Nashville SC will face MLS opposition for the first time in 2021, taking on New York Red Bulls at their IMG Academy base camp. The match will follow a traditional format, with two 45 minute halves instead of the 30 minute periods Nashville used last week.
It’s New York’s first match of the preseason, while Nashville are coming off a 4-0 thumping of Louisville City. As with any preseason contest, it’s tough to predict much about the match, especially in a preseason like this without the ability to watch the games. But when in doubt, we’ll predict the strongest possible teams for both sides.
New York Red Bulls
New York is a tough team to predict this season. They were solid in 2020, finishing sixth in the East, level on points with Nashville but surpassing them on tie breakers. They’re undergoing a managerial overhaul, though. Chris Armas was fired in September last season, and their new hire Gerhard Struber didn’t take over until their final match of the season, a 3-2 loss to eventual MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew.
While not one of the bigger spenders in MLS, NYRB has been a consistent collector of talent, thanks in large part to their exceptional academy. Players like Sean Davis and Kyle Duncan have come through their youth ranks to become first-team regulars, and Caden Clark appears to be the next high-potential product. With the Red Bulls organization’s global contacts, it’s not hard to imagine him making the leap to Europe in the next year or two.
With Aaron Long in camp with the US National Team, and Tim Parker traded to Houston in the offseason, center-back is a question for New York today. Amro Tarek has proven himself to be a reliable MLS option, and they recently acquired Andrés Reyes after his torrid loan spell with Inter Miami last season.
Ever since they parted ways with Bradley Wright-Phillips, striker has been the biggest question mark for New York. They snagged striker Fábio Roberto Gomes Netto on loan from Oeste in the Brazilian third-tier, and have a purchase option in June. He could be the answer, or it could be another season of Tom Barlow. Without much footage of how Struber wants his team to play, the New York Red Bulls are a bit of a wildcard at this point.
By all accounts, Nashville looked really good in their 4-0 win over Louisville City, and with a bit more sharpness could have easily won by more. While it’s important to note both the context of the game and the talent difference of their opponent, scoring goals is a welcome sight for this side (even if no one actually saw it).
Nashville will be without three presumed starters. Aníbal Godoy, Alistair Johnston and Randall Leal are on international duty for World Cup and Olympic qualifying. With new signing Rodrigo Piñeiro still adapting to the physical requirements of MLS and Gary Smith, Handwalla Bwana and former Red Bull Alex Muyl started their last contest.
Brian Anunga proved to be a capable MLS midfielder last season, and should slot in next to captain Dax McCarty in midfield. With Matt LaGrassa as the only other central midfielder in the squad, one of the three will likely play the full 90 minutes, barring a tweak in system or another unsigned player getting minutes, although Smith seemed to downplay that possibility.
Striker continues to be a question mark heading into the season, and neither of Nashville’s presumed first-choice players saw the field last match. Jhonder Cádiz and Daniel Ríos each sat out with minor injuries, although at least Cádiz has returned to training and could see the pitch this afternoon.
CJ Sapong got the start last time out, and scored the first goal of the preseason. In reality, he’s probably as qualified as anyone on the roster to be Nashville’s first-choice no. 9, and could very well earn the job heading into the season. He’ll take every chance he can get with the first team to prove he should be the starter, and if he can score a couple more goals in preseason, he’ll give Gary Smith a selection headache.
Dom Badji is another player who’s reportedly looked really good in training, and don’t forget he went into 2020 as the preferred striker. If Cádiz, Ríos or both don’t play today, he’ll also be looking to take his chance and make his case to Smith. If he scores a banger like this in a game, he may just grab the job.
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Teams: Nashville SC vs Columbus Crew
Date:Wednesday, March 24 2021
Time: 2:00 PM central, IMG Academy, Bradenton, FL
Forecast: 59°/64°. Clear. 1% chance of rain. 64% humidity.