Preview: Nashville SC vs Toronto FC

This week, Nashville SC travels north of the border to take on Bob Bradley’s Toronto FC. 

The match will reunite players on both sides as former Nashville SC striker C.J. Sapong takes on the Boys in Gold for the first time since his April trade to the Reds. It will also mark the return of Jacob Shaffelburg and Lukas MacNaughton to Toronto for the first time since each player’s trade to Nashville. 

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Nashville SC

2nd (East) | 31 points | 9W-4D-3L | +13 GD

Injuries / Absences:

Out: Nick DePuy (lower body); Walker Zimmerman (Int’l Duty)

Questionable: Luke Haakenson (lower body)

Nashville SC enters the match riding an impressive four-match winning streak and eight-match unbeaten run in league play. Last week, the Coyotes dispatched F.C. Dallas via an own goal and another bit of magic from the reigning MVP, Hany Mukhtar. 

On Saturday, Nashville will seek their first win at Toronto in club history. Now, NSC does own one away victory against the Reds in their history, a 1-0 upset in the first round of the 2020 playoffs. However, East Hartford, Connecticut played host for that match as Toronto temporarily relocated its home games during the pandemic-effected 2020 season. In Ontario, the Boys in Gold’s record is a lowly 0W-1D-2L, with one of those losses coming in 2018 to Toronto FC II while Nashville played in USL.  

Perhaps more so than any past meeting, Nashville enters with a load of confidence that it will be able to earn a win. The squad is healthy and should only be without Walker Zimmerman who has already reported to the U.S. National Team camp. While that may have been a larger concern one month ago, Lukas MacNaughton has proved more than capable of filling in for Zimmerman.

In this contest, I expect Nashville to continue with the 4-4-2 Diamond formation that has fueled the ‘Yotes over the past month. With an extra body in the midfield, it will harass Toronto into extra giveaways (more on that in the next section) and spark Nashville’s counterattack. Richie Laryea’s tendency to bomb forward should allow Nashville to find plenty of open space on the left-hand side for either Jacob Shaffelburg or Fafà Picault to exploit. 

Toronto F.C.

12th (East) | 18 points | 3W-9D-5L | -4 GD

Injuries / Absences:

Out: Michael Bradley (lower body); Alonso Coello (lower body), Adama Diomande (lower body), Shane O’Neill (lower body), Victor Vázquez (lower body)

Questionable: Matt Hedges (not disclosed)

Toronto F.C. is climbing out of a tumultuous May which saw discontent boil over in the locker room. Federico Bernardeschi, in particular, lobbed his frustrations with Bob Bradley’s tactics and team handling. It was clear in a media interview and subsequent reporting from The Athletic that the Italian winger wanted Bradley out as head coach.

Bradley survived the power struggle and left Bernadeschi off the team sheet in Toronto’s following match. After what amounted to a one-game suspension, Bernardeschi returned to the starting lineup for the Red’s last two matches. 

Despite the presence of the two high-priced Italians, Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne, Toronto struggle to find goals (0.94g/match). Injuries certainly have played their part.

Insigne missed several matches and Adama Diomande’s injury left Toronto without a trustworthy striker. The injury to Bradley’s favorite journeyman forward, Diomande, forced Bradley to acquire another journeyman in C.J. Sapong. The former Nashville forward may have ended his nearly year-long scoreless streak in his first match with Toronto, but he has yet to find the net since. 

Perhaps the biggest problem facing Toronto is that they cheaply give away the ball. They “lead” the league in the number of their own passes that have been intercepted, are second, only to the chaotic Red Bulls, in the number of times dispossessed, and are third worst in miscontrols. It is not like these statistics are skewed by a possession-heavy approach. Toronto averages only 49.6% possession. With this much trouble stringing together attacking sequences, it is no wonder that Toronto struggles to score. 

As tempting as it sounds to sit back and let Toronto make mistakes, Nashville must be extra cautious not to give too much space and time to the aforementioned Italians. They have shown the ability to punish teams from the outside the box with beautifully curled long-distance shots. Of all teams, NSC should remember this all too well. 

As long as Nashville stays aggressive and quickly closes down those two stars, this is certainly a match that the ‘Yotes can win. While the first goal is key in any match, it may have an outsized impact in this one. With a Toronto team teetering on the edge, an early goal for Nashville may see heads drop for the home side. 

Pod Picks

Ben Wright

Score: 0-2 (Nashville SC)
Scorers: Mukhtar, Shaffelburg
MOTM: Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville hold Toronto to eight or fewer shots 

Jonathan Slape

Score: 1-2 (Nashville SC)
Scorers: Mukhtar, MacNaughton
MOTM: Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Both CJ and MacNaughton get goals against their former teams

Valair Shabilla

Score: 1-1 (Draw)
Scorers: Shaffelburg
MOTM: Willis
Bold Prediction: Nashville concede over 12 shots 

Chris Ivey

Score: 1-3 (Nashville SC)
Scorers: Muktar, Shaffelburg, Picault
MOTM: Shaffelburg
Bold Prediction: Sapong scores against his former club.

Fan Forecast

Match Info

Teams: Toronto FC v. Nashville SC
Odds: TFC (+155), Draw (+225), NSC (+165) via BetMGM
Date: Saturday, June 10
Time: 6:30 pm CDT, BMO Field, Toronto, ON
TV: Apple TV – MLS Season Pass
Radio: 104.5 The Zone (English); El Jefe 96.7 (Spanish)
Forecast: 72°/61°. 9% chance of rain at kickoff. 8 mph winds

Author: Chris IveyChris is a senior writer covering Nashville SC. His writings focus on the team at large and often navigate the complexity of roster building around the myriad of MLS rules. Outside of Broadway Sports Media, Chris resides in Knoxville and is a licensed attorney. Beyond NSC, he is always willing to discuss Tennessee football and basketball, Coventry City, and USMNT. Follow Chris on Twitter

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