Ivey’s Three Thoughts: Nashville’s loss to Sporting KC

Sporting Kansas City breached the Castle walls and snapped Nashville SC’s home unbeaten streak which dated back to November 2020. It was a woeful display from the Boys in Gold that should lead to some closed-door meetings this week to discuss how to right the ship. 

Here are my three thoughts on the match:

Time to sound the alarm bells

It was supposed to be Nashville’s easiest stretch of the season. A pair of home matches against the bottom feeders of the Western Conference should yield six points. Yet, Nashville comes away with just one point and some serious questions about where this team is headed. It is time to sound the alarm bells.

Currently, Nashville sits in sixth place in the Western Conference, only three points clear of a surging Vancouver Whitecaps team just below the playoff line. According to FiveThirtyEight’s MLS prediction model, Nashville has a 28% chance of not making the playoffs for the first time in club history. That is not an insignificant odds of failure. Even if Nashville does make the playoffs, they are not in line to host a playoff match. It is a far cry from the lofty preseason predictions for the Coyotes. 

Unlike earlier in the season, the team can no longer point to the heavy tilt of road games as skewing the standings. Nashville has now played 6 home matches and 10 matches away from Tennessee. Their points per game are nearly identical, 1.50 points per home game compared to 1.40 points per away game. The Coyotes are simply not getting a lift from their back-loaded home schedule. 

For all the talk of making GEODIS Park a fortress, the unbeaten streak papered over serious concerns about the club’s home form over the last year. Is it really a castle if opposing teams constantly come in and steal a point, even if they don’t always come away with a win? In a league with one of the largest home-field advantages in the world, Nashville’s “Castle” feels more akin to the bouncy castle at your niece’s five-year-old birthday party than the House of Stark’s Winterfell.  

There are no easy answers on how to fix Nashville’s home form, but lineup selection is the first place to examine. 

Starting three holding midfielders was a mistake

At home against one of the weakest sides in MLS was the absolute wrong time to trot out three defensively minded midfielders in the starting XI. It led to a tepid performance with an inability to progress the ball with any consistency. For the first 15 minutes, Nashville sat back and let SKC control the tempo. 

The lineup featured Aníbal Godoy, Brian Anunga, and Sean Davis as the midfield three. Most notably, it was Sean Davis tasked with playing higher up the pitch in the role usually occupied by Randall Leal or Luke Haakenson in Leal’s absence. Serving as the vital link between Nashville’s defense and the two forwards is not a role that suits Davis well. 

Gary Smith’s conservative lineup selection set the tone from the start. It was a starting XI befit of a bunkering away match, not a home affair at GEODIS Park. 

It was a mistake that Smith did not have to make. A home match against one of the worst teams in MLS screams out for the addition of Aké Loba into the starting lineup. When he was finally inserted into the match at halftime, Loba made an instant impact. He sparked the Coyotes’ most dangerous moments, provided the lone goal, and picked up MOTM honors. 

Seeing Randall Leal return to the field Sunday night is at least a hopeful sign that Nashville supporters will not be subjected to this three-holding-midfielder lineup again. Leal provides a much better attacking spark from that bridge midfield role that hovers slightly above the rest of Nashville’s second line.  

Set-piece woes continue

Sunday was yet another match featuring a set-piece goal conceded and a howler from Joe Willis. 

As much as it was a bad look from Joe Willis, which it was, he probably concedes this goal either way. Andreu Fontàs (#3) gets goal side of Dave Romney. From that distance, the expected goal odds for Fontàs would be quite high had he managed to get a foot on Felipe Hernández’s ball.

It was not the only set-piece mistake from Nashville. In the 74th minute, Nashville allowed an open shot from the top of the penalty box on a second ball after an SKC set piece. It is a trend I have noticed throughout the year. On set pieces, Nashville’s defensive lines will collapse around the 6-yard box with no urgency in pushing a line of gold shirts out to stop secondary and tertiary attempts. The ball inevitably finds its way to the top of the 18-yard box for a blistering attempt from range. It is a similar type of situation that led to the game-tying goal in Minnesota earlier in the year.

Unfortunately, I do not have a clip of this moment from last night’s match. FS1’s lack of on-demand replay is really hurting this week’s column. Thankfully, we will not have to endure such travesties much longer. All hail our future MLS x Apple overlords. 

With the set-piece woes continuing to plague Nashville, it begs the question of who is in charge of this aspect of Nashville’s game planning and training ground coaching and whether it is time to reorganize those responsibilities.

Bonus Thought.

If you have not had the empanadas at Chivanada, can you really say that you have been to GEODIS Park? 

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