Nashville SC traveled to the Five Boroughs for the first time on Saturday night. At Citi Field in Queens, the Boys in Gold lost 2-1 to NYCFC.
The Pigeons played much closer to their lofty standards than the squad that lost by two goals in GEODIS Park to open up the season. With the loss, Nashville dropped to 6th place in the Eastern Conference.
Here are my three thoughts on the match.
In the long slog of an MLS season, mentality controls your destiny. Mental lapses and moments of hesitation will be punished.
Nashville switched off on Saturday night, and New York City made them pay.
The first goal came off a mental lapse from Shaq Moore. The right back recognized the dangerous cross and the runner too late. Keaton Parks beat Moore to the ball and powered a header past Joe Willis. It was an emphatic opener for the home side.
Gary Smith shared similar thoughts on Moore’s involvement in NYCFC’s first goal.
The Pigeons’ second goal also came via switched-off defending. Aníbal Godoy was left on an island to defend Maxime Chanot. Not ideal, but the Panamanian did himself no favors. He allowed Chanot to stand between him and the ball. With his position established, Chanot boxed out Godoy via an outstretched arm to maintain ample space to volley home the finish.
Don’t be surprised if you see future opponents attempt the same free-kick routine against Nashville in the near future. It didn’t require elaborate movement. Walker Zimmerman’s man pinched him toward the near post, thereby opening up the space provided to Chanot at the top of the six-yard box. The set piece was simple but highly effective.
Nashville’s switched-off mentality was not contained to just NYCFC’s two goals. Nashville easily could have conceded a penalty in the second half.
In the 74th minute, Santiago Rodríguez played a quick free kick that caught Nashville napping. Head referee Allan Chapman’s decision that the ball was not played from the spot of the original foul is all that saved Nashville from a likely penalty award for a Jack Maher tackle on Talles Magno.
If my interpretation of the Laws of the Game is correct, Champman could have permitted Rodríguez to take the free kick from that position as Dax McCarty deliberately kicked the ball away from the spot of the foul to a less advantageous position.
NYCFC won the mental edge battle all night, exploiting Nashville’s lapses in concentration.
Goals change games
Goals change games. It is an old soccer cliché, but one that certainly rang true on Saturday night.
NYCFC’s early two-goal lead stretched out Nashville’s defense leading to a multitude of chances for the Pigeons. The home side repeatedly exposed the pockets between the midfield and defense that grew wider as the match carried on.
Even with the increased space, New York was always going to trouble Nashville. They brought the essential ingredients to breaking down Gary Smith’s otherwise organized defense. The Pigeons progressed the ball quickly, dragged defenders out of position, and utilized plenty of one-touch passing to undress Nashville’s defense.
Teams that dwell on the ball and give Nashville time to organize into their two banks of four defenders will always struggle to score. NYCFC never dilly-dallied and repeatedly threatened Nashville’s defense.
Attacking help is still needed
Chasing a two-goal deficit, Nashville’s “attacking” substitutions consisted of Jacob Shaffelburg, Teal Bunbury, Dax McCarty, and Ján Greguš. All four switches were like-for-like substitutions. If those substitutions are not an indictment on Nashville’s lack of attacking depth, I don’t know what is.
Based on the talent available and their principles of play, Nashville will always be a high-floor team. However, the ceiling feels as low as an airplane cabin right now. Hany Mukhtar, as brilliant as he is, is not enough to drag this roster into title contention on his own. He needs help. He’s needed help for a long time.
The Jacob Shaffelburg and Fafà Picault additions were shrewd moves that provided vertical runners to flank Mukhtar in the counterattack. Still, though, a couple of other attacking winger options are needed that possess a different set of tools in their toolbox when the match calls for an alternative approach.
At the principal striker position, C.J. Sapong and Teal Bunbury both remain goalless in 2023. They each have logged only a single shot on target this season. While both contribute through other means to the overall function of Nashville’s attack, the Coyotes simply cannot continue to field a pair of strikers that have combined for a grand total of two shots on goal through the first quarter of the season.
Last week, Nashville’s hope of selling Aké Loba was dealt a significant blow. The Ivorian striker, who still occupies Nashville’s third Designated Player slot, underwent foot surgery.
Sooner rather than later, Nashville needs to buy out the final months of Loba’s contract or find a cut-rate buyer. Removing Loba from the books opens up a variety of potential roster moves for Nashville through both a new Designated Player and the U22 Initiative.
Regardless of where the help comes from, Nashville unquestionably needs attacking help. How high this club can climb in 2023 depends on those acquisitions and how quickly they can be integrated into the rotation.
The Citi Field advertisement board from Dude Wipes was profoundly funny. The maker of scented flushable wipes that can be used in place of toilet paper certainly knew how to make their display relevant to the evening’s opponent. Anyone who has ordered hot chicken that was a level too spicy will immediately understand the message. Give the entire Dude Wipes marketing department a raise. They deserve it.