Preview: Real Salt Lake vs Nashville SC

Fresh off a 2-0 loss on the road to FC Dallas, the Coyotes travel back to the Rockies to face off against Real Salt Lake. Gary Smith has never won at Rio Tinto Stadium. Can Nashville pick up the three points? Will Real Salt Lake continue their undefeated streak against Nashville?

Real Salt Lake

Current standing: 2nd (West) | 2-1-0 | -1 GD

OUT: Zack Farnsworth (ankle), Nick Besler (nose), Bret Halsey (ankle), David Ochoa (quad)
QUESTIONABLE: Damir Kreilach (calf), Aaron Herrera (quad), Rubio Rubin (groin), Sergio Cordova (knee), Maikel Chang (concussion)

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Real Salt Lake have been one of the surprises at the start of this season. Most people, including myself, did not have them making the playoffs. Through three games, though, they have shown they have the ability to get results against some of the top teams in the league.

At face value, a win at home to Seattle Sounders and on the road against the New England Revolution (albeit in a blizzard) is impressive, but when you dig into the roster and injury report it looks even better.

Looking at tonight’s matchup, head coach Pablo Mastroeni is still without some of his key players, including star attacker Damir Kreilach. While listed as questionable, Mastoreni confirmed this week at Kreilach is still struggling with an injury and will not feature.

Mastroeni, a former Rapids player under Gary Smith, was given the job full time after serving as interim coach last season following the departure of Freddy Juarez, with former Nashville assistant Brett Jacobs joining his staff in the offseason. One of the biggest changes from last season to this year is the 3-4-3 has them playing as a much more solid defensive unit.

According to Samuel Clark over at RSL Soapbox, Salt Lake has held their opponents to only .72 xGA which bodes well against a Nashville team that has yet to find their shooting boots.

RSL has the defensive foundation in place but will they be able to generate the necessary chances that they will need against the Coyotes?

Nashville SC

Current standing: 10th (West) | 1-1-1 | -1 GD

OUT: M Koze Donasiyano (thigh), Robert Castellanos (ankle surgery)

Going in to FC Dallas, fans and media alike predicted that Nashville was going to be able to go to Toyota Park and come home with three points. What actually happened was quite the opposite as they put in one of their worst offensive performances under Coach Gary Smith.

Not only did the Boys in Gold fail to register a single shot on goal, but they were also held to their second-lowest xG tally. The lack of an offensive threat was further exacerbated by several defensive mistakes which led to Nashville’s first multi-goal loss since June 2021.

Tonight, Nashville faces an in-form team in Real Salt Lake and in a place that Gary Smith has never won. Throughout his career, Coach Smith has gone 2-4-2 against RSL. What does he need to do to secure that first road win at Rio Tinto?

Against FC Dallas, Coach Smith chose to again roll out the 4-3-1-2 that he used against Seattle and Minnesota. Unfortunately, it was not nearly as effective against a team that was happy to get the ball out on the wing. Salt Lake like to keep the ball more central, which could be negated by rolling out three center midfielders. However, I expect to see a return to the 3-4-1-2 that we saw for most of last season.

The switch back to a three center back formation would require one of the three central midfielders of Aníbal Godoy, Dax McCarty, or Sean Davis to drop to the bench to make way for Jack Maher. Even though Gary Smith said that Dax McCarty was fully fit after his injury, I would expect him to be the midfielder to start off the pitch.

The right-wingback position has been one of the most talked-about spots on the field, but we can expect to see Eric Miller hold down that position for the foreseeable future. Alex Muyl has made cameos there off the bench but has not looked as assured as Miller in that position.

The attacking trio of Hany Mukhtar, C.J. Sapong, and Randall Leal have struggled to find the form of last season, and against FC Dallas, Mukhtar and Sapong were relatively isolated. Getting Leal back to that creative force underneath Sapong and Mukhtar should help link the midfield with the attack.

The ‘Yotes will need to find an attacking spark if they want to come away with another result on the road.

Pod picks

Andy Simmons

Score: Salt Lake 1 – 1 Nashville
Scores: Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Walker Zimmerman
Bold Prediction: Mukhtar scores a penalty

Lucas Panzica

Score: Salt Lake 0 – 0 Nashville
MOTM:Walker Zimmerman
Bold Prediction: Nashville is held to one shot on target

Jonathan Slape

Score: Salt Lake 1 – 1 Nashville
Scorers: Randall Leal
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Leal gets the late equalizer to pick up a point on the road

Davey Shepherd

Score: Salt Lake 0 – 0 Nashville
MOTM: Gary Smith
Bold Prediction: Neither Team registers a shot on target

Chris Ivey

Score: Salt Lake 0 – 1 Nashville
Scorers: C.J. Sapong
MOTM: C.J. Sapong
Bold Prediction: Nashville scores from a set piece

Ben Wright

Score: Salt Lake 2 – 2 Nashville
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar, Walker Zimmerman
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Mukhtar gets a goal and an assist; Nashville concede a late equalizer

Fan Forecast

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Match Info

Teams: Real Salt Lake vs Nashville SC
Odds: Salt Lake (+160), Draw (+190), Nashville (+185) via BetMGM
Date: Saturday, March 19
Time: 8:30 PM Central, Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah
TV: MyTV30 (in market), ESPN+ (out of market)
Radio: iHeartRadio Online (English); El Jefe 96.7 (Spanish)
Forecast: 61°/41°. Mostly Cloudy. 0% chance of rain. 34% humidity

Author: Jonathan Slapeoriginated from outside of Atlanta but has lived in Nashville since 2005. Original member of Speedway Soccer and has been talking and occasionally writing about Nashville SC since the USL days. Self proclaimed official fashion correspondent. Outside of Nashville SC you can find him singing the praises of Jurgen Klopp, discussing the latest in sneakers and soccer fashion with a good stiff drink.

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