Recap: Nashville continue to sputter in chaotic Philadelphia loss

NASHVILLE, TN – In an evening full of missed calls and raging tempers, Nashville SC lost their composure against Philadelphia Union, losing 2-0 at home to the fourth-placed side. They’ve now lost four of their last five games, failing to score in all of those losses.

The XI

With Jacob Shaffelburg back from international duty, Gary Smith put out the strongest lineup he’s had available in quite a while. Aníbal Godoy (international duty) and Jack Maher (injury) were the only starters unavailable.

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On the pitch

Nashville started the match on the front foot, and should have taken the lead early. Hany Mukhtar squared the ball to a wide open Teal Bunbury at the top of the box, but the struggling forward blazed his shot over the bar, despite time and space to pick his spot in the next.

Nashville would come to regret that miss, as Dan Lovitz gave up a penalty towards the end of the first half. The left back extended both arms into the back of Daniel Gazdag, giving referee Sergii Boiko an easy decision. Gazdag finished the penalty cooly to give the Union a 1-0 lead.

Nashville should have equalized in the second half. Hany Mukhtar rattled the bar with a chipped effort. Fafà Picault had a header clang off the post, and the Union defense managed to clear the ball off the line in the ensuing scrum.

Most importantly, Nashville should have had a penalty of their own. Boiko pointed to the spot after a Dan Lovitz corner kick struck the arm of Jack Elliot, but after video review he somehow reversed his decision. Elliot’s arm may have been in a natural position, but the ball still clearly struck his arm, leaving the 30,109 fans at Geodis Park stunned.

Five minutes later, it got even worse Nashville. Lovitz lunged in late on forward Mikael Uhre, clearing him out needlessly to pick up a red card (second yellow) and give the Union another penalty, which Gazdag again dispatched.

The rails came off in second-half stoppage time. Nashville’s Shaq Moore and Philadelphia’s Julián Carranza got in a tussle after a physical challenge, and both players were sent off. It was a somewhat poetic ending to an awful performance from Nashville.

The big picture

This week had been (rightly) billed as a pivotal point in Nashville’s season. It has not gone well. After a loss to Chicago, Nashville drop points again, this time to a competitor for a top four spot. Philadelphia are now just one point behind Nashville with a game in hand.

A trip to FC Cincinnati this weekend, already daunting, gets even more difficult with both Dan Lovitz and Shaq Moore suspended. Cincy have yet to lose at TQL Stadium this season.

Just a few weeks ago, this weekend’s match against Cincinnati had been circled as a clash between two Supporters’ Shield contenders. Now, Nashville have lost four of their last five. Hany Mukhtar hasn’t scored in five matches. It’s a stark reminder of how desperately this team depends on him for every ounce of production in the final third.

It’s also a stark reminder at how desperately Nashville need a DP striker, and maybe more. They’ve created enough chances to get points from most of these last five games, but finishing continues to let them down. Teal Bunbury has just two goals in 1,400 minutes this season, and missed chances continue to haunt him. Ethan Zubak can’t get on the field ahead of Luke Haakenson. There’s no Plan B to a Plan A with a gaping hole up front.

The transfer window has been open for over a week. Nashville opened a DP spot a month-and-a-half ago. They’ve had plenty of time to bring in an option, and they’re still going to bring in a DP striker this window. But while newly signed DPs like Teemu Puuki in Minnesota and Chicho Arango in Salt Lake have already got on the field and started scoring, Nashville are dropping points because they still haven’t found someone not named Hany Mukhtar to score goals.

It’s the same problem they’ve had for three and a half years.

Nashville will make the playoffs. Hany Mukhtar will start scoring again. He’ll still an MVP frontrunner. But now 10 points behind an FC Cincinnati team who still have a game in hand, their Supporters’ Shield campaign is all but over.

Nashville are a good team. They’re not a yet great team. Games like this separate the good teams from the great teams. And over halfway through another season, Nashville haven’t been able to take that step forward.

Press conference

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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