Ivey’s Three Thoughts: Victory in Vancouver

Nashville SC scored a memorable win in Vancouver, blasting the home side to the tune of three goals and handcuffing the Whitecaps’ attack. In a “six-pointer” against a fellow playoff contender, the Coyotes widened the gap and created a sliver of breathing room in the Western Conference playoff race.

Here are my three thoughts on the match:

Smash and grab masterclass 

Nashville’s triumph in British Columbia was the ultimate Gary Smith victory – a smash and grab masterclass 2,000 miles away from home. Smith’s imprint was all over this win. 

For the second straight match, the Coyotes stifled their opponent’s attack yielding not a single shot on net. Beyond the dominant defensive display, Nashville wrecked havoc with quick counterattacks and bullied Vancouver on set pieces creating two goals. A visibly frustrated Whitecaps had no answer for the Coyotes. Nashville broke Vancouver’s will and left them lashing out in retaliation. That’s the quintessential Gary gameplan on the road – smash and grab your way into all three points. 

In less than one week, Nashville have managed to erase nearly all the bad vibes from a shameful summer of dropped points and disappointment. 

It starts with the defense. The Boys in Gold have not conceded a shot on goal in over 200 minutes. I have no clue what the MLS record is for the longest such streak; it’s not listed in the official record book. But Nashville surely cannot be too far from making history. The return of the stifling defense arrived when the Coyotes needed it the most. With a season on the brink of collapse, Nashville vaulted right back into the race for a home playoff match by rediscovering their identity as the most frustrating team to play against in MLS. 

Not to beat a dead horse, but these performances are exactly why Gary Smith’s comments from a few weeks ago regarding the playoffs rubbed so many supporters the wrong way. We’ve all seen the quality. When playing to their potential, this is a playoff team and a dark horse cup contender. Gary Smith’s tactical setup allows Nashville to smash and grab their way to victories on the road better than perhaps any team in the league.

Rotation, rotation, rotation 

The key to managing a three-match week is rotation, rotation, rotation. 

On the heels of a cross-continent trip to Vancouver, Nashville will be back on the pitch Wednesday and Saturday squeezing in three games in the span of seven days. It was clear from the start that Gary Smith had the rest of the week in mind in setting his lineup. Absent from the Starting XI were Walker Zimmerman, Daniel Lovitz, Shaq Moore, and C.J. Sapong.

All, except a brief Lovitz cameo, gained a valuable 90-minutes of rest to maintain peak freshness for a six-pointer against Colorado on Wednesday. It is a crucial match in the context of the Western Conference playoff race. A Nashville win all but ensures that the Rapids will not catch the Coyotes this season, thereby narrowing the playoff field.

Beyond those who did not feature from the opening whistle, Nashville’s comfortable victory allowed Gary Smith to pull Hany Mukhtar and Randall Leal earlier than anticipated. Both were subbed off at the 65th minute saving their legs from an extra half hour of running on BC Place’s artificial turf.

Personally, I preferred for Mukhtar and Leal be pulled as soon as Lucas Cavallini was shown red. But both received a well-earned break earlier than expected. I love Mukhtar’s response wanting to stay on the field. It shows his competitive fire. But Smith absolutely did the right thing in pulling Nashville’s leading man. 

Rotation is key in managing a congested schedule, but it means little if you lose and give your competition a leg up in the playoff race. Nashville’s deputizing starters ensured there was no such drop in quality. The most important of those rotated into the lineup was Jack Maher.

The Milkman delivers

Jack Maher turned in his most memorable performance as a professional. The Milkman delivered two pints of goals for Nashville late Saturday night. Beyond the goals, Maher sprayed passes from deep, extinguished dangerous attacks , and gave his goalkeeper another drama-free night in front of net.  

It was not all rosy for Maher. His night began with a shaky start off a cheap giveaway that led to Vancouver’s most dangerous chance. On another night, Ryan Gauld slots that shot into the bottom corner and the Coyotes find themselves trailing on the road with a heavily rotated lineup. Sometimes a little luck is needed. Maher found it there and proceeded to deliver a Man-of-the-Match performance the rest of the way.

Less than 10 minutes later, Maher provided the knockout punch with a thunderous header. Mukhtar’s corner kick landed a few feet high of the six-yard box. This gave Maher that bit of separation from Vancouver’s zonal and better aerial defenders. With no impediment or someone to body him out of position, Maher was able to rise quickly and generate considerable force with his headed effort. Thomas Hasal had no chance to stop the shot. 2-0 Nashville.    

Nashville and Maher never receive that corner kick opportunity without Maher winning another aerieal duel in the box. Taking on the Walker Zimmerman role as the near-post target for a Dave Romney long throw, Maher’s flick-on found Mukhtar’s feet at the back post. Tristan Blackmon blocked Mukhtar’s shot, but conceded the decisive corner to Nashville. Maher was credited with a Key Pass, one of his two on the night. 

Maher’s two key passes were not his only notable efforts with the ball at his feet. He sprayed several long diagnoals that bypassed Vancouver’s midfield. He finished with 90% pass accuracy and several completed long balls, such as this one. 

On the defensive end, Maher put in his shift helping to keep another clean sheet and prevent a single shot on Joe Willis’ net.

Maher cemented his Man-of-the-Match award with a second goal. He owes a beer to Ethan Zubak for setting up the goal by rising above the Whitecaps defense to win the inital ball. Maher still had his work cut out for him to find the net with a looping header over Hasal. Vancouver was particularly poor in set-piece defense all night, but all credit to Maher and Nashville in making Vanni Sartini’s men pay for their mistakes and timid approach. 

Despite the early mistake, Maher was a big reason why Nashville left Canada with a vital three points. He stepped into Zimmerman’s role as the focal point of Nashville’s defense and set-piece routines without any drop off. Who knew that Thor had a superhero sidekick named “The Milkman”? I look forward to Marvel releasing the blockbuster movie.

Bonus thought

I hope that Dax McCarty is buying Maher dinner this week. He owes it to him after stealing The Milkman’s chance at a rare central defender hat trick.

Author: Chris Iveyis a senior writer covering Nashville SC. His work includes his "Three Thoughts" piece after every Nashville match that highlights the important storylines and incorporates key video clips from the match. Chris' other articles often navigate the complexity of roster building around the myriad of MLS roster rules. Outside of Broadway Sports Media, Chris resides in Knoxville and is a licensed attorney serving as in-house counsel for a large insurance company. Beyond NSC, he is always willing to discuss Tennessee football and basketball, Manchester United, Coventry City, and USMNT.

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