Leagues Cup preview: Nashville SC at FC Cincinnati

With a win and a loss, Nashville SC finished second in their Leagues Cup group and advanced to the round of 32. The Boys in Gold will travel north to face an old foe in FC Cincinnati. Not only are the Lions atop of the MLS table, they also finished first in their group after defeating Mexican giants, Chivas. After losing in their first two tries this season, will the third time be the charm for Nashville SC?

FC Cincinnati

Leagues Cup: 1st (Central Group 3) | 5 pts | +4 GD |
MLS: 1st (East) | 51 points | 15-6-2 | +14 GD |
Power Rankings: 1
Injuries / Absences:

Out: Dom Badji (quad), Dado Valenzuela (quad), Sergio Santos (hamstring), Stiven Jimenez (lower leg)

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This has been a dream season for FC Cincinnati. They’ve all but guaranteed the Supporters Shield and they have a U.S. Open Cup semifinal to play at home against Messi and friends. They’ve yet to lose a home game and are not showing any signs of slowing down.

While their Leagues Cup campaign didn’t start at the best of terms, they sure seem to have course-corrected since. After being down two-nil inside 13 minutes against Sporting Kansas City, FCC drew the game 3-3 then went on to win in penalties. Following that, they dismantled Chivas 3-1 in a Cricket-esq match over two days because of weather delays.

Cincinnati is a great team capable of playing some beautiful soccer, but what truly separates them from the rest is their ability to grind out results. It doesn’t always have to be pretty for Cincinnati, they are able to win matches in different ways.

Their two games against Nashville this season are a great example of that. In the first game at Geodis Park, the Lions were able to keep Nashville at bay and prevent them from scoring. They had a limited number of chances and were able to capitalize on one of them, something Nashville failed to do despite having 61% possession. 

The second and most recent clash between the two was a bit different. Nashville took a conservative approach to the match and Cincinnati tried to break them down. Obviously, Nashville receiving two red cards in two minutes helped, but at the end of the day, Cincinnati got all three points.

Cincinnati is expected to continue with their 3-4-1-2 shape, with the front three being in great form. Luciano Acosta leads the front line with 25 goal contributions in 28 games in all competitions. He’s aiming for the MVP award and has a pretty good claim for it thus far.

Brandon Vazquez continues to impress after scoring a hat trick against Chivas in his last outing. The “former Nashville SC player” also scored against Sporting Kansas City in their first Leagues Cup match. As if those two were not enough trouble for opposing defenses, after scoring on his debut against Nashville, Aaron Boupendza started the last two matches and contributed with an assist..

Aside from the forwards, there are a number of players who can cause Nashville some damage. Notably, the two MLS All-Stars Álvaro Barreal and Matt Miazga.

Barreal is a left wing-back with speed that allows him to drive forward and cover defensively as needed. He’s also technically sound and able to play with the ball comfortably. He has contributed three goals and five assists in MLS play thus far, as well as two assists against Chivas in Leagues Cup.

Following his return from Europe, Miazga has been one of the best center backs in the league. Other than being a good defender, Miazga brings leadership and confidence to Cincy’s back line. He’s also very good at managing the game and can be a master of the “dark arts.” That was apparent the last time these two teams faced each other, especially with Fafà Picault’s sending off.

Nashville SC

Leauges Cup: 2nd (Central Group 4) | 3 points | 0 GD |
MLS: 4th (East) | 38 points | 11-5-8 | +9 GD |
Power Rankings: 8
Injuries / Absences:

Out: Nick DePuy (achilles)
Questionable: Jack Maher (lower body), Randall Leal (ankle)
Suspended: Teal Bunbury

After beating the Colorado Rapids 2-1, it seemed like Nashville were on the right path until they faced Toluca. The 4-3 thriller felt like a set-back for the Boys in Gold and showed that there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.

Lapses in concentration, allowing easy goals and inability to remain calm seemed uncharacteristic for Nashville SC. With six losses and six red cards in their last eight, those things seem less uncharacteristic and more of a reality. 

Nashville’s newest signing, Sam Surridge, trained with the team a couple of times this week, but coach Gary Smith says he’s not ready to participate in any matches yet. With Teal Bunbury suspended and the injury to Randell Leal, Nashville are limited in their attacking options.

Nashville are expected to continue with the 4-4-2 diamond formation, with the flexibility to switch to a traditional 4-4-2 when more width and defensive bodies are needed. Dax McCarty is expected to return to his role at the base of the diamond. Nashville have tried different options for that position, mostly Aníbal Godoy, but no one seems to occupy that role as well as McCarty. 

Other than a spectacular substitution appearance against Colorado, Hany Mukhtar has been quiet lately. He was not able to create much against Cincinnati or Toluca as their defenses dealt with his threat very well. When you are the league MVP, having a target on your back is something you should get used to. Mukhtar has shown up in big games for Nashville in the past and will be looking for revenge against Cincinnati.  

The last three matches for Cincinnati have all ended with their opponents receiving at least one red card. While that is a testament to Cincy’s skills and game management, Nashville should be working hard to stop this cycle. It’s to no one’s surprise that playing with fewer players than the opponent is not ideal.

Pod Picks

Chris Ivey

Score: Nashville 1-3 Cincinnati
Scorers: Fafa Picault
MOTM: Fafa Picault
Bold Prediction: The gaffer again puts out a semi-rotated lineup that makes it clear that he is punting away trophy contention to rivals.

Ben Wright

Score: Nashville 2-2 Cincinnati (Nashville win in penalties)
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, Jacob Shaffelburg
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville score twice in the second half.

Jonathan Slape

Score: Nashville 1-2 Cincinnati
Scorers: Jacob Shaffelburg
MOTM: Jacob Shaffelburg
Bold Prediction: Nashville gets a late consolation goal.

Valair Shabilla

Score: Nashville 2-1 Cincinnati
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, Walker Zimmerman
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: No goals from Cincy’s front three.

Fan Forecast

Match info

Teams: FC Cincinnati vs Nashville SC
Odds: NSH (+290), CIN (-130) via DraftKings
Date: Friday, August 4
Time: 7:00 pm CDT, TQL Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
TV: Apple TV
Radio: 104.5 The Zone
Forecast: 91°/68° Partly cloudy. Winds NNE at 5 to 10 mph. 6% chance of rain.

Author: Valair Shabillamoved to Nashville as a refugee from Iraq at the age of 14. A fan of soccer from a young age, he used soccer to connect with a larger community in Nashville and adapt to life abroad. He's covered Nashville SC since 2019, co-hosting Pharmaceutical Soccer, and analyzing soccer from an audio/video perspective.

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