Preview: Nashville SC v Chicago Fire FC

On Tuesday night, Nashville SC secured their spot in the playoffs with a 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact. Tonight, they welcome Chicago Fire FC to Nashville as they look to move further up the table. Will the Boys in Gold be able to keep their unbeaten home streak intact? What can we expect from Chicago?


Nashville SC

On Tuesday night, the Boys In Gold became only the fourth expansion team to qualify for the payoff in their inaugural season. Coming in to this year, Nashville’s goal was to be competitive and blend in to the league and it is safe to say they have exceeded expectations. With four matches left, Nashville is able to now focus on looking up the table and seeing how high up in the standings they can finish.

Those standings saw a swing on Thursday afternoon when MLS announced that points per game would be used to determine playoff standings. This move was announced due largely to the COVID-19 outbreak with in the Colorado Rapids team. Several of those matches will not be rescheduled and an equitable solution was reached.

As far as Nashville is concerned, the PPG system moved them in to sixth place with their game in hand. However, unless there is an outbreak in the team, they will play the full 23 games. The change also benefited tonight’s opponent, as Chicago’s PPG puts them in 10th place. The Fire will be looking to pick up points and remain in the playoff positions.

For the coach and players, qualifying for the playoff was exciting but they are ready and motivated to continue their run of form. In Thursday’s press conference Captain Dax McCarty said, “I enjoyed it for about two hours, and then I went to bed and woke up even more motivated to maintain this vein of form we’re in. For an expansion team, I think it certainly should be recognized and celebrated that we’re in. For me, that’s the bare minimum.”

Selection wise, Coach Gary Smith will have all three of his DPs available for selection for the first time since Jhonder Cádiz was signed in September. I would not expect to see them all three together from the start. Hany Mukhtar has been out since his breakout performance against Houston and will more than likely come off the bench with Cádiz. Also, Saturday could be our first chance to see new signing Handwalla Bwana who should be available for selection after completing the league quarantine protocols for new signings. Regardless of the team that Smith puts out, expect them to start quickly.

Tuesday night’s match against Montreal was the second in a row where Gary Smith went back to his favored 4-2-3-1. With Hany Mukhtar out and Johnder Cádiz working toward full match fitness, the formation allows Coach Smith to get the best out of the players he has available to him. Randall Leal has thrived in this system as of late and with a chance to move up the table, expect to see the same tonight.

Nashville’s attack has been red hot as of late, and so much of that is due to Randall Leal rounding in to form at just the right time. He will likely start out on the left against Chicago but will drift inside or over to the right and switch with Alex Muyl. In between Leal and Muyl will be the rangy Derrick Jones as he continues to fill in for the injured Mukhtar. The three of them will line up behind Daniel Ríos who will be looking to get back on the score sheet.

Tuesday not only saw the return of the 4-2-3-1 but the return of the Dax McCarty and Aníbal Godoy partnership. The midfield pairing was a key facet to much of Nashville’s early success but was broken up due to Godoy being out. McCarty and Godoy looked to be back to that early season cohesiveness against Montreal. They will both have their hands trying to contain the likes of Fabian Herbers and Djordje Mihailović and against his former team McCarty will have a point to prove.

Nashville would not have qualified for the playoff without having one of the top defenses in the league. They come in to the match tied for the second best defensive record and there is no reason to believe that will be changing. Davey Romney and Joe Willis have played every single minute this season and will keep that streak alive against Chicago. Walker Zimmerman will partner with Romney at centerback. They will be flanked by Daniel Lovitz and Alistair Johnston at the fullback positions.


Chicago Fire FC

While not an expansion year for Chicago, the 2020 MLS season was supposed to be one of new beginnings. They announced they were leaving Toyota Park in Bridgeview and returning downtown to Soldier Field. The front office was overhauled. Raphaël Wicky was brought in as the head coach, and much of the playing staff was changed. Some decisions have paid off, like the hiring of Wicky and the signing of Robert Berić. Others (namely the re-designed crest) have been a bust, but the product on the field has improved.

Chicago comes into the match tonight fresh off of a 2-1 loss on the road to the Philadelphia Union. Chicago went down early after conceding a penalty and following it up with a red card just 7 minutes later. They fought back to get an equalizer but could not hold on against the league leaders.

“I honestly think this Chicago team is one of the most talented teams in MLS, certainly in the Eastern conference. There are, of course, some flaws in their game… They put a lot of emphasis on the attack, which can leave them vulnerable,” said Coach Smith to members of the media.

Chicago has plenty of weapons that can exploit any opportunities that come there way. Up front, Robert Berić leads the team with 10 goals and has scored three of those in the past three matches. He is an exceptional finisher but if Nashville can limit service and deny space, they should be able to keep him quiet. Along with Berić, Nashville will need to keep an eye on the Argentinian duo of Ignacio Aliseda and Gastón Giménez.

At the back, Chicago will have Fransisco Calvo available after the disciplinary committee rescinded his red card suspension. I won’t get into the failure of the officials and VAR, but Chicago will be bolstered by having their captain available. In a match that could decide your playoff fate, they’ll need every available tool.


INJURY REPORT

Nashville SC

NOT MEDICALLY CLEARED: David Accam, Dom Badji, Ken Tribbett

Chicago Fire FC

OUT: Kenneth Kronholm (ACL), Luka Stojanović (MCL)


POD PICKS

Ben Wright

Score: Nashville 2 – 0 Chicago
Scorers: Randall Leal, Daniel Ríos
MOTM: Randall Leal
Bold Prediction: Leal gets a goal and an assist. Nashville finishes a game with two goals for the first time in club history, a fitting cap to a Halloween night under a blood moon. Spooky, amirite?

Andy Simmons

Score: Nashville 3 – 0 Chicago
Scorers: Randall Leal, Alex Muyl, Daniel Ríos
MOTM: Daniel Ríos
Bold Prediction: John Sloop does not come to the match in a Halloween costume.

Jonathan Slape

Score: Nashville 2 – 0 Chicago
Scorers: Randall Leal, Alex Muyl
MOTM: Randall Leal
Bold Prediction: Muyl finally gets his first goal for the club.

Davey Shepherd

Score: Nashville 3 – 1 Chicago
Scorers: Daniel Ríos, Randall Leal, Jhonder Cádiz
MOTM: Randall Leal
Bold Prediction: Leal is MOTM with a goal and an assist

John Sloop

Score: Nashville 2 – 0 Chicago
Scorers: Randall Leal (x2)
MOTM: Randall Leal
Bold Prediction: Both of Nashville’s goals come in the second half


Have a prediction for this week’s match? Vote in our Fan Forecast.


Match Info

Teams: Nashville SC (6th place, 7-6-7) vs Chicago Fire (10th place, 5-9-6)
Date: Saturday, 10/31/20
Time: 7:30 PM Central, Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey
TV: MyTV30, ESPN+ (out of market)
Radio: 94.9 The Game 2 (English); El Jefe 96.7 (Spanish)
Forecast: 66°/50°. Mostly Sunny. 10% chance of rain. 60% humidity.

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