Playoff Preview: LA Galaxy vs Nashville SC

It’s playoff time in MLS! On Saturday, the postseason kicks off. Two games on Saturday, two on Sunday, and a final two on Monday to close out Round One.

Nashville SC start on the road, taking on LA Galaxy in Carson, California. The Galaxy came out the better side in their two matches in 2022, winning at home and drawing at Geodis Park, scoring in the final 10 minutes in both matches to earn four points. In a single elimination playoff game, though, anything can happen.

LA Galaxy

4th in West | 14W-8D-12L (50 pts) | +7 GD | +7.35 xGD

Availability report
OUT: Jorge Villafaña (season ending injury list), Jonathan Pérez (knee)

The Galaxy disappointed in the first half of the year and bounced back with a vengeance. Captain Javier “Chicharito” Hernández has carried this team in a lot of ways, making up for finishing issues around the team with a stunning 11 goals since the start of August.

They’ve also added an elite midfielder in Riqui Puig. From our playoff preview:

Riqui Puig has been one of the best signings in MLS. LA signed the 23-year-old in a huge coup from Barcelona (yes, that Barcelona), and has transformed the club on the field. He’s scored three and assisted four in 13 matches. Pre-Puig, the Galaxy had the 11th-best xG for in MLS. With Puig on the field, they’ve had the fifth-best xG tally.

Just one more stat to illustrate how good Puig has been. He has the second-best Goals Added score of any central midfielder in MLS this season. He played his first game for the Galaxy on August 19. He’s played just 913 minutes.

Puig and Chicharito have transformed this team down the stretch, and their form has reflected it. Four wins in their last five matches to jump from the fringes of the playoff spots into fifth place.

Gastón Brugman has come in and given the Galaxy a completely different look. He’s a pure no. 6, and one of the best in the league. A ball winner’s ball winner, he gives the midfield a significant amount of bite, allowing Puig to play like this:

The Galaxy are a good team. They’re effective in possession and create plenty of chances, but they’ve consistently struggled to finish those chances this season. They also give away plenty of high-quality chances at the other end. However you want to slice it, they’re not boring.

Nashville SC

5th in West | 13W-11D-10L (50 pts) | +11 GD | +10.99 xGD

There’s not much to be said about this team that hasn’t already been said. They’re strong defensively, if prone to occasional lapses. They’ve been borderline elite on the road this year. And they have the league’s best player in Hany Mukhtar. But outside Mukhtar, they don’t have enough. From the playoff preview:

Outside of Mukhtar, they have… not a lot. C.J. Sapong, the presumptive starter at striker, hasn’t scored a goal since May 28. Teal Bunbury has been effective when healthy, but doesn’t have the same chemistry with Mukhtar that Sapong does.

After a slow start at home, they somehow clawed themselves back into position to host playoff games, and then coughed that away with a horrific loss to Houston Dynamo. Frustrating as that is for fans, they’ve been better on the road anyway. But they’ll either need Mukhtar to be at his very best, or they’ll need help from other attackers. They’ve been able to count on the former all season. The latter is their biggest weakness.

Mukhtar has quietly slowed down a bit in the last two games, with his last goal coming in a 1-1 draw against Austin FC on September 17. He’s had chances, though, including a miss against LAFC that he’s scored nine out of 10 times this year.

Perhaps the biggest question this match comes up top, an area that has been a question all season. On Decision Day, Gary Smith opted for Teal Bunbury instead of C.J. Sapong. Bunbury scored a goal, but Mukhtar wasn’t as effective. Does Smith continue to play Sapong because he brings out the best in Mukhtar, or does he risk a less effective Mukhtar for potential scoring from Bunbury?

Pod picks

Andy Simmons

Score: LA Galaxy 1 – 1 Nashville (Galaxy win in penalties)
Scores: Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville concede a late equalizer.

Ben Wright

Score: LA Galaxy 2 – 2 Nashville
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, Dave Romney
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville win in penalty kicks.

Jonathan Slape

Score: LA Galaxy 1 – 2 Nashville
Scores: Hany Mukhtar, Jacob Shaffelburg
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville score first before giving up an equalizer in the second half. Mukhtar scores a late winner.

Davey Shepherd

Score: LA Galaxy 1 – 2 Nashville
Scores: Hany Mukhtar, Randall Leal
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville go up 2-0 before Chicharito pulls one back in the 2nd half for a nervy final 30 minutes.

Chris Ivey

Score: LA Galaxy 2 – 1 Nashville
Scores: Teal Bunbury
MOTM: Teal Bunbury
Bold Prediction: Dejan Joveljić scores a late winner for the Galaxy.

Fan forecast

Match info

Match Info

Teams: LA Galaxy vs Nashville SC
Odds: LA Galaxy (-130), Draw (+280), Nashville SC (+310) via BetMGM
Date: Saturday, October 15
Time: 2:00 pm CT, Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles, California
TV: Univision, TUDN, MLSSoccer.com & MLS App
Radio: iHeartRadio Online (English); El Jefe 96.7 (Spanish)
Forecast: 75°/65°. Scattered thunderstorm. 25% chance of rain. 70% humidity

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.

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