On Saturday, the real meat of the season begins for Nashville SC as they travel to Harrison, New Jersey to take on the New York Red Bulls. The excitement of a new season and new black kits is now in the rear-view mirror.
3rd (East) | 3 points | 1-0-0 | +2GD
Out: Nick DePuy (lower leg)
Questionable: Anibal Godoy (shoulder)
Nashville SC enters this match on a high note following a convincing victory over NYCFC. Despite conceding the lion’s share of possession, Nashville never ceded control of the match. The Boys in Gold limited the Pigeons to two shots on goal and just 0.4 expected goals (xG) – the lowest total of any team in Week 1.
This week, a different challenge awaits Nashville. Whereas City emphasizes positional play and long spells of possession, the Red Bulls play a high-energy brand of soccer where the ball is treated like a hot potato to be tossed into the net as quickly as possible.
While there is a general feeling that Nashville is snakebit by the Red Bulls, these two clubs have met just twice before. Both matches came in the 2021 season. Nashville lost 2-0 in a June trip to Red Bull Arena. Later that year on Decision Day, the two sides played to a 1-1 draw at Nissan Stadium.
The result preserved New York’s playoff streak and prevented Nashville from leapfrogging the Philadelphia Union. By not securing all three points, it forced the Coyotes to travel to Philadelphia in the playoffs where the side memorably lost on penalty kicks.
In Saturday’s match, the biggest question centers on the availability of Hany Mukhtar. The reigning MVP started Week 1 from the bench before playing an impactful role in the final 15 minutes plus stoppage time. Gary Smith indicated this week that Mukhtar is “fit and available” but played coy as to whether he would start from the beginning.
As he showed last week, there is no one in Nashville better at operating in tight spaces than Mukhtar. The safe money, given Smith’s history of easing players back in after an injury, is for Mukhtar to remain on the bench but make an appearance at the start of the second half. Regardless of if he starts or comes off the bench, Mukhtar will have a role to play.
Nashville will be expected to make one change from last week’s starting eleven. Anibal Godoy suffered a shoulder injury late in the match against NYCFC. While officially listed as questionable, Smith’s answer to a question regarding Godoy’s availability hinted that Godoy had not taken part in training during the week. In his place, club captain Dax McCarty should earn the starting nod. The midfield pair of McCarty and Sean Davis will, of course, be very familiar with Red Bull Arena as both previously played for and served as captain for New York.
The Red Bulls will be a difficult test for Nashville, but one that this club will not shy away from. A win and even a draw should be cause for celebration among supporters.
New York Red Bulls
Last Season: 4th (East) | 53 points | 15-8-11 | +9 GD
This Season: 12th (East) | 0 points | 0-0-1 | -1 GD
Out: Dru Yearwood (hamstring); Serge Ngoma (hamstring)
Questionable: Lewis Morgan (undisclosed); Dante Vanzeir (fitness)
New York Red Bulls enter this contest disappointed to have not secured a win in Week 1. The Red Bulls controlled the entirety of the match away to Orlando City. However, a 55th-minute hand ball in the box did New York in. Facundo Torres buried his penalty, Orlando’s lone shot on target, and the Lions escaped opening day with a flattering three points.
This season, head coach Gerhard Struber has implemented a 4-2-2-2 formation. It is the hallmark of Ralph Ragnick and the entirety of the global Red Bull system. The formation feeds the Red Bulls’ constant press and energy drink brand of soccer.
By its nature, the 4-2-2-2 congests the middle of the pitch, prevents building out from the back, and harries those on the ball into coughing it up. Once in possession, New York does not dilly-dally on the ball. They will look to get vertical quickly, often hoofing Route 1 balls to their strike pair up top. The design is to win the secondary balls and race toward the opponent’s area before they have a chance to set up into an organized defensive shape.
In the future, one of those strikers will be Dante Vanzier. New York signed the Belgian forward from Union SG (Belgian First Division) for a club-record $5.3 million dollars. Luckily for Nashville, it appears that Vanzier will not play a major role in Saturday’s match.
Struber: “We’re looking forward to a great home opener against Nashville. Only Dru Yearwood and Serge Ngoma are out for this game. Lewis Morgan is questionable. Dante Vanzeir we need to work with him on fitness, but has taken some good steps.”#RBNY— Mark Fishkin (@MarkFishkin) March 2, 2023
While this may sound like fortunate timing for Nashville SC, the Boys in Gold should not count themselves too lucky just yet. The Red Bulls’ vaunted high press always seems to carry more venom in the first month of the season. This is likely due to several factors – legs are fresh, injuries are minimal, opponents are rusty with the ball, and the weather has not reached its summer peak.
More so than most opponents, Nashville may possess the antidote to the Red Bulls’ press. In possession, the Red Bulls’ 4-2-2-2 requires fullbacks bombing forward to create width in the attack. When New York turns the ball over, they can be left vulnerable in those pockets of space left vacated by the fullback.
This past year, Nashville emphasized acquiring speed on the wings in trading for Fafà Picault and finalizing the acquisition of Jacob Shaffelburg. If Nashville is to earn a result on the road, these two wingers will need to play an important role.
Score: RBNY 2 -1 Nashville
Scorers: Teal Bunbury
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville concedes both goals in the first half
Score: RBNY 1-1 Nashville
Scorers: Fafà Picault
MOTM: Dax McCarty
Bold Prediction: McCarty pings at least three inch-perfect diagonal balls
Score: RBNY 2-1 Nashville
Scorers: Walker Zimmerman
MOTM: Walker Zimmerman
Bold Prediction: Nashville takes less than three shots on target
Score: RBNY 0-2 Nashville
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, Fafà Picault
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville puts in a strong defensive performance and limits Red Bulls to only 2 shots on target.
Teams: New York Red Bulls vs Nashville SC
Odds: NYRB (+100), Draw (+230), NSC (+270) via BetMGM
Date: Saturday, March 3
Time: 6:30 pm CT, Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey
TV: Apple TV – Free
Radio: 104.5 The Zone (English); El Jefe 96.7 (Spanish)
Forecast: 45°/33°. AM Showers. 9% chance of rain at kickoff. 11 mph winds
Tomorrow’s New York Red Bulls vs Nashville SC match will be broadcast exclusively on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV. Fans can sign up by following this link. Apple TV+ subscribers can sign up for $12.99 a month or $79 per season, while non-Apple TV+ subscribers can access the pass for $14.99 a month or $99 per season.
Season ticket members receive an MLS Season Pass as part of their membership. Season ticket holders should check their email for a code to redeem for MLS Season Pass access.