Leagues Cup preview: Nashville SC vs Deportivo Toluca FC

Nashville SC secured all three points against the Colorado Rapids Sunday night. The Boys in Gold will be looking to continue their success in the Leagues Cup as they face Toluca tonight. Winning the first match almost guarantees Nashville a spot in the next round, however, winning against Toluca would be a nice statement for Gary Smith and his men.

Deportivo Toluca FC

9th (Apertura 2023/24) | 4 points | 1-1-1 | 0 GD |

You’ve probably heard of popular Mexican teams like América or Chivas (no, not the USA one, the one in Guadalajara… the good one), but you don’t often hear Toluca mentioned as much.

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While they are certainly not part of “Los cuatro grandes,” Toluca sits in the tier right below. This historic club has been around for over a century and has won the Mexican top division 10 times, making it the third winningest team in the country. Recent times haven’t been the best for the Diablos Rojos, after a golden era in the late 90s/early 00s, their last title was in 2010.

The 2022/23 Liga MX season was a nice step in the right direction for the club. They finished second in the Apertura and had a great run in the playoffs before losing in the final to Pachuca. They were a bit less successful in the Clausura, finishing fourth and losing in the first round of playoffs. They’ve had an average start to the 2023/24 season with one win, one draw and one loss. 

Toluca will be looking at the Leagues Cup as a way to showcase their brand and prove something on a continental level.

“It is a new competition but one that brings us visibility. We know that the MLS has grown in recent years, today it has brought international level players, so I think that doing this type of competition helps a lot.” Said the Toluca goalkeeper, Tiago Volpi, who also happens to be the penalty taker for the team. He also assured that they will be taking the competition seriously, and will look to represent Liga MX well against MLS.

Toluca is a possession-based team, they love having and controlling the ball. They have an average of 57% possession in their three matches this season, with the highest one being at 69%. They’ve taken over 10 shots and had an xG of at least 1.2 in each of their three matches. It is safe to assume that Toluca will come out swinging against Nashville, which might end up benefiting the Boys in Gold. Toluca will have to be very careful to not commit any mistakes as Nashville has proved to be deadly in transition.  

Nashville SC

4th (East) | 38 points | 11-5-8 | +9 GD |
Power Rankings: 8
Injuries / Absences:

Out: Nick DePuy (achilles) Randall Leal (ankle)
Questionable: Jack Maher (lower body)

After going through the worst stretch of games in club history, Nashville were able to right the ship a bit with a win over the Colorado Rapids. Walker Zimmerman, Aníbal Godoy and game changer Hany Mukhtar all entered the game in the second half. With those three players back with full match fitness, I expect them to start against Toluca. Newly signed DP forward Sam Surridge will be introduced to the fans and media before the match, but will not participate while he waits for his P1 Visa.

Even though the result was positive, it wasn’t all good news for Nashville SC. They struggled for large stretches of the game and at times were unable to beat Colorado’s press.

The worse news for the Boys in Gold, is the injury sustained by Randell Leal. After recently coming back from injury and being reintegrated in the starting lineup, Leal finds himself in the sidelines, yet again.

Nashville are expected to continue with the  4-4-2 diamond formation, with the flexibility to switch to a traditional 4-4-2 when more width is needed. Dax McCarty has been the player occupying the base of the diamond for most of the season, but whether the 36-year-old is still able to start two games within a week is still a question.

Aníbal Godoy has been Gary Smith’s choice of replacement for McCarty, but players like Sean Davis and Tah Brian Anunga have played in that role as well. Not many changes are anticipated for Nashville’s attack and defense. Mukhtar and Zimmerman will most likely replace Leal and Josh Bauer from the previous match.

This matchup, and to an extent this competition, can showcase Nashville at an international level. Nashville has only played pre-season and friendly games against international opponents, this will be Nashville’s first ever competitive international match. 

This match will perhaps bring out a different demographic to GEODIS Park. Toluca’s popularity is mainly in Mexico, but they certainly have fans who reside in Nashville and surrounding cities. Other than Toluca, fans of other Liga MX teams who live in Nashville might attend the match simply because of familiarity. This can and should be an opportunity for Nashville SC to capitalize on those fans and turn them into regulars.

Pod Picks

Chris Ivey

Score: Nashville 1-1 Toluca (Toluca win in penalties)
Scorers: Fafa Picault
MOTM: Fafa Picault
Bold Prediction: Gary goes with rotation and defense as Hany doesn’t start.

Ben Wright

Score: Nashville 2-1 Toluca
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, Walker Zimmerman
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville take a two-goal lead in the first half, but concede in the final 20 to make things nervy at the end.

Valair Shabilla

Score: Nashville 2-2 Toluca (Nashville win in penalties)
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, Teal Bunbury
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville wins in penalties!

Fan Forecast

Match info

Teams: Nashville SC v. Toluca F.C.
Odds: NSH (-105), TOL (+255) via DraftKings
Date: Thursday, July 27
Time: 7:30 pm CDT, GEODIS Park, Nashville, TN
TV: Apple TV
Radio: 104.5 The Zone
Forecast: H96º/L74º. Mostly sunny. 0% chance of rain. 9 mph winds. 73% humidity. 87º kickoff temp.

Author: Valair Shabillamoved to Nashville as a refugee from Iraq at the age of 14. A fan of soccer from a young age, he used soccer to connect with a larger community in Nashville and adapt to life abroad. He's covered Nashville SC since 2019, co-hosting Pharmaceutical Soccer, and analyzing soccer from an audio/video perspective.

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