Note: Most of the preview was written before the breaking news about Inter Miami’s COVID-19 outbreak which is currently a developing story.
Tonight, Nashville SC will face off against fellow expansion side Inter Miami CF in their first-ever play off match. These two teams have been compared to each other all season and tonight the national spotlight will be on Nissan Stadium for this expansion showdown. With two weeks to prepare for the match, what can we expect from the Boys in Gold? What might Diego Alonso’s Inter Miami have up their sleeve?
265 days ago, Nashville SC took the field in their first ever MLS match in front of a crowd of almost 60,000. Tonight, they will take the field in front of a much smaller crowd, but with much more on the line as they look to secure their first ever playoff win.
At the start of the season, myself and the rest of the Speedway Soccer crew predicted that Nashville would end the season around the playoff positions, but none of us thought that Nashville would be sitting clearly in the playoffs and hosting a home playoff match.
Going in to the international break, there were concerns that Randall Leal was going to be unavailable against Miami due to the MLS COVID guidelines. However, earlier this week a decision was reached to allow players to avoid the 10 mandatory quarantine if they flew home via charter. Nashville head coach Gary Smith confirmed in Wednesday’s press conference that Leal would be back and available for the match tonight.
Nashville with also have Aníbal Godoy back from the injury he sustained against Orlando City along with David Accam, a player that has spent a large portion of the season with an ankle injury. He hasn’t been in the squad since September 2nd but has been back in training this week. Having a player of his skill set off the bench could potentially be a game changer.
The international break has not just given Nashville a chance to get healthy; it’s given them more time on the training pitch.
“This is the first time in a while we’ve been able to have more balance to our work, with rest and on the training field,” says Smith. He said he feels that Nashville are in a good place heading in to the match. With all of the options available to him, we could see a completely first-choice lineup on Friday, something we’ve rarely seen in 2020.
By now, Nashville fans know what to expect from a Gary Smith formation. He has used a few different formations, but always goes back to his preferred 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1 hybrid formation. I expect him to utilize that tonight against Miami. We should see as close to a first choice 11 as we have seen all season.
Up front, I expect it to finally be Jhonder Cádiz time from the start. Smith has been building up his number of minutes and against Orlando we say him from the start of the second half. Behind Cádiz, Hany Mukhtar will be there to pick up the second balls and distribute it out wide to Randall Leal and Alex Muyl on the wings. Expect to see some fluid movement between those three, especially Leal who will drift inside.
It should be the first chance to see all three Designated Players on the field from the start. After Nashville’s 3-2 win in Orlando, Miami should be worried. If the attack struggles to find a rhythm, Smith can bring the likes of Daniel Ríos, Derrick Jones, Handwalla Bwana and possibly even David Accam off of the bench.
The double pivot of Aníbal Godoy and Dax McCarty will really set the tempo of the match against Miami. They match up well with Wil Trapp and Blaise Matuidi and offer a bit more on both sides of the ball. Godoy and McCarty will need to keep an eye on Rodalfo Pizarro in the number 10 position and Gonzalo Higuaín’s tendency to drop deep into this Miami midfield to receive the ball.
At the back, defense has been the cornerstone of Nashville’s success and will be the key to Nashville winning this match. Miami has the flashy attacking duo of Pizarro and Higuaín but they have to contend with a backline anchored by MLS defender of the year, Walker Zimmerman. At the fullback positions, Daniel Lovitz and Alistair Johnston will be tasked with handling Lewis Morgan and Matías Pellegrini, who will at times drift inside and switch sides. Dave Romney will line up beside Zimmerman and in front of MLS clean sheet leader Joe Willis.
Inter Miami CF
Inter Miami and Nashville have been compared to each other since it was first announced they would be coming in to the league at the same time. Inter Miami got the tag of being the flashy attacking team and Nashville the boring defensive tag but when you look at the numbers Miami has only scored one more goal than Nashville. The defensive side of the ball is where the real gulf in class has been with Nashville conceding 13 goals less than their expansion brethren.
Everything was shaping up for the match tonight to be a bit of normalcy in the midst of a pandemic but then Franco Panizo broke this story:
? Breaking News:— Franco Panizo (@FrancoPanizo) November 20, 2020
Sources have told me that FIVE Inter Miami players, including at least one starter, will miss Friday night’s playoff game vs. Nashville SC after testing positive for COVID-19.
