An early penalty kick decision proved to be too much to overcome for Nashville SC, who fell 1-0 to the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night at Subaru Park. The sides trade places in the table after the result; the Union move up to second place while Nashville fall to third, both tied on 49 points with three matches left to play.
Nashville head coach Gary Smith was forced into several changes from the 1-1 draw with Columbus Crew last Wednesday.
Dax McCarty missed the match with a minor knock picked up in training Tuesday, while Hany Mukhtar and Luke Haakenson were unavailable due to yellow card accumulation. Aké Loba got just his second start in a Nashville shirt next to Daniel Ríos.
Things started off poorly for Nashville. A set piece delivery inadvertently bounced off the arm of Taylor Washington, making his 100th appearance for the club at the USL and MLS levels. While he had no time to alter his positioning, the penalty kick was correctly awarded and Kacper Pzrybylko made no mistake from 12 yards out.
Things went from bad to worse in the 31st minute, when Daniel Ríos was forced off after a heavy challenge left him nursing his left leg. CJ Sapong came into the match and offered a spark off the bench, but losing a consistent scoring threat will be concerning so close to the postseason.
Sapong and Loba struggled to build a connection, with Sapong blasting over from their best interchange. Loba didn’t have the impact fans have been calling for; the DP striker touched the ball just 21 times in his 61 minute shift, only finding the ball twice in the penalty area and seeing his best chance cut out by a quick reaction from Andre Blake.
Nashville only managed eight shots on the night, limited to mostly speculative efforts. Despite a late spell of pressure, they weren’t able to find a leveler.
A single goal loss in Philadelphia isn’t at all a bad result, and Nashville did well to limit the Union’s effectiveness going forward. But the lack of ideas and chances was concerning. Without Hany Mukhtar, Nashville hardly threatened.
Aké Loba had a big chance to build on his positive showing against Columbus last week and made little impact. It’s a worryingly slow start for the club record signing, who hasn’t been able to break into the lineup and aside from a secondary assist last Wednesday, has left little impression when he’s been on the field.
Nashville are now winless in their last six matches, scoring just three goals in that span. Their defense will give them a chance in every match, but their free-flowing attack from earlier in the season feels a long way off. They need to get back to scoring goals quickly before the playoffs arrive.