Preview: FC Cincinnati vs Nashville SC

Nashville SC continue a three-match week with a road trip to rivals FC Cincinnati on Wednesday. Can the Coyotes get a win after two draws under interim manager Rumba Munthali?

Match info

Teams: FC Cincinnati vs Nashville SC
Referees: Jair Marrufo (Ref), Nick Uranga (AR1), Walt Heatherly (AR2), Eric Tattersall (Fourth), Joe Dickerson (VAR), Mike Kampmeinert (AVAR)
Odds: MTL (-150), Draw (+265), NSH (+390)
Date: Wednesday, May 29, 2024
Time: 6:30 pm CT, TQL Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
TV: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV
TV Commentary: Steve Cangialosi & Danny Higginbotham (English), Alejandro Figueredo & Eduardo Biscayart (Spanish)
Radio: 104.5 The Zone
Radio Commentary: Lucas Panzica & Will Boling
Forecast: 69°/53°. 67º at kickoff. Partly cloudy. 35% chance of rain. 78% humidity. 9 mph wind.

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Matches: 11
FC Cincinnati wins: 2
Draws: 7
Nashville SC wins: 2

FC Cincinnati

2nd (East) | 33 points | 10W-3D-2L | +9 GD |
Last match: 4-3 win @ Toronto FC
Power Rankings2nd
Goal leaders: Lucho Acosta (7), Yuya Kubo (4)
Assist leaders: Lucho Acosta (10), Pavel Bucha (4)

Availability Report

OUT: Corey Baird (hip), Aaron Boupendza (jaw), Yuya Kubo (hamstring)

Y’all, this FC Cincinnati team is good. Really, really good. The Garys lead MLS in with 2.20 points per game, have the second-best defense in the league, and the third-best goal difference in the league. They enter tonight on a seven-match winning streak.

Lucho Acosta is one-upping his 2023 MLS MVP form with 17 goal contributions from just under 1,300 minutes. Only Lionel Messi has more assists, and he enters the match with seven assists and five goals from his last nine matches.

Around Acosta, Cincinnati have built a truly elite team. Pavel Bucha and Obinna Nwobodo are two of the best two-way midfielders in MLS, and their defensive work-rate has allowed Acosta a free role in attack.

Behind the midfield, Cincinnati’s defense is impressive. Matt Miazga was signed as the defensive centerpiece in 2022, and Miles Robinson was brought in as the biggest free agent signing of the last offseason, rounding out Pat Noonan’s back three with a wealth of quality at every position.

Cincinnati have handled turnover well this offseason. Álvaro Barreal, arguably the best wingback in MLS during his stint with Cincy, left this winter to join Cruzeiro. Santiago Arias had less of an impact on the right, but his departure was still impactful. Most importantly, forward Brandon Vázquez was sold to CF Monterrey for a reported $8.5 million, leaving Cincinnati without a U.S. International and the best value forward in MLS.

They replaced all three without missing a beat, potentially even upgrading on all three spots.

24-year-old Luca Orellano has slotted into Barreal’s left wingback slot seamlessly, with the on-loan Argentine winning MLS Player of Matchday 15 last weekend. He’s already matching Barreal’s production in his first season. On the opposite flank, U.S. World Cup veteran DeAndre Yedlin was snagged on a very club-friendly deal, with Inter Miami looking to offload his salary budget charge.

Most notably, 19-year-old striker Kevin Kelsy was brought in on loan from Shakhtar Donetsk and has immediately been one of the best No. 9s in the league. He’s scored three goals in under 300 minutes and has been on the same page as Acosta from the get-go, providing a strong physical presence up front mixed with smart finishing and intelligent off-ball movement. This team is dangerous.

I haven’t even mentioned Aaron Boupendza. The DP striker is one of the most electric players in the league on his day, but his year with the team has been marred by off-field controversy. He’s been late to return from international duty multiple times, and is now out until mid-summer with a broken jaw picked up in an off-field incident. In theory he should elevate this team to an even higher level, but they may look to move on in the summer after just 12 months.

Nashville SC

11th (East) | 16 points | 3W-7D-4L | -3 GD |
Last match: 0-0 draw at CF Montréal 
Power Rankings21st
Goal leaders: Sam Surridge (5), Teal Bunbury & Hany Mukhtar (3)
Assist leaders: Hany Mukhtar (4), Jacob Shaffelburg & Dru Yearwood (3)

Availability Report

OUT: Lukas MacNaughton (ankle), Randall Leal (hip)
QUESTIONABLE: Shaq Moore (hip), Walker Zimmerman (knee)

Nashville head to Cincinnati to take on their oldest rival. The two sides have played 11 times dating back to the 2018 USL season, and while the infrequency of their meetings at the MLS level have dulled the rivalry to an extent, the two sides have played some fire-filled matches in recent years.

Nashville have oh-so-ironically drawn two games since firing Gary Smith, with their scoreless draw in Montréal last weekend a fitting tribute to their long-term manager. The attack has been downright bad this year, scoring just 17 goals and generating the sixth-fewest chances in the league.

They have been a bit more aggressive and proactive under Munthali, reverting to a back four and trying to push their lines consistently higher. While their defense has remained solid, the attack has sputtered since last summer.

Sam Surridge and Hany Mukhtar haven’t quite worked out their positioning relative to each other. Too often, both will drop into midfield out of desperation for touches (a symptom of a midfield that struggles to progress the ball), leaving Nashville with no options high up the field and the entirety of the attack in their own half.

Nashville’s defense has looked more like its usual self since Walker Zimmerman has returned. Since he came back into the squad on April 27, they’ve conceded just three goals from six games, the second-best record in the league. That defensive stability keeps them in games, but the lack of production at the other end has severely limited their ceiling.

Pre-match quotes

Pod picks

Ben Wright

Score: Cincinnati 3 – 1 Nashville
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville score a late penalty to salvage a bit of dignity.

Chris Ivey

Score: Cincinnati 2 – 0 Nashville
Bold Prediction: Cincinnati have been on fire lately. I don’t see that stopping.

Jeff Remlinger

Score: Cincinnati 1 – 0 Nashville
Bold Prediction: One team is a Supporters’ Shield contender, the other is hoping to squeeze into the playoffs. But Nashville’s improved defense and a midweek lull keeps this match tighter than they deserve.

Ronan Briscoe

Score: Cincinnati 3 – 0 Nashville
Bold Prediction: Nashville gets punched in the mouth and outclassed by a Cincy team who is frankly just better.

Valair Shabilla

Score: Cincinnati 2 – 3 Nashville
Scorers: Sam Surridge, Hany Mukhtar (x2)
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: This game has at least two red cards.

Fan forecast

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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