The regular season ended with a whimper for Nashville SC, as the ‘Yotes picked up a 0-1 loss at home on Decision Day to New York Red Bulls.
However, the slate has been whipped clean and the Playoffs start tonight. ‘Yotes travel down to Florida to face a team they have faced more than any other, Orlando City. Can Nashville get a win on the road? Will Orlando prove to be too much?
New playoff format
Before we discuss what we can expect from Nashville, it’s worth mentioning the change to the MLS playoff format. Round One is now a best-of-three series, where the teams face off in a home-away-home format for the higher seeds. If a match is level at the end of regulation, no extra time is play and the match is decided via penalty kicks.
The first team two win two matches advances to the next round, which returns to the traditional single-elimination format used in most tournaments around the world.
Injuries / Absences:
Questionable: Randall Leal (lower body injury)
Out: Nick DePuy (Achilles)
During Leagues Cup we saw Nashville do well in knockout rounds that ended with penalties, and it could prove to have been the prep this team needed for the playoffs.
Nashville has the defensive ability to make a deep run in the playoff but can they score the goals needed?
The discourse around this Nashville team has been centered around what happened post-Leagues Cup. During that tournament, Nashville played some of their best soccer to date and played more of a front foot style. However, in the time post-tournament, they have looked largely toothless.
Gary Smith comes into tonight’s match with only one potential absence as Randall Leal is listed as questionable. This leaves him with several options in both tactics and personnel.
For this game, I think Smith goes with the 4-4-2 diamond and instead of playing Mukhtar in the front two, he’ll drop back to the tip behind the strikers. This should help with having more runners into the box with Sam Surridge and Fafà Picault as your two options in front of Mukhtar.
Behind Mukhtar, Aníbal Godoy and Alex Muyl will be the two shuttlers on the sides. They will not only have to cover the most ground but at times will need to shift over and help cover one of the Orlando wingers or overlapping fullbacks.
In the defense, I only see one potential change. Lukas MacNaughton missed a run of games with an injury during the run-in and could prove to be a very important piece for Nashville to have back. His mobility and ability to step up the field could be vital on both sides of the ball. If he does slot back in, I expect it to be at the expense of Jack Maher.
If Nashville keeps it tight, they can get a result away from home.
Orlando City SC
2nd (East) | 63 points | 18-9-7 | +16 GD |
Power Rankings: 6
Injuries / Absences:
Out: Favian Loyola (left arm), Jack Lynn (left thigh)
Orlando City has been Nashville’s most consistent opponent with the Lions facing the ‘Yotes a total of ten times in all competitions. The results have been pretty even but there have been some fascinating fixtures.
Nashville have played against Orlando (10) more than any other team in their history.— Valair (@valairshabilla) October 26, 2023
The graphic shows the numbers, but there have been some big moments between these two. If I had to guess, this playoffs series will produce something wild.#everyoneN | #vamosorlando pic.twitter.com/z0rIshc2Mj
With such history between the two teams, you could almost classify this match as a rivalry. When asked about that coach Gary Smith said, “You start to build, not necessarily a rivalry, but certainly a competitive environment against teams when you run into them a lot. Lots of things happen. What I can also tell you is there will be a lot going on in this game”
Unlike Nashville who struggled during the final matches of the season, Orlando thrived. They picked up 4 straight wins to end it, including that 0-1 win at GEODIS Park.
Not only will the team formation look familiar, the personnel will too. The only real changed we could see is at fullback, where Kyle Smith could be replaced by Dagur Dan Þórhallsson.
Regardless of what happens at right-back, the Boys in Gold will have to work to nullify the threat that Faccundo Torres and Martin Ojeda possess out on the wing. Dan Lovitz and Shaq Moore will have to keep track of them as they will swap sides in-game to create confusion.
The easiest way will be to cut off the supply to Mauricio Pereyra, who has been one of their biggest creative forces. If Pereyra is either unable to get the ball or unable to get passes out to the flank, Nashville will have a good chance at a result.
Score: Nashville 0-0 Orlando (Nashville in PKs)
Bold Prediction: Both teams are under 1.0 xG
Score: Nashville 2-2 Orlando (Orlando in PKs)
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, Sam Surridge
MOTM: Dax McCarty
Bold Prediction: Nashville score two late to equalize, but can’t get over the line in the shootout.
Score: Nashville 0-1 Orlando
MOTM: Lukas MacNaughton
Bold Prediction: Nashville is unable to find the back of the net all while having the most shots on target.
Score: Nashville 1-1 Orlando (Nashville in PKs)
Scorers: Sam Surridge
MOTM: Sam Surridge
Bold Prediction: Nashville has more shots
Teams: Orlando City SC vs Nashville SC
Odds: ORL (+100), Draw (+240), NSH (+250) via BetMGM
Date: Monday, October 30
Time: 6:00 pm CDT, Exploria Stadium, Orlando, Florida
TV: Apple TV (Free), FS1, Dox Deportes
Radio: 104.5 The Zone (English); El Jefe 96.7 (Spanish)
Forecast: 86°/68°. Mostly Sunny 0% chance of rain. 53% humidity