Nashville SC’s 2022 season ended with a whimper in Round One of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, falling 1-0 on the road to the LA Galaxy. It was a disappointing end to a season that, while filled with problems, had the potential to be so much more.
The first surprise was the absence of Gary Smith. Nashville’s head coach didn’t make the flight, but stayed home with a non-Covid illness.
The second surprise was the lineup. Nashville reverted to a back five, with Dax McCarty and Jacob Shaffelburg benched, while Brian Anunga stepped into midfield.
On the pitch
With the back five, Nashville embraced their defend-first mentality that was so prevalent during their early stretches in MLS. It worked for them in the first half, limiting the Galaxy to just three shots.
The ‘Yotes had their best chances of the afternoon just after the break, including a one-on-one from Hany Mukhtar that he’s scored consistently this season. He couldn’t finish it on the night, though, putting his shot right at Jonathan Bond.
The Galaxy thought they had scored the opener, but the goal was called back after Julian Araujo was adjudged by VAR to have fouled Hany Mukhtar in the buildup. It was a lucky break for Nashville, and only lasted momentarily.
Five minutes later, Araujo found redemption. The right back drifted to the left side of Nashville’s penalty area, allowed to head home unmarked after Shaq Moore left him in space.
After the goal, the Galaxy packed it in, switching to a back five of their own. With Mukhtar uncharacteristically quiet, Nashville had no other answers. A half chance from Dan Lovitz was the best they could muster, and that chance was headed directly into the ground before dribbling out of play for a goal kick.
The big picture
It was a disappointing and cruelly fitting end to Nashville’s season. Overall, the performance was adequate, but a lack of attacking quality, momentary defensive lapses and an inability to take chances when they had them punished Nashville.
We’ll have much more content looking back at Nashville’s season and how they can improve next year in the coming days and weeks.
For now, Nashville’s inability to create and score chances outside of Hany Mukhtar has been a blindingly obvious Achilles heel for two full seasons. To his credit, Mukhtar has covered it up by two of the best individual seasons in MLS history, but tonight, it wasn’t enough. Everyone has known it wasn’t enough for a while.
Nashville have the best player on MLS on their roster for now. They cannot and will not maximize his time in Music City without significant attacking help. They cannot afford another offseason of either maintaining the status quo or missing signings.
Mukhtar needs help. It’s up to Nashville to give it to him.