Preview: Nashville SC vs New York Red Bulls

Nashville SC kick off their 2024 Major League Soccer campaign on Sunday afternoon at Geodis Park. They’ll take on a New York Red Bulls side that they’ve never beaten, losing two and drawing two of their previous four matches.

A major storyline coming into this match is referees. The Professional Referees Organization (PRO) could not agree to a new collective bargaining agreement with the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PRSA), and the league will use replacement referees until the two sides can agree to terms. This means that for MLS’s opening weekend, replacement referees will be calling games. Many of these referees have little to no professional experience, with The Athletic reporting that many of the referees hold only the USSF’s most basic refereeing license.

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Officiating is always a hot-button issue. Expect that to be exacerbated on opening weekend.

New York Red Bulls

Last Year: 11W-10D-13L | 36 GF, 39 GA | 8th in East

Availability report:

OUT: Cory Burke (groin), Serge Ngoma (hamstring), Curtis Ofori (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: John Tolkin (groin)

The Red Bulls have been generally disappointing in recent years. Once one of the league’s model franchises, their spending has decreased drastically. While they continue to be one of the league’s best at developing young players, the haven’t supplemented that with the top-end talent necessary to take the next step, and they’ve suffered. Despite making the playoffs for 14 consecutive seasons, they haven’t really looked like a threat since their 2018 Supporters’ Shield-winning campaign.

That changed this winter with the signing of Emil Forsberg. The 32-year-old Swedish international was signed from sister club RB Leipzig, where he had made over 250 appearances. Forsberg is a dynamic attacker, the type of playmaker Red Bulls haven’t had since Sacha Kljestan or Thierry Henry.

Forsberg will drop in and make the entire team better. That’s a scary proposition for a team that had elite underlying numbers last season but couldn’t put the final product together. Under interim manager Troy Lesesne, New York were a top-10 side in G+ for, led the league in G+ allowed, allowed the second-fewest expected goals, and were a top-10 team in xG created.

For a team whose primary issue was finishing the chances they created (RBNY underperformed their xG by nearly 13 goals last year), adding Forsberg is a massive move. A player like Dante Vanzier, signed as a DP but unable to fully live up to the billing, should get a boost from playing in front of a creator of Forsberg’s quality.

The rest of the team is solid. Frankie Amaya and Daniel Edelman are two of the better young midfielders in the league, and Peter Stroud has broken out as a hard two-way worker on the wing. The backline, lead by homegrown Sean Nealis, is among the most consistent in the league, and have proven to be incredibly difficult for Nashville to break down.

The biggest question mark for Sunday is left back. John Tolkin has been recovering from an injury sustained with the youth national team and only returned to first-team training late this week. If he’s unable to play, Kyle Duncan should slide over from his natural spot on the right, with former Boy In Gold Dylan Nealis taking his place.

Nashville SC

Last Year: 13W-10D-11L | 39 GF, 32 GA | 7th in East

The big question for Nashville SC heading into Sunday is the health of Sam Surridge. The DP striker was take out of Wendesday’s Concacaf Champions Cup win after a heavy collision left him with serious shoulder pain. Initial unsubstantiated rumors circulated that Surridge could miss up to eight weeks, but Gary Smith assuaged some of those fears in his pre-match press conference.

“Sam, as I’ve seen him this morning, I’m delighted to see he’s out of a sling and he’s moving around so he’s in a much, much better position than I think we felt as though he would be coming off the flight yesterday,” Smith said on Saturday morning. “I would imagine that tomorrow might be a push, but we’ll see how he goes during the day today and there might be some inclusion for him. We’re at that point. Hany was a precaution coming off the field on Wednesday, again as long as training goes well today and he’s due to be involved then it will be part of the group for tomorrow.”

It’s certainly good news for Nashville fans, and a bit of a best-case scenario from their perspective. It may be a stretch for him to play tomorrow, but it also doesn’t look like he’s set for an extended absence.

Hany Mukhtar, similarly, seems to have escaped serious injury, and seems much more likely to play tomorrow. Given his track record, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Mukhtar start, but Nashville have tended to be cautious with bringing players back, and he could be eased back from the bench to avoid re-aggravating the issue.

Nashville have struggled against the Red Bulls; they haven’t won in four previous meetings, and potentially being without their two most important attackers is daunting. Dan Lovitz and Walker Zimmerman are both in contention to return from their injuries and could start, while Tyler Boyd’s hot start in a Nashville shirt gives them a third option in attack that they haven’t had since Randall Leal’s peak in 2021.

It’s a big test for a midfield that is still building chemistry. Trying to play through an all-out press is a big ask, especially this early in the season. If Nashville can stay composed on the ball and find ways to limit Emil Forsberg, while getting a productive shift from Boyd and Mukhtar, they’ll be able to get a result.

Pod picks

Ben Wright

Score: Nashville 2-1 New York Red Bulls
Scorers: Sean Nealis, Walker Zimmerman, Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Zimmerman and Mukhtar score off the bench in the final 30 minutes to get a win.

Chris Ivey

Score: Nashville 0-1 New York Red Bulls
Scorers: Emil Forsberg
MOTM: Emil Forsberg
Bold Prediction: Nashville finishes with three or less shots on target.

Jeff Remlinger

Score: Nashville 1-1 New York Red Bulls
Scorers: Dante Vanzier, Tyler Boyd
MOTM: Emil Forsberg
Bold Prediction: Lukas MacNaughton gets a red card.

Jonathan Slape

Score: Nashville 1-1 New York Red Bulls
Scorers: Lukas MacNaughton, Emil Forsberg
MOTM: Emil Forsberg
Bold Prediction: Nashville’s lone shot on target comes from a set piece.

Fan forecast

Pre-match presser

Match info

Teams: Nashville SC vs New York Red Bulls
Odds: NSH (+145), Draw (+205), RBNY (+195)
Date: Sunday, February 25, 2024
Time: 4:00 pm CDT, Geodis Park, Nashville, Tennessee
TV: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV
Radio: 104.5 The Zone, Sirius XM
Forecast: 67°/53°. Partly cloudy. 6% chance of rain. 61% humidity

Kit matchup

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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