Match Preview: Nashville SC v Austin FC

After their first away match of the season, Nashville SC return home following a 0-0 draw against Real Salt Lake. Tonight, the Boys in Gold welcome Austin FC to Nissan stadium for the first time ever. What can we expect from Austin as they look to find their footing in year one? Can Nashville secure just their second win of their season?

Nashville SC

Heading in to tonight’s match, Nashville SC remains one of the two unbeaten teams in Major League Soccer after LA Galaxy fell to the Portland Timbers yesterday. Even with an unbeaten record, Nashville is still looking for their second win and will have the opportunity to do so with a much larger crowd. Nissan Stadium will be open to nearly full capacity, the first time since Nashville’s home opener on February 29, 2020 that a full crowd could be in attendance.

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The biggest news for Nashville coming in to this match is injuries. Walker Zimmerman, reigning MLS Defender of the Year, comes into the match listed as questionable and Nashville could be forced to play without him. Head coach Gary Smith has several ready made options that can slot in for Zimmerman, but few will be able to execute like him. More on that in a bit…

On a positive note, Hany Mukhtar looks to be back in contention for a starting spot in the team. Smith had this to say on Friday: “Hany is in training and Hany’s been great. He was terrific when he came on last weekend. He understands the situation. There’s a lot of competition in the group, players have done well, and he’s doing his very utmost to be part of the group this weekend, and I’ll make my choices on that tomorrow.”

Nashville SC projected XI

Against Salt Lake, Smith started with the 4-4-2 that has been successful against New England. However, he returned to the 4-2-3-1 after the team struggled to create opportunities. Hany Mukhtar’s return to the field allowed Nashville to have a better connection to the attack and transition quickly on the counter. Against Austin, I expect to see the 4-2-3-1 return regardless of Mukhtar’s fitness.

Jhonder Cádiz has 5 matches left with the team before Nashville has to make the decision on retaining him permanently. Cádiz has been left out of the starting lineup the past two matches but expect to see return to the starting eleven against Austin. His physicality and aerial threat will prove to be a tough task for Matt Besler and Jhohan Romaña.

At the back, Nashville will be faced with their first defensive injury of the season as Walker Zimmerman has been listed as questionable going in to the match . If he is unable to go, Nashville has a couple options. Does he go with the veteran presence of of Jalil Anibaba or the potential of Jack Maher. I lean toward Smith going with Anibaba for his calming veteran presence, but regardless of who slots in for Zimmerman, I expect to see the rest of the defensive core in place. Smith also has the option of switching to a back three, a system he used frequently in USL and on occasion last season in MLS.

Austin FC

Austin is fresh off a 2-0 loss against the LA Galaxy. In their first five matches as an expansion team they have won two and lost three. They come in to the match this evening looking to prove themselves against a team that they have been compared to quite a bit and even in Austin they have referred to Nashville as their “expansion buddy” We got a full breakdown of how this team has been put together and is similar to Nashville in this week’s Zoomed N with Chris Bils of The Striker Texas.

Austin FC are coached by former USMNT star Josh Wolff, who was previously an assistant coach under Gregg Berhalter. Those that have watched the national team under Berhalter will recognize a similar style of play with a few tweaks. They play in a 4-3-3 that will look to push the fullbacks high up the pitch and seek to retain possession for much of the game. However, Austin does utilize the press more than the USMNT, and will look to put Nashville’s defenders under pressure in possession.

Austin’s defined style of play will be a great benefit to Smith and the Nashville coaching staff as they craft their game plan. Nashville should look to exploit the gaps left in behind by the Austin FC fullbacks, and they’ll have opportunities on the counter to get quick balls out to the likes of Randall Leal and Alex Muyl on the wings. They will also need to disrupt possession by limiting Alex Ring‘s opportunities to dictate play from the center of midfield.

Austin FC projected XI

Austin FC not only have a defined style of play and formation, but they also have a fairly set starting eleven. There shouldn’t be many surprises for anyone that has watch this team so far this season but there are a few key positions and players that could cause Nashville problems.

In the attack, Cecilio Domínguez is their most dangerous threat. The Peruvian winger may lineup out on the left but he will drift in to the middle of the pitch and look to get on the ball and create chances. Nashville will have to be especially mindful and not get pulled to far into the middle and beat on overlapping runs from the fullback.

As the deepest lying center midfielder, Alex Ring is the heartbeat of the Austin Team. He is instrumental in retaining possession and keeping the ball cycling through midfield. Ring missed their last match against LA Galaxy after picking up a red card in their match against Sporting Kansas City. The midfield battle between Ring and Aníbal Godoy and Dax McCarty will definitely be one to keep an eye on.

Injury report

Pod picks

Ben Wright

Score: Nashville 2 – 0 Austin
Scorers: Randall Leal, Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Randall Leal
Bold Prediction: Nashville get a 4th straight clean sheet without Zimmerman in the XI.

Andy Simmons

Score: Nashville 2 – 0 Austin
Scorers: C.J. Sapong, Randall Leal
MOTM: Randall Leal
Bold Prediction: Nashville holds Austin to less than three shots on target.

Jonathan Slape

Score: Nashville 3 – 0 Austin
Scorers: Jhonder Cádiz, Randall Leal, Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Jhonder Cádiz
Bold Prediction: Cadiz scores a goal and wins a penalty for Nashville.

Davey Shepherd

Score: Nashville 3 – 1 Austin
Scorers: Jhonder Cádiz, Randall Leal, Aníbal Godoy
MOTM: Randall Leal
Bold Prediction: Leal registers both a goal and an assist.

Have a prediction for this week’s match? Vote in our Fan Forecast.

Kit Matchup

Match Info

Teams: Nashville SC v Austin FC
Power Rankings: Nashville (2nd overall) vs Austin (23rd overall)
Odds: NSH (-135), ATX(+350), Draw (+250) via MGM
Date: Saturday, 05/23/21
Time: 8:00PM Central, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee
Radio: 94.9 The Game 2 (English); El Jefe 96.7 (Spanish)
Forecast: 89°/64°. Sunny. 5% chance of rain. 86% humidity.

Author: Jonathan Slapeoriginated from outside of Atlanta but has lived in Nashville since 2005. Original member of Speedway Soccer and has been talking and occasionally writing about Nashville SC since the USL days. Self proclaimed official fashion correspondent. Outside of Nashville SC you can find him singing the praises of Jurgen Klopp, discussing the latest in sneakers and soccer fashion with a good stiff drink.

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