Red Bulls hand Nashville SC first loss of 2021

Nashville SC are undefeated no more. In their first game back after the international break, the Boys In Gold were beaten comfortably on the road by New York Red Bulls.

Gary Smith didn’t shake things up much with his lineup. Jhonder Cádiz remains with Venezuela at Copa América, and Aníbal Godoy was still returning from international duty with Panama when Nashville boarded their flight. Matt LaGrassa made his first start of the season in his place, partnering Dax McCarty in midfield.

It was a match of sloppy passes, missed connections and simple mistakes from Nashville. At the end of a first half that saw next to no offensive ideas from the visitors, Red Bulls took the lead. 6’4″ striker Fábio got on the end of a long free kick from Dylan Nealis, and took advantage of some sloppy defending from Walker Zimmerman to smash a half volley to the far post. While Joe Willis could do nothing to stop the shot, it was a poor mistake from Nashville to let the ball bounce in their own box.

Nashville started the second half more brightly. Forward CJ Sapong finished neatly before the offside flag wiped the goal away, and Randall Leal put a low, driven shot right at goalkeeper Carlos Coronel.

New York punished Nashville for their misses. Right back Kyle Duncan went on an unchallenged run from barely inside the attacking half before driving a rocket of a shot with his weaker left foot off the post and in. While another exceptional finish, the defending to give Duncan acres of space will frustrate Smith to no end.

Nashville’s intensity picked up following Duncan’s goal, but even then they couldn’t create much of note, save for a Mukhtar free kick that rattled the crossbar. They had a decent case for a red card, as Duncan dragged down Sapong in what appeared to be denial of an obvious goalscoring opportunity, but VAR ruled against it.

Nashville’s unbeaten streak ends after seven matches, and they drop to eighth place in the East. Before Saturday and Sunday’s slate of games, New York Red Bulls find themselves in third place.

Three things

1. Sloppy defending again costs Nashville. It’s pretty surprising to see Nashville concede the types of goals they’ve conceded in 2021. After last year’s elite defensive performance, they’ve failed to live up to expectations through eight games. It was easy to write off defensive mistakes in their first handful of matches, but it’s becoming too consistent to excuse.

Nashville are far too easy to beat over the top for a team that has an aerial presence like Walker Zimmerman on their backline. It won’t get easier, as he’s likely to miss several weeks at the Gold Cup. Regardless of who Nashville has in defense, they have to cut out balls over the top before the become a problem. They haven’t done that this year.

2. Lack of strikers hurt. Three of Nashville’s five forwards missed the match in New Jersey. Cádiz is still on international duty, while Dom Badji and Daniel Ríos were injured. Gary Smith had few options to relieve CJ Sapong, and finished the match with midfielder Luke Haakenson partnering Abu Danladi up top. It’s not a long-term worry, but Nashville have gone from a deep forward pool to needing extra bodies badly.

3. Midfield performance continues to worry. Without Aníbal Godoy, Nashville’s midfield lacked ideas. Matt LaGrassa and Dax McCarty could never find a way through New York’s press, and it left Sapong and Mukhtar largely isolatey. McCarty has rarely looked like his 2020 self so far this year, and with Godoy also likely to miss time at the Gold Cup, Nashville need answers quickly. SuperDraft pick Irakoze Donasiyano got his first MLS minutes, and Brian Anunga is nearing a return, but Nashville desperately need a more forward-thinking passer of the ball. The secondary transfer window opens on July 7. I’d be very surprised if they don’t make a move.

Stats

Possession: RBNY 59% – 41% NSH
Shots: RBNY 13 – 8 NSH
Shots on goal: RBNY 6 – 1 NSH
Expected goals: RBNY 1.21 – 0.80 NSH
Goals: RBNY 2 – 0 NSH
Fouls: RBNY 15 – 11 NSH
Yellow cards: RBNY 2 – 0 NSH
Red cards: RBNY 0 – 0 NSH

Lineups

New York Red Bulls (4-1-2-1-2): Coronel; Duncan, Reyes (Tarek 83′), Nealis, Tolkin; Davis, Edwards (Yearwood 51′), Amaya (Carmona 83′), Clark; Fábio (Barlow 75′), Klimala

Nashville SC (4-2-3-1): Willis; Johnston, Zimmerman (Anibaba 63′), Romney, Lovitz; McCarty, LaGrassa (Donasiyano 63′); Muyl, Mukhtar (Bwana 84′), Leal (Haakenson 63′); Sapong (Danladi 77′)

Up next

Nashville are back at home for their next five matches. They’ll take on Toronto FC at Nissan Stadium on Wednesday, June 23.

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