashville’s designated blockers who are responsible for impeding free runners into Nashville’s zonal defenders. However, the picture was not always so rosy in the second half.
Columbus had a pair of back-to-back corners starting in the 69th minute that threatened. On the first corner, Sean Davis lost Jonathan Mensah which allowed the Columbus center back to win the aerial duel and put the ball back across goal.
A minute later, Anunga was tasked with marking substitute striker Miguel Berry. In a well-choreographed maneuver by Columbus, the Crew picked Anunga giving the 6’3” Berry a look from the six-yard box.
Ultimately though, keeping the ball out of the net is the first step in matching the defensive stoutness shown in open field play. Nashville needs to string a few more matches together without conceding a set-piece goal before the supporters’ nerves will calm.
Bonus – Godoy and Zimmerman hug it out
That hug quickly puts to rest any notion that there will be any animosity between these two competitors and teammates.