PREVIEW: Columbus Crew vs Nashville SC

Hot off a 4-2 victory over (rivals?) Atlanta United, Nashville SC travel north to take on Columbus Crew SC. The Crew lead MLS with 24 points from 11 matches, and are a favorite to win MLS Cup this year. It looks like Nashville’s toughest test yet.

Columbus Crew

Under Gregg Berhalter, the Crew developed one of the more consistent tactical identities in MLS, and they’ve continued that under Caleb Porter. Playing out of a 4-2-3-1, they’re solid in possession, and boast a front three that can provide service from anywhere in the final third.

In 2020, the Crew have been a nailed-on elite defensive side. Through eleven games, they’ve conceded just four goals, on pace for the best defense in MLS history. Their 0.97 expected goals against is the best in the league too, despite just conceding twice against Chicago.

Darlington Nagbe is a name that most fans will recognize. Columbus’s number six is arguably the best midfielder in the league, able to dictate possession and control the tempo from a deeper lying role.

Up top, Gyasi Zardes has been one of the best strikers in the league. His eight goals are second only to Diego Rossi of LAFC, and his off-the-ball movement is firmly in the “elite” category.

“Their record is very, very good at this point,” said Nashville’s Gary Smith ahead of the match. “Having looked at them on numerous occasions, they’re actually a side that do a lot of things well, and you might think that that’s pretty straightforward for a team that’s in good form. But in terms of any one thing that they do exceptionally well, I’d have to scratch my head a little bit on that one. They of course are a good side, but they do a lot of things very well. Their goal-scoring record is good, which tells us they’ve got good dimensions. They defend well which means that they’re probably a very genuine group, and have, of course, gathered this confidence over a period of time.”

Both Nagbe and Zelarayan missed last week’s draw with Chicago with “minor knee knocks“, but were full participants in training and were not listed on Columbus’s injury report. With a full week of rest between matches, they should see the field against Nashville, and are both the type of players who will change the match.

For a more detailed look at Columbus Crew, check out our conversation with Thomas Costello of Massive Report here.


Nashville SC

After their 4-2 win over Atlanta, Nashville’s attack finally looked cohesive, finishing the chances they’ve missed all year, and connecting on passes that have been off. Hany Mukhtar has grown more and more influential in the center of the pitch, and had his best night in a Nashville shirt last weekend.

Nashville find themselves in a bit of an injury crisis on the wing. David Accam, Randall Leal and Abu Danladi, all of whom have started on the right, will miss the match.

Gary Smith has a couple options.

In the past, he’s started Derrick Jones as the 10 and pushed Mukhtar wide. While Jones is a solid player, Mukhtar has had his best performances in the past couple weeks, and it seems counterproductive to push him wide.

Smith has also played Alistair Johnston further forward, with Jalil Anibaba at right-back. I think there’s a good chance we see this. Anibaba is a very solid defender, and against an attack as good as Columbus, he’s an appealing option on the right. However, Nashville loses a lot going forward with two more defensive players. Maybe that’s what Gary Smith goes for to weather the storm initially.

Of the players available, Alan Winn is the most like-for-like replacement for Abu Danladi. He has the pace to be a “vertical threat”, a phrase which GM Mike Jacobs has used many times when discussing Nashville’s roster construction. He’s an aggressive one-versus-one dribbler, and has the ability to break a press and relieve pressure. Starting a player with just 66 minutes of MLS experience is probably a stretch, and he might be a more likely option off the bench, but he’d bring more continuity to what Nashville did against Atlanta.

It was already going to be a tough match for Nashville, even with a fully healthy squad. Without many options on the right, it will be that much tougher. Nashville aren’t a side who really park the bus, and I don’t expect them to against Columbus. However, they’ll have to defend well and really make the most of the chances they get if they want to take points from this one.


Injury Report

Columbus Crew

OUT: Fandendo Adi, Vito Voormgoor

Nashville SC

OUT: David Accam, Abu Danladi, Randall Leal, Jimmy Medranda, Ken Tribbett


POD PICKS

Ben Wright

Score: Columbus 1 – 1 Nashville
Scorers: Alex Muyl
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville have less than 40% possession, but score on a counter attack in the second half.

Andy Simmons

Score: Columbus 2 – 0 Nashville
Scorers: 
MOTM: Daniel Lovitz
Bold Prediction: Columbus outpossess Nashville

John Sloop

Score: Columbus 3 – 1 Nashville
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: 

Jonathan Slape

Score: Columbus 2 – 1 Nashville
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville hold Columbus level before conceding late in the match.

Davey Shepherd

Score: Columbus 2 – 1 Nashville
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville continues to build, despite note getting the win.


Have a prediction for the match? Vote in our Fan Forecast.


MATCH INFO

Teams: Columbus Crew SC (1st place, 7-3-1) vs Nashville SC (9th place, 3-3-4)
Date: Saturday, 09/19/20
Time: 6:30 PM Central, MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus OH
TV: MyTV30, ESPN+ (out of market)
Radio: 94.9 The Game 2 (English); El Jefe 96.7 (Spanish)
Forecast: 66°/43°. Scattered Thunderstorms. 0% chance of rain. 50% humidity.

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