Match Preview: Nashville SC v Atlanta United FC

Nashville SC secured a massive 1-0 win Saturday night against the Philadelphia Union. Tonight, Nashville SC will take on a depleted Atlanta United in the return of El Ribereño. Will the Boys In Gold be able to secure a second straight win at home? Can a injury-hit Five Stripes get a result on the road?


Nashville SC

Head coach Gary Smith and team have a lot or reasons for optimism. With their win against Philadelphia, the Boys in Gold have picked up seven out of nine possible points in their last three games and sit in 5th place. A win tonight could catapult them to joint 2nd with Orlando City. They have since followed up that form with the signing of long time target, Ake Loba, who won’t play tonight, but is certain to improve the side when he plays (look for him against Chicago on July 17).

Like many other teams Nashville will be without a few key members of their starting lineup due to the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Walker Zimmerman is away with the United States, Alistair Johnston with Canada and Aníbal Godoy with Panama (now withdrawn due to injury). However, Nashville has significant depth at the back and while they may be light in midfield, Coach Gary Smith has proven to be more than adaptable.

Nashville SC projected XI

A win tonight against a depleted Atlanta team, would set Nashville up well for the rest of the month, and could start a climb up the table.

Smith made a departure from his four back formation and chose to move to a 3-4-3 against Philadelphia. As successful as three at the back was, I think we see a return to a 4-2-3-1 against Atlanta.

Jhonder Cádiz made his return from Copa America off the bench against Philadelphia and should be make in the starting lineup tonight. Atlanta is expected to sit back a bit more and Cadiz does well with his link up play and ability to hold the ball up. Behind Cádiz, I expect the familiar look of Randall Leal, Hany Muhktar and Alex Muyl. Those have been Smith’s preferred starters in a 4-2-3-1, and while I would like to see a bit more attacking ambition, I expect Smith to keep it tight.

In the midfield, Dax McCarty becomes even more important with Aníbal Godoy being away with Panama. Brian Anunga played well against Philadelphia and should slot in for Godoy, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Matt LaGrassa get the call. LaGrassa performed well against Atlanta the last time out and is a more ambitious passer, and would expect more of the same tonight.

The back five of this Nashville team has been the foundation of Nashville’s success and the international break will give us an idea of how deep that foundation goes. Dan Lovitz, Dave Romney and Joe Willis will continue to be the ever-present influencers, but out on the right there are question marks. Jack Maher has impressed in his cameos for Walker Zimmerman and there is no reason to think that won’t continue. Right-back, however, is filled with unknowns. Will Dylan Nealis slot in for Alistair Johnston or do we see Eric Miller make a return? Nashville has defensive depth but it has rarely been tested, and may take a few matches for it all to click.


Atlanta United

This season was always one of transition for Gabriel Heinze and his Atlanta United team but it has been more of a struggle than many thought. Currently winless in their last 6 matches, they now go on the road with a slew of injuries and international absences.

Heinze will have his hands full trying to piece together a starting eleven. Five of his potential starters are questionable including the likes of Josef Martinez and Santiago Sosa; coupled with Ezequiel Barco, Brad Guzan, Miles Robinson, and George Bello away with their national teams.

Even with a fully healthy team, Atlanta have struggled. Josef Martinez is still working back from an ACL tear that saw him miss all of the 2020 season. Lisandro López was brought in as a veteran scoring threat, but a family emergency prompted his premature return to his native Argentina.

Finishing, though, isn’t their biggest issue. They’ve created just 12.9 expected goals through 11 matches, the third-lowest total in the league. Their Goals Added total (another American Soccer Analysis advanced metric) is also in the league’s bottom 10. They have struggled to get the ball into dangerous areas, and when they do, it hasn’t resulted in high-value shots very often.

With an ultra-thin squad available, I expect to see Atlanta sit back a bit more and soak up pressure. This would negate Nashville’s preference to play in transition and force them to unlock a defense. We have seen throughout the season that Nashville will struggle to breakdown a team sitting back. However, I don’t expect the Boys in Gold to struggle tonight.


Injury report


Pod picks

Ben Wright

Score: Nashville 3 – 0 Atlanta
Scorers: Randall Leal, Hany Mukhtar, Brian Anunga
MOTM: Brian Anunga
Bold Prediction: Nashville allow less than three shots on target.

Andy Simmons

Score: Nashville 3 – 0 Atlanta
Scorers: Randall Leal x2, Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Randall Leal
Bold Prediction: Nashville controls over 60% possession

Jonathan Slape

Score: Nashville 3 – 1 Atlanta
Scorers: Jhonder Cádiz, Randall Leal, Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Randall Leal
Bold Prediction: Leal bags both a goal and an assist

Davey Shepherd

Score: Nashville 2 – 0 Atlanta
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, Jhonder Cádiz
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Hany gets a goal late and it’s tighter than people are thinking.

Lucas Panzica

Score: Nashville 2 – 0 Atlanta
Scorers: C.J. Sapong, Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Piñeiro plays 30 minutes


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Kit matchup

Match Info

Teams: Nashville SC v Philadelphia Union
Power RankingsNashville (5th) vs Atlanta (16th)
Odds: NSH (-175), Draw (+300), ATL (+425) vs MGM
Date: Thursday, July 8th
Time: 7:30 PM Central, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee
TV:  MyTV 30 (local), ESPN+ (out of market)
Radio: 94.9 The Game 2 (English); El Jefe 96.7 (Spanish)
Forecast: 91°/73°. Partly cloudy. 20% chance of rain. 61% humidity.

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