Preview: Nashville SC vs Austin FC

Hot on the heels of a 4-1 win over Colorado Rapids, Nashville SC welcome Austin FC to Geodis Park in a primetime, marquee showdown. Hany Mukhtar and Sebastián Driussi will face each other on the field for the first time this season, pitting the MVP frontrunners against each other just as awards voting starts to sweep the league.

With points in the standings more important than ever, both sides need a result to either secure a playoff spot or push for better seeding in the postseason.

Austin FC

Current standing: 2nd (West) | 51 points | 15-6-7 | +21 GD
Power Rankings: 5th (16.47 score)

Injuries

OUT: Freddy Kleeman (left knee), Maxi Urruti (right hamstring)

Austin have been one of, possibly the, stories of the 2022 season. After finishing 12th in the West in their expansion year with the fourth-fewest points in all of MLS, Verde have exploded onto the scene in their sophomore season. Lead by head coach Josh Wolff, Austin have not dropped lower than fourth in the table this year, and are currently just six points behind LAFC and Philadelphia Union for the Supporters Shield.

A lof of this comes down to Sebastián Driussi. The MVP candidate’s 20 goals and seven assists have him atop the Golden Boot standings, and he’s revitalized Austin’s attack with a year of absolutely elite production.

Says Chris Bils of The Striker:

Of late, he’s had to carry more of the weight, scoring in seven straight matches and contributing to at least one goal in 11 straight games — the third-longest such streak in league history, and has kept Verde afloat despite conceding 19 goals in that span.

Defense has been a question for Austin down the stretch, despite all their successes on the other end of the field. They’ve conceded 14 goals in their last seven matches, which has lead to plenty of entertainment on the pitch, but much less stability than Wolff would like.

That stretch of games included arguably the MLS result of the season, a 4-1 thumping of champions elect LAFC, with Verde making a statement win on national TV in Austin’s Q2 stadium. Driussi scored, but his supporting cast stepped up, as they’ve done all season. Diego Fagúndez continued his resurgence with his sixth goal of the year, while journeyman Maxi Urruti scored a brace to take him up to nine goals on the year.

Unfortunately for Austin, the Argentine striker picked up a hamstring issue that forced him off at halftime in their latest match, a 2-1 loss to Portland, and is set to keep him out of action in Nashville. Dutch forward Danny Hoesen will likely slot in at forward in his place, although the signing of DP winger Emiliano Rigoni in the summer transfer window gives them the flexibility to move pieces around on the frontline.

Elsewhere in the squad, Wolff has been incredibly consistent with his selection. Captain and DP midfielder Alex Ring has held down midfield, partnered by 2021 MLS SuperDraft pick Dani Pereira. In the back, John Gallagher has nailed down the starting left back spot after a cast of characters rotated through earlier in the year, while Ruben Gabrielsen, Julio Cascante and Nick Lima form the remainder of the XI.

This is an Austin team that are totally committed to their style of play. They’re determined to break teams down with the ball (they have the fourth-highest possession total in MLS), and do not budge from their identity. While that all-in approach cost them in 2021, it’s been one of their greatest strengths in 2021.

Despite the opponent or the scoreline, Austin don’t change how they approach games.

Nashville SC

Current standing: 5th (West) | 42 points | 15-6-7 | +21 GD
Power Rankings: 7th (14.97 score)

Injuries

QUESTIONABLE: Teal Bunbury (left hamstring), Aké Loba (trunk)
SUSPENDED: Randall Leal (yellow card accumulation)

If Austin don’t change their identity for anyone, neither do Nashville. Gary Smith’s side may shift formations, but their principles of play are set in stone; limit chances from open play, win the ball in midfield, and immediately go to goal.

Even during a July run that saw Nashville win just one of seven, they created chances, primarily through Hany Mukhtar. But their return to form has coincided with Aníbal Godoy’s return to health and a spell of improved play from Dax McCarty. Both have bolstered the Coyotes’ midfield, and their ability to force turnovers and break to goal quickly has improved exponentially.

Randall Leal picked up his fifth yellow card of the season in their win against Colorado, needlessly kicking the ball away after the whistle had blown. He’ll serve his mandatory suspension against Austin, and it’s hard to overstate how much of a loss that is for the ‘Yotes.

The Costa Rican international scored his second goal of the year against Vancouver and notched an assist against the Rapids. In recent weeks, he’s helped carry a lot of the attacking burden, finally giving Hany Mukhtar the help he needs, and has been the vital connection between midfield and forwards that Nashville desperately needed.

Without Leal, Alex Muyl could slot in on the right, keeping the formation unchanged. He’s a completely different type of player, though, and doesn’t bring the same ability to break pressure on the dribble or threaten from outside the box.

The other option is to roll out the back five. Dave Romney, Jack Maher and Walker Zimmerman are all in excellent form. Playing those three across the backline with Dan Lovitz and Shaq Moore on either side would give Nashville a strong defensive base, while allowing Muyl to play in more of a free role along with two more natural midfielders. Smith has options.

Pod picks

Andy Simmons

Score: Nashville 2 – 2 Austin
Scores: Hany Mukhtar, Jacob Shaffelburg
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Both Mukhtar and Driussi score.

Chris Ivey

Score: Nashville 2 – 1 Austin
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, Dave Romney
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Nashville have barely 40% possession at home but survive with counters and set-pieces.

Ben Wright

Score: Nashville 3-3 Austin
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar (x2) Alex Muyl
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Mukhtar scores in the final 10 minutes to pull off a wildly entertaining draw.

Jonathan Slape

Score: Nashville 2 – 2 Austin
Scores: Aníbal Godoy, Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Hany Mukhtar scores a late winner from a set piece.

Fan Forecast

Kit matchup

Match Info

Teams: Nashville SC vs Austin FC
Odds: Nashville (-125), Draw (+280), Austin (+280) via BetMGM
Date: Saturday, September 3
Time: 7:30 pm CT, GEODIS Park, Nashville, Tennessee
TV: MYTV30, ESPN+
Radio: iHeartRadio Online (English); El Jefe 96.7 (Spanish)
Forecast: 82°/55°. Scattered thunderstorms. 55% chance of rain. 41% humidity

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.

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