Preview: Nashville SC vs FC Cincinnati

It is a rivalry week in Nashville! 

On Saturday, Nashville SC meets FC Cincinnati for the fifth time in Major League Soccer and the ninth time overall in a competitive fixture. It will also be the first Nashville v. Cincinnati match in GEODIS Park.

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Despite coming early in the season, this may be the most consequential meeting between the two since the 2018 USL Championship playoffs. Cincinnati and Nashville enter the match third and fourth, respectively, on the Eastern Conference table. Both clubs will have their eyes set on heights greater than just making a playoff appearance in 2023.

For the bulk of Nashville supporters, especially those around for the USL days, this is the rivalry game of the year

Beyond geographical proximity, the animosity developed as Nashville was awarded an MLS expansion franchise before Cincinnati, much to the dismay of those north of the Ohio River. 

Immediately, the matches proved tight affairs with little separation between the two upwardly mobile clubs. Those matches also delivered memorable moments such as the birth of Tucker Hume’s “Big Bird” goal celebration.

Since arriving in MLS, the rivalry has been plagued by a stop-start nature due to both pandemic scheduling and Nashville’s brief move to the Western Conference. Despite the sporadic matches, the Boys in Gold stamped their imprint all over this fixture with a thrilling 6-3 come-from-behind win in 2022. 

Even if the players on the pitch do not feel it, Saturday’s match will carry extra meaning for those in the stands.

Nashville SC

4th (East) | 7 points | 2-1-1 | +3 GD

Injuries / Absences:

Out: Nick DePuy (lower leg); Randal Leal (hamstring)

Questionable: Aníbal Godoy (shoulder)

Nashville SC enters this match following the club’s first loss in the new season. The Boys in Gold fell to the New England Revolution by a 1-0 score line. The match played out as a relatively even affair, but Gustavo Bou and the Revs found the goal that alluded Nashville. 

After last week’s loss, Nashville returns home to GEODIS Park. Gary Smith’s side has started off the season hot at the Castle winning both its matches. 

The Coyotes have toyed with their prey in the previous two home matches. They conceded the majority of possession to both NYCFC and C.F. Montréal, but pounced quickly in transition.

This method of attack has always been Nashville SC’s modus operandi, but Gary Smith seems to be leaning even more heavily into this game plan in 2023. Through four matches, Nashville has averaged just 42.5% possession – the lowest mark in MLS. 

Against FC Cincinnati, I expect more of the same. The threat of FCC’s attacking trio of Luciano Acosta, Brenner, and Brandon Vazquez is well documented. Nashville will want to keep things locked up in the back and not provide easy opportunities for those three. When Cincinnati turns the ball over, expect Nashville to continue to look for quick counterattacking opportunities. 

For this reason, I expect Fafà Picault to step back into the starting lineup. Alex Muyl slotted into Picault’s place last week as Gary Smith tinkered with a hybrid five-in-the-back setup against New England. Picault will add another vertical runner to play off Hany Mukhtar and Teal Bunbury. 

Saturday could mark the return to the field for Aníbal Godoy as he returns from a shoulder injury. Given the ailment type, the Panamian’s conditioning should not be too big of a worry. However, nothing can truly replicate 90-minute match fitness. 

If Godoy does not feature, Ján Gregus would assuredly make his home debut. Gregus substituted for Nashville last week after being officially unveiled the day before. The veteran midfielder showed well in his 15 minutes. He made several line-breaking passes, although the game state dictated that Nashville would dominate possession. 

Whoever is in the midfield will want to put their stamp on the match as FC Cincinnati is missing several key contributors in that spot of the field.

FC Cincinnati

3rd (East) | 8 points | 2-2-0 | +2 GD

Injuries / Absences

Out: Júnior Moreno (Int’l Duty); Marco Angulo (Int’l Duty); Yuya Kubo (knee)

Questionable: Isaiah Foster (ankle)

F.C. Cincinnati will travel south to Nashville with its strongest squad since the USL Championship days. 