Full story over at @SBISoccer. ⬇️#InterMiamiCFhttps://t.co/0mwP24yml2
We have since learned that at least two of the players are starters and they did not travel to Nashville for the game. It seems that the most recent positive test was from early this week and there have not been any new positives since. We have seen how quickly the virus can spread in this environment with what happened to Nashville SC and the Titans.
The match is moving forward as of Friday morning, but I would be remiss to not pass on thoughts to the players who are dealing with the virus. The virus is no joke and we wish them a speedy and uncomplicated recovery.
Friday morning, Michelle Kaufman of the Miami Herald reported that Leandro González Pírez, Gonzalo Higuaín and Federico Higuaín have tested positive and will not play. Obviously those are three key players for Miami, and will impact how they line up.
Diego Alonso has played a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 for most of the season and he will look to utilize that formation tonight against Nashville. We don’t know which players have been affected by the virus but the lineup above is close to the first choice 11.
Gonzalo Higuaín is the marquee name in the attack, but he has struggled to score goals with just a single goal and two assists to his name. In his absence, Juan Agudelo seems the likely option to fill in.
The real standout in the attack has been Lewis Morgan. The Scottish winger leads the team in both goals and assists and looks to create opportunities from the right channel and put dangerous ball in to the box. Morgan will pair with Rodolfo Pizarro in the center and more than likely Matías Pellegrini on the left. Of the three behind the striker, Pellegrini is the position most up for grabs and could also be filled by the likes of Juan Agudelo or Brek Shea. Regardless of who starts, there will be a lot of interchanging and fluid movement and they look for space.
In the double pivot, Wil Trapp and Blaise Matuidi are the preferred pairing for Alonso. Matuidi has come in and brought a bit more steel and some creativity to the Inter Miami midfield, but he is not the same Blaise Matuidi of the 2018 World Cup. Godoy and McCarty should be able to gaining control of the midfield and stop Miami from dictating play. Nashville will still need to be aware when they lose possession. Matuidi is still more than capable of releasing those counter attacks.
At the back, Miami has struggled this season. After MLS is Back, Miami brought in Leandro González Pírez from Tijuana to solidify the backline. He has struggled to regain the form he had at Atlanta United, and now will not be available. In his absence, MLS veteran AJ DeLaGarza will likely pair with Luis Figal, who will move from the right back position after Andrés Reyes picked up a red card on decision day. That would mean Dylan Nealis will get the start at right back with Ben Sweat starting at left back.
The lack of height in Miami’s defense should allow Jhonder Cádiz to win his duels and distribute to players running off of him. Miami will need to pick up those second balls if they want to limit this Nashville attack.
OUT: Dom Badji, Abu Danladi, Jack Maher
Inter Miami CF
OUT: George Acosta, David Norman Jr, Luis Robles, Denso Ulysse
SUSPENDED: Andrés Reyes (red card accumulation)
Predictions were made before Miami’s COVID outbreak was reported.
Score: Nashville 2 – 0 Miami
Scorers: Daniel Ríos, Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Mukhtar with a goal and an assist
Score: Nashville 1 – 0 Miami
Scorers: Jhonder Cádiz
MOTM: Jhonder Cádiz
Bold Prediction: Cádiz comes on as a sub and delivers the game-winner
Score: Nashville 3 – 1 Miami
Scorers: Jhonder Cádiz, Hany Mukhtar, Alex Muyl
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville scores their third goal late as Miami is pushing forward for an equalizer.
Score: Nashville 2 – 1 Miami
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, Jhonder Cádiz
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Mukhtar with a goal and an assist. Nashville goes up 2-0 and concedes after to make it dicey
Score: Nashville 3 – 1 Miami
Scorers: Daniel Ríos, Randall Leal, Walker Zimmerman
MOTM: Randall Leal
Bold Prediction: Nashville score the first three goals
Have a prediction for this week’s match? Vote in our Fan Forecast.
Teams: Nashville SC (7th place, 8-7-8) vs Inter Miami CF (10th place, 7-13-3)
Date: Friday, 11/20/20
Time: 8:00 PM Central, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee
Radio: 94.9 The Game 2 (English); El Jefe 96.7 (Spanish)
Forecast: 71°/46°. Sunny. 0% chance of rain. 56% humidity.