If you haven’t heard, Nashville SC are in the playoffs. The expansion side will face off against fellow MLS debutants Inter Miami CF tonight at Nissan Stadium. Jonathan Slape did a great job previewing the match, but I’m going to zoom in a bit more and take a look at a few key matchups I think will decide the game.
1. Jhonder Cádiz versus Miami’s center-backs
Miami are at a severe personnel disadvantage, with an already lengthy injury report compounded by five players testing positive for Covid-19. Of those five players, three are key members of Miami’s first choice group; Gonzalo and Federico Higuaín and Leandro González Pírez.
The loss of González Pírez especially hurts Miami, who were already without first-choice center-back Andrés Reyes due to red card accumulation. As a result, Miami will be without either of their preferred center-backs.
In all likelihood, Nicolás Figal will slide over from his normal right-back spot, and will be joined in the center by either Christian Makoun or A.J. DeLaGarza. The issue for Miami is that all of those options are under six feet tall.
I know, I know… height isn’t everything. Some will say it’s a simplistic talking point, but with Nashville very much relying on a target forward and balls over the top to get out of pressure, it puts Miami at a disadvantage.
The more I’ve thought about it, the more I think Jhonder Cádiz gets his first start for Nashville. Before the international break, he came on at halftime in two consecutive matches. His fitness has been the main reason why he hasn’t been more involved, but if he was 45 minute fit two weeks ago, I expect he’s at least able to put in 55-60 minutes tonight.
We’ve seen glimpses of what a physical nightmare Cádiz is for defenders. If Derrick Jones is thrown into the mix, Miami will struggle to cope with the physicality of Nashville’s front line. For a Nashville team that thrives off of hold-up play to advance their lines, it’s an ideal scenario.
2. Dax McCarty and Aníbal Godoy versus Wil Trapp and Blaise Matuidi
Miami are a team that like to have the ball. Nashville don’t like having the ball as much. Tonight, we’ll likely see a Miami team that has more of the ball, with Nashville trying to break up play and get to goal quickly.
McCarty and Godoy are a key piece of that plan. Both midfielders have been exceptional at reading the game and intercepting passes, picking their moments to push forward and create a number advantage in the final third.
While Trapp is certainly capable of hitting a gorgeous diagonal, he’s not the most physical presence in the center of the park. Matuidi, on the other hand, is a very physical two-way player, but hasn’t been at his best since arriving from Juventus.
McCarty and Godoy will look to win the physical battle early and get into a good flow of disrupting Miami’s rhythm.
Nashville’s midfield play might not be pretty, but they’ll give Miami a tough time.
3. Dan Lovitz versus Lewis Morgan
Lewis Morgan has been a bright spot for Miami this season. The Scottish international has been one of the better wide players in the league this season, and his five goals and five assists have been a main reason Miami squeaked into the playoffs.
Dan Lovitz has been a major part of Nashville’s attack, bombing forward on the left wing to overlap his winger and whip crosses into the box. He’s been able to do that in large part because of Dave Romney and Walker Zimmerman, who have put out plenty of fires defensively and covered for Lovitz when he gets caught up.
If Lovitz pushes forward, he runs the risk of getting exposed defensively by one of the top wingers in the league. If Morgan can pin him back, though, Nashville lose a huge outlet in possession. I’ll be keeping an eye on this matchup in particular.