After infamously claiming three-straight Wooden Spoons (the Supporter created “award” given to the club with the worst record), FCC righted the ship in 2022. They appeared in and won their first MLS playoff game in club history. 

This year, Cincinnati entered the season as a trendy pick to finish as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. So far, they have lived up to the billing. FCC has yet to lose this season starting off with two wins and two draws. Both victories came at TQL Stadium, while the draws occurred on the road. 

Last week’s draw at Soldier Field against the Chicago Fire delivered classic #MLSAfterDark energy. 

Cincinnati raced out to an early lead courtesy of a Júnior Moreno deflected shot. From there, Chicago wrestled away control of the match. The Fire scored three straight goals with the final goal coming within the first 15 seconds of the second half. Cincinnati thought they answered just minutes later, but the goal was called back for offsides.

Instead, Cincinnati saved the goals for some late-match dramatics. Sergio Santos found the net in the 84th minute. Three minutes later, Moreno added his second goal to draw the sides even at three goals apiece. A stellar comeback for the Orange and Blue to rescue a road result. 

The draw should maintain the team’s confidence, but the match revealed fractures in Cincinnati’s defense. FCC looked vulnerable on the break. Although, they were missing Nick Hagglund as he served a red card suspension. 

This week, FCC head coach Pat Noonan needs to juggle a midfield missing multiple contributors. Last week’s double goalscorer, Moreno, is away on national team duty. Also, missing from the midfield is Marco Angulo (Int’l Duty) and Yuya Kubo (leg). 

The trio of absences leaves a giant hole next to Obinna Nwobodo. A youngster, such as Malik Pinto, could be handed a start. Otherwise, Noonan will need to play someone out of position in a deeper-lying midfield role. 

Formationaly, Noonan will likely deploy a three-man backline. Tactically, the former Philadelphia Union assistant mirrors a lot of the overarching ideas of his prior employer. Noonan’s Cincinnati team will create pressure so as to generate turnovers that feed the formidable front three. 

Unlike Nashville’s more aerial and direct counterattacks, Cincinnati tends to fluidly move the ball up the pitch, although they still gets the ball vertical in a hurry. 

By virtue of their two-striker and winger-less setup, Cincinnati focuses its attacks narrowly putting immense pressure on opposing center backs and defensive midfielders as they scramble back into solidified positions.  

With both sides looking to quickly race up the pitch, this meeting could end up looking more like a March Madness basketball game than a soccer match.

Pod Picks

Andy Simmons

Score: 3-2 Nashville
Scorers: Mukhtar, Bunbury, Shaffelburg
MOTM: Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville gets a late winner in stoppage time.

Chris Ivey

Score: 3-2 Nashville
Scorers: Mukhtar, Shaffelburg
MOTM: Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Combined 10+ yellow cards

Ben Wright

Score: 2-2 Draw
Scorers: Mukhtar, Shaffelburg
MOTM: Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Someone gets a red card

Jonathan Slape

Score: 2-3 FCC
Scorers: Mukhtar, Shaffelburg
MOTM: Shaffelburg
Bold Prediction: Nashville gives up a late goal to lose to FCC for the first time

Valair Shabilla

Score: 3-2 Nashville
Scorers: Mukhtar (2), Shaffelburg
MOTM: Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: All three of Nashville’s goals will be assisted by the same player

Fan Forecast

Match Info

Teams: Nashville SC v. F.C. Cincinnati
Odds: NSC (-110), Draw (+240), FCC (+280) via BetMGM
Date: Saturday, March 25
Time: 7:30 pm CDT, GEODIS Park, Nashville, TN
TV: Apple TV – Free
Radio: 104.5 The Zone (English); El Jefe 96.7 (Spanish)
Forecast: 71°/45°. AM Showers. 0% chance of rain at kickoff. 11 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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