Preview: Nashville SC vs Inter Miami CF (CCC)

Nashville SC continue their Concacaf Champions Cup run tomorrow night, taking on a flying Inter Miami at Geodis Park. With injuries to key players and a congested start to the 2024 season, how heavily with Gary Smith prioritize this match? Can Nashville shut down Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and the Herons’ juggernaut attack?

Inter Miami CF

Last round: Bye
MLS: 1st (East) | 7 points | 2W-1D-0L | +7 GD |
Last match: 5-1 win vs. Orlando City

Miami were absolutely dominant against Orlando City. Luis Suárez looked every bit of the player who scored 26 goals and assisted 17 last year in the Brazilian Série A, rolling back the clock to pounce on every chance he had in the box.

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Granted, Orlando were really poor defensively. Their offside trap failed countless times, they seemingly forgot to mark Suárez in the penalty area, and they gave Julian Gressel time and space in midfield to play the killer pass. Nashville won’t be as easy to run through, but this Miami team is in excellent form.

The Herons did have a major roster change early this week. Right back DeAndre Yedlin, a U.S. international and occasional Miami captain, was traded to FC Cincinnati for the oddly specific sum of $172,799 in General Allocation Money. The move was clearly in order to free up space in their budget to add another play, and with an international roster spot open, they likely have another right-back target in mind.

Without Yedlin available, though, their options at that spot are thin. Gressel has been one of MLS’s best wingbacks over the last half-decade, but has never been quite as comfortable in a back four. He has also been excellent for Miami on the right of their three-man midfield, building a good understanding with Messi and drifting wide when Messi goes central. His ability to pick out entry passes and get attackers behind the backline has been hugely important to Miami, and they can’t afford to lose that in midfield. For this match, though, Gressel may be forced to play at right back simply because there are no other options.

Another big piece of news is the availability of Federico Redondo. The 21-year-old midfielder is one of the brightest prospects in Argentina, and his signing was another major coup for Miami. He recently acquired his P1 visa and is officially eligible to play, and is expected to make his debut tomorrow.

Luis Suárez may get a rest, but it’s not a huge break for Nashville. In his place, Miami can slot in Leo Campana, a 23-year-old Designated Player and Ecuadorian international, who would start for most other MLS sides and is more than capable of punishing Nashville’s backline.

Simply put, the level of talent Miami have assembled is unprecedented in MLS history. They have top-end players at every position, and I haven’t really even mentioned Lionel Messi yet. If he plays (and despite all the talk of him resting, he does not seem like the type of player to miss a contenental competition), he will again pose the toughest test Nashville’s defense will likely face this year.

Remember last year in the Leagues Cup final? Nashville defended nearly perfectly throughout the night. Walker Zimmerman even won a tackle against Messi, who re-won the rebound and smashed a perfectly-placed shot into the top corner.

Nashville are elite defensively. But Miami are a different level of elite going forward. One half-mistake from Nashville will result in a goal. There’s no margin for error.

Nashville SC

Last round: 7-0 win vs Moca FC
MLS: 10th (East) | 2 points | 0W-2D-0L | 0 GD |
Last match: 1-1 draw at Colorado Rapids

Nashville go into this one with major questions around two of their three most important players.

Sam Surridge has already been ruled out with injury, still recovering from the shoulder issue he suffered in Nashville’s season-opening win over Moca FC. It’s a huge loss for Nashville, who finally seemed to have a legitimate goal-scorer at the no. 9 position and will be without their most expensive signing in their biggest match of the young season.

Without Surridge available, Teal Bunbury seems most likely to get the nod up front. He scored the equalizing penalty in their last match against Colorado, but otherwise hasn’t been a consistent threat from open play.

Forster Ajago is a wildcard option up front. The 22-year-old scored a brace in Nashville’s last Champions Cup match, his first-ever game as a professional. While he showed a lot of promise and plenty of killer instinct in the box, the level of competition was significantly lower than what he’d face on Thursday, and asking him to start against Miami may be too much, too soon.

Hany Mukhtar is the other major concern. Nashville’s most important player suffered a hamstring injury against Moca, and was taken off as a “precaution”. He hasn’t played a minute since.

Gary Smith said on Tuesday that he is back in full training and could be involved, but it sounded anything but a sure thing.

If Mukhtar can play, expect it to only be off the bench. If Nashville can keep the score tight and bring a healthy Mukhtar off the bench to run at a tiring defense, it’s not the worst strategy. They’ve played Miami incredibly tight before and won’t roll over in the same way Orlando did. Without much attacking punch outside of Tyler Boyd, though, it’s a big ask.

Pod picks

Ben Wright

Score: Nashville 2-2 Miami
Scorers: Tyler Boyd, Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Tyler Boyd
Bold Prediction: Mukhtar comes off the bench for the final 30 minutes and has more shots on target in his cameo than the rest of Nashville manages in the entire match.

Chris Ivey

Score: Nashville 0-2 Miami
Scorers:
MOTM: Lionel Messi
Bold Prediction: Without Mukhtar and Surridge starting, Nashville generates virtually nothing and spends the match sitting in a really compressed low block. Outside of set pieces, five or less touches in Miami’s PK area.

Christina Moore

Score: Nashville 1-1 Miami
Scorers: Lukas MacNaughton
MOTM: Lukas MacNaughton
Bold Prediction: Robert Taylor scores for Miami, Messi is shut down.

Jeff Remlinger

Score: Nashville 1-1 Miami
Scorers: Jacob Shaffelburg
MOTM: Joe Willis
Bold Prediction: Nashville scores with their only shot on target.

Jonathan Slape

Score: Nashville 0-1 Miami
Scorers:
MOTM: Walker Zimmerman
Bold Prediction: Nashville concede a late winner to Julian Gressel.

Valair Shabilla

Score: Nashville 1-0 Miami
Scorers: Teal Bunbury
MOTM: Joe Willis
Bold Prediction: Nashville limit Messi to zero shots on target.

Fan forecast

Pre-match quotes

Match info

Teams: Nashville SC vs Inter Miami CF
Odds (via DraftKings): NSH (+205), Draw (+280), MIA (+110)
Date: Thursday, March 7, 2024
Time: 8:00 pm CDT, Geodis Park, Nashville Tennessee
TV: FS2, TUDN, Fubo TV
Radio:
Forecast: 68°/50°. 58º at kickoff. Partly cloudy. 0% chance of rain. 85% humidity. 2-5 mph wind.

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids. Mastodon

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