On Saturday night, Nashville SC fell to Atlanta United by a 4-0 scoreline. Throughout the contest, Nashville looked slow and sloppy. The Boys in Gold failed to bury their chances and allowed far too many chances to the hosts on the other end.
Here are my thoughts on the match.
Leagues Cup hangover
A week after a heartbreaking defeat in the Leagues Cup Final, it was fair to wonder both the state of Nashville’s bodies and minds heading into the Atlanta match.
My colleague Ben Wright posed the question to Gary Smith prior to the match.
Publically, Smith expressed no concern in his response. In retrospect, he had a lot of reason to worry.
In the four-goal loss to Atlanta, Nashville looked physically tired and mentally checked out. It led to a bevy of self-induced errors as the Boys in Gold were a step slow the entire night. NSC’s characteristic hustle and grit were absent from the performance, which often show up in spades in road contests.
Atlanta’s second goal, highlighted below, provides ample evidence. A cheap giveaway was compounded by the Five Stripes out-racing Nashville down the pitch. Aníbal Godoy, in particular, will garner rebuke for his lack of hustle in providing cover.
Even for those who did not log significant minutes in Leagues Cup, such as Jack Maher, the mental edge was lacking.
On the whole, I’m not going to become too concerned about the loss. Nashville played a lot of high-energy, emotionally charged matches in August. On Saturday, they ran up against a well-rested team at home. Frankly, it should come as no surprise if Nashville loses again on Wednesday to Lionel Messi and Inter Miami. The Herons managed Messi’s minutes over the weekend, and the GOAT should be ready to go against the ‘Yotes.
At this point, the key for Nashville is Saturday’s home tilt against Charlotte FC. It will be the Crown’s third game in seven days as well. At home, Nashville must take care of business and end the slide in league play. If NSC wins the match, they can enter the September international break with a renewed sense of optimism with a chance to catch up on some well-earned rest.
Atlanta got vertical
There are two consistent means to generate high-quality chances against Nashville SC’s defense, set pieces and vertical attacks. Atlanta exploited both areas in their 4-0 win.
For this section, I will skip Miles Robinson’s 57th-minute header. The goal, which came directly off a corner kick, was simple in nature. Robinson got away with a subtle push on Alex Muyl providing ample space for the Atlanta center back to power home a goal.
The rest of the night, Atlanta put on an attacking masterclass in how to defeat Nashville. The Five Stripes moved the ball vertically in a hurry. It allowed them to bypass NSC’s midfield and stress the backline with runners.
The warning signs came early. With Walker Zimmerman missing, Jack Maher stepped back into the starting lineup. Maher, like many others, had a night that he will want to forget. In the 16th minute, Maher looked lost as Nashville scrambled back to deal with an Atlanta United counterattack.
Atlanta’s first goal, a wonderfully worked build-up that bypassed Nashville’s press, saw Atlanta awarded for its efforts.
After Atlanta took the lead, they found more and more space to exploit Nashville’s vulnerable backline.
The blueprint to threaten Nashville is no secret. Teams that play with clear purpose and possess enough difference-makers to exploit space will always create trouble for NSC.
Mukhtar forcing it
After six MLS matches without a goal, Hany Mukhtar ended his drought in Leagues