Despite a much improved attacking performance, Nashville SC couldn’t capitalize, falling 2-1 to Real Salt Lake on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
After a poor showing in Dallas, Gary Smith reverted to the 3-4-1-2 system that served Nashville so well last year.
Teal Bunbury got his first start in a Nashville shirt, while Alex Muyl got the nod at right wingback.
On the pitch
Things could not have started worse for Nashville. Just two minutes in, Bobby Wood ran unmarked in front of Teal Bunbury to head in at the near post, putting Nashville behind nearly before they kicked off.
The ‘Yotes responded well, creating a bevy of chances, and finally pulled back in the 25th minute. Walker Zimmerman got on the end of a Hany Mukhtar set piece to thump in a trademark header, giving Nashville life again.
It looked like the visitors would go on to take a lead of their own, with Dan Lovitz rattling the post after a brilliant chipped pass from Mukhtar put him through on goal. However, RSL once again pounced on poor defending from Bunbury. A set piece was half-heartedly cleared, and defender Tate Schmitt ghosted past Bunbury at the back post to thump home.
Nashville had chances to equalize, non better than Mukhtar’s half volley in second half stoppage time, which sailed just a foot over the bar. The game effectively ended when substitute Dax McCarty was sent off for stomping on Bode Davis in a scrum near the corner flag, just the second time in McCarty’s career he’s been shown a red card.
The big picture
Nashville fans are living in a strange dichotomy. There’s no denying the difficulties of an eight match road trip to start the year, and yet it still feels like this side, which has held their own with the elites in MLS, is underperforming. The attack was markedly improved since last week in Dallas, and yet missed chances were all too frequent. Nashville are one of the best defensive units in the league, both on paper and in practice, but the routinely concede on set pieces.
It’s clear that this side has a high ceiling and the pieces in place to get them there. It’s also clear that the players have to improve their execution and Smith has to figure out how to put the pieces in place to get the most out of his side. They have four more road matches to survive before opening GEODIS Park on May 1, but they can’t afford many more performances like tonight, when they lost a match they should have won.
They have two weeks to reassess before traveling to Columbus on April 2.