Nashville SC went on the road to Columbus Crew SC and secured an important draw. Tonight they take on rivals FC Cincinnati for the second time this season. Will Nashville be able to pick up their first win ever against Cincinnati? Will Aké Loba get his first start?
For the first time in their MLS existence, FC Cincinnati find themselves undefeated in 5 of their last 6 and are not rooted to the bottom of the table. They come into tonight’s match fresh after a 1-1 draw against Atlanta United and an opportunity to secure their first win against Nashville.
Coming into the season, Cincinnati looked to have solved their attacking issues with their signing of both Luciano Acosta and Brenner. The two new signings scored in the season opener against Nashville and both find themselves in good form coming into tonight’s match against Nashville.
The one key difference from the last time these teams faced off is the additional of USMNT veteran Geoff Cameron from Queens Park Rangers. Since joining in the beginning of May, FC Cincinnati have only conceded multiple goals on four occasions and the worse defensive performance came when Cameron was unable to travel to Canada.
Cincinnati have been somewhat resurgent going forward in recent weeks. With Luciano Acosta at the heart of their attack, they’ve scored 10 goals in their last five matches. Just one of those performances earned three points, though, as the defense conceded nine times in that same timespan.
Designated player Jürgen Locadia is no longer with the club. His loan from Premier League side Brighton & Hove Albion is up, and it’s hard to argue he was anything but a major disappointment. The attacker found the net just twice in 26 appearances, making it an easy decision to walk away from his reported $10 million purchase option.
Cincinnati have another high-priced striker on the books, though. 21-year-old striker Brenner was bought from São Paulo FC for a whopping $13 million, the third-highest transfer fee in league history. While it hasn’t been a lights-out season from him yet, he’s already scored three times in 13 matches, including a penalty kick against Nashville in both sides’ season opener.
Cincinnati have averaged just a point per match this season. Nashville will be eager to get their ever first win against arguably their biggest rival, and despite the Lions’ improving attack, the home side should have the quality and discipline to handle the challenge.
Head coach Gary Smith found himself going on the road to Columbus with a bit of a depleted team. Between the international absences, injuries and those due to health and safety protocols, Nashville was missing 5 of their regular starters.
Tonight against Cincinnati, Smith will be faced with those same absences. The question is how does he set up the team?
Through the past four matches, Nashville and Coach Gary Smith have been lineup in a three back system, a departure from the usual 4-2-3-1. The formation switch has seen Nashville score eight goals and concede only three. Against Cincinnati, I expect to see Nashville lineup in a 3-4-3.
With the absences at the back, captain Dax McCarty was deployed in the back three as the middle center back. McCarty put in one of his best performances of the season, but the move back left a hole in the center of the pitch.
Against Cincinnati, Smith may choose to move McCarty back into the midfield and give Robert Castellanos his first MLS start. The defender has worked his way into the squad, appearing as a matchday alternate the last couple weeks before getting a spot on the bench in Columbus. Without other natural centerback options at the moment, playing at home against Cincinnati is a potentially ideal match to give the 23-year-old his first MLS minutes.
Another option is giving Eric Miller a look in a more central role. The MLS veteran made his first start of the season in Columbus on the right side of defense, but he’s not nearly as attack-minded a player as Dylan Nealis.
One of the biggest stories of the season to date has been Brian Anunga. With Aníbal Godoy out due to national team duty and injury, Anunga has started the last four matches. Signed for $50,000 from USL’s Charleston Battery, the young midfielder impressed last season, but lacked a cutting edge in possession. It’s been a different story in 2021, with Anunga pushing much further forward and adding more aggressive passes to his repertoire. He’s put in such a good account of himself, in fact, that he won’t surrender his spot automatically when Godoy returns, and should push for a larger and more consistent role going forward.
Aké Loba made his first appearance off the bench and in his ten minute cameo, looked every bit the best attacker on the pitch. He was light on his feet, quick on the dribble and not afraid to work back in defense. Tonight, I expect him to come off the bench against and will surely cause chaos with his speed and movement.
Score: Nashville 3 – 0 Cincinnati
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, Aké Loba, Dave Romney
MOTM: Brian Anunga
Bold Prediction: Mukhtar gets both assists plus his goal, Cincinnati has less than 0.75 xG
Score: Nashville 2 – 1 Cincinnati
Scorers: Aké Loba , Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Aké Loba
Bold Prediction: Loba makes an impact off the bench and is awarded MOTM
Score: Nashville 2 – 1 Cincinnati
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, Jhonder Cádiz
MOTM: Jhonder Cádiz
Bold Prediction: Cádiz scores the winner
Score: Nashville 3 – 1 Cincinnati
Scorers: Jhonder Cádiz, Aké Loba , Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Aké Loba
Bold Prediction: Loba starts his first game and picks up a goal and an assist
Score: Nashville 1 – 0 Cincinnati
Scorers: Aké Loba
MOTM: Aké Loba
Bold Prediction: Aké Loba gets the game winner
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Teams: Nashville SC vs FC Cincinnati
Power Rankings: Nashville (3rd) vs Cincinnati (26th)
Odds: NSH (-190), Draw (+310), CIN (+450) via BetMGM
Date: Saturday, July 24
Time: 7:30 PM central, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee
TV: MyTV 30 (local), ESPN+ (out of market)
Radio: 94.9 The Game 2 (English); El Jefe 96.7 (Spanish)
Forecast: 94°/74°. Mostly Sunny. 10% chance of rain. 51% humidity.