Leagues Cup preview: Club América vs Nashville SC

After taking down FC Cincinnati in penalty kicks, Nashville SC are on to the Leagues Cup Round of 16. They’ll take on Liga MX gigantes Club América, the biggest club in North America, in a rematch of last summer’s Leagues Cup showcase. Can the Coyotes get a win over the Águilas and advance to the quarterfinals?

Club América

Leagues Cup: 2nd (Central Group 1) | 3 pts | +1 GD
Round of 32: 1-0 win vs Chicago Fire
Liga MX: 12th | 3 points | 1-0-1 | +2 GD

Club América are simply historic. Founded in 1916, the Mexico City side claim the Azteca as their home ground, playing in front of 87,000 fans in one of the most iconic venues in international soccer. They’re one of just two Mexican sides to never be relegated from the top flight, and hold records for the most Liga MX titles (13), Copa MX (6), and Concacaf Champions League (7).

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The Águilas are on a bit of a title drought, with their last Liga MX trophy coming in 2018. They’ve topped the league multiple times since, but have fallen in the playoffs without lifting the trophy. For a team with massive support around the United States, Leagues Cup is a prime opportunity to end that drought.

They’ve had a bit of an up-and-down Leagues Cup so far. They cruised past St. Louis City in their opener, winning 4-0. After a 4-1 loss to Columbus Crew in their final group match, they finished second, eventually squeezing by Chicago Fire 1-0 in the Round of 32.

Other than their opener, their results have seemed underwhelming. The underlying numbers tell a different story, though. They’ve created the sixth-most “big chances” yet in the tournament with nine, and playmaker Leonardo Suárez leads the competition with 13 chances created. They’re also the most ball-dominant team in the tournament, completing an average of 533 passes per match.

This all comes from their midfield. Switching between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3, Jonathan Dos Santos and Álvaro Fidalgo run the show. The pair are mechanical on the ball; Dos Santos has averaged 100 completed passes per match and Fidalgo completes 93, the third- and fourth-highest numbers of the tournament. They’re organized defensively, keeping two clean sheets so far, but build their identity around methodically breaking teams down with the ball.

Alex Zendejas will be a familiar name for US Men’s National Team fans. The 25-year-old winger has nailed down a starting spot on the right wing, where he cuts inside onto his preferred left foot. On the other side, former LAFC winger Brian Rodríguez has found himself behind Julián Quiñones in the pecking order.

Notably, leading scorer and Mexican international forward Henry Martín will miss the remainder of the tournament with a calf injury suffered against Chicago. It’s a huge blow for América, although if any team has the depth to cope with Martín’s absence, it’s them. Quiñones will likely shift centrally to play as the no. 9, making room for either Rodríguez or Miguel Láyun on the left.

Nashville SC

Leagues Cup: 2nd (Central Group 4) | 3 pts | 0 GD
Round of 32: 1-1 win at FC Cincinnati (penalties)
MLS: 4th (East) | 38 points | 11-5-8 | +9 GD |

Nashville SC are finally rounding into full health after several absences in recent weeks. Randall Leal is still a few weeks away from playing, after suffering an ankle sprain against Colorado Rapids in their Leagues Cup opener. He joins Nick DePuy (season-ending injury list) as the only injured players.

Jacob Shaffelburg is back after taking a knock in training before the Cincinnati match, and Teal Bunbury returns from his suspension. Most importantly, though, Gary Smith confirmed that DP striker Sam Surridge will be included in the squad. The former Nottingham Forest attacker’s Music City debut would be a massive boost for Nashville, who have been searching for Hany Mukhtar’s running mate since they first set foot on the field back in 2020.

Nashville will have their hands full against Club América. They struggled against Toluca’s possession-based approach, and while América haven’t been as high-flying as the Choriceros, they’re just as dangerous.

Although Smith used a back five in Cincinnati, with essentially a full squad healthy and playing at home, expect to see him revert to his preferred back four and the midfield diamond that has seen the Coyotes at their best in 2023.

With what’s likely to be a very favorable crowd for América, Nashville will have their hands full against one of the region’s truly elite sides.

Pod Picks

Chris Ivey

Score: Nashville 2-1 América
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, Walker Zimmerman
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: A late set piece goal gives Nashville a thrilling win.

Valair Shabilla

Score: Nashville 2-1 América
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, Sam Surridge
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville scores in the first 15 minutes.

Ben Wright

Score: Nashville 3-2 América
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, Jacob Shaffelburg, Sam Surridge
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville score twice in the second half on the counter, including a late winner from Sam Surridge.

Fan Forecast

Match info

Teams: Club América vs Nashville SC
Odds: CFA (-160), NSH (+120) via DraftKings
Date: Tuesday, August 8
Time: 7:00 pm CT
Location: Geodis Park, Nashville, Tennessee
TV: Apple TV
Radio: 104.5 The Zone
Forecast: 84°/67° (80º at kickoff). Partly cloudy. Winds W at 5 to 12 mph. 0% chance of rain. 62% 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. Mastodon

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