Nashville SC “draw line in the sand” after club’s worst-ever loss to LAFC

NASHVILLE, TN – Nashville SC don’t get blown out often.

In 232 matches as a professional club, dating back to through the 2018 USL Championship season and all with Gary Smith on the touchline, they’ve lost by three goals just one time. They’ve lost by four goals just once. And heading into last Saturday’s match against Los Angeles FC, they had never lost by five goals in any match against any team.

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That all changed when LAFC steamrolled the Coyotes in a historic fashion. Five goals, the most expected goals ever conceded by Nashville, and a surprising, eye-catching and fully embarrassing loss. With a brutal schedule on the horizon, starting with reigning MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew this weekend, Nashville don’t have much time to figure things out.

“We know is it’s rarely happened to this group, but on the day, we fell foul of a number of different areas that were not good for the group,” Smith said in his matchday minus two media availability on Thursday. “…You feel the energy in the crowd, and it’s a tight ground, you know, they’re well and truly behind [LAFC]. I think they took advantage of that, and they took advantage of us. As I said, it’s rarely happened.”

Injuries have been an issue for Nashville this season, and really have stretched into last season, coinciding with the post-Leagues Cup slump that has seen Nashville win just five of 21 matches.

Walker Zimmerman, Hany Mukhtar, Sam Surridge, Randall Leal, Dan Lovitz and Lukas MacNaughton, all starters, have missed a combined 23 matches this season. Going back all the way to the Leagues Cup final, that number jumps to 36. Zimmerman, Mukhtar and Surridge are all Designated Players, the highest-paid on the roster. They’ve started six games together since August 19. Adding in Leal, the fourth-highest paid in the squad, and that number drops to three matches. It’s certainly frustrating to hear it continually brought up as a reason for Nashville’s drastic underperformance, especially in a league where teams are always missing key players, but it is a big piece of the puzzle.

“We’ve of course had a couple of injuries at any given point in time, and I think that does play into it,” Smith said. “I’m not making that as an excuse as to what happened, but it certainly plays into the fact that there were some breakdowns in some of the work that went on. Make no mistake, we’re working on to put that right.”

Nashville should get key players back. Zimmerman could be included against Philadelphia Union next weekend, while Leal will likely be held out with eyes to a full return after Nashville’s bye week in two weeks. That will help, certainly. But there are still fundamental issues with this team.

Consistent turnovers in midfield have put an increasingly makeshift backline under needless pressure. The lack of quick and effective ball progression from midfield has left Surridge on an island and forced Mukhtar to drop deep to get involved.

And Mukhtar himself has been woefully ineffective. The 2022 MLS MVP has scored three goals in 1,565 minutes played since the Leagues Cup final. He hasn’t scored in MLS this season, with his last league goal coming on September 20, 2023.

In 2024, Mukhtar is averaging 1.95 shots per game and just 0.49 shots on target. That’s good for 41st in the league among strikers and attacking midfielders who’ve played at least 150 minutes. In 2023, even including his dip in form, he was taking 3.57 shots a game and putting 1.49 on target, the seventh-best in MLS. He was seventh again during his 2022 MVP campaign, hitting 3.92 shots per game and putting 2.02 on target, the second-best rate in MLS. Simply put, Mukhtar hasn’t been nearly as dangerous in the final third as he used to be.

“One minute he’s scoring all the goals and can we find anyone else? Next minute he’s not,” Smith pointed out. “Sam [Surridge] has stepped up to the plate in a fashion, but I’d certainly like to see other individuals that are feeling that point.”

“But the simple fact is, Hany is a catalyst for a lot of good that goes on in the team. We all know that. There’s been a reasonable amount of work this week and I’m hoping that as we take steps not only into this weekend’s game but beyond, we might be able to just open up some different opportunities and areas for Hany to get into the game. The bottom line is, as with all forwards and attacking players, the confidence that they feel out of creating and scoring is an emotion that I don’t think any coach can replace.”

Mukhtar has certainly had success against Columbus in the past. He’s scored four goals in their last four meetings, including a hat-trick when the Crew visited Geodis Park last May. If there ever was a match in which Nashville needed Mukhtar to put the team on his back, it’s this Saturday.

“I think what the game will boil down to is, can we take advantage of the moments that we get?” Smith pondered. “And of course, can we restrict and disrupt what are a very, very good side? They are an elite side. They’ve proven that.”

“It will be a really good opportunity for us to draw a line in the sand again and put what happened last week behind us.”

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids. Mastodon

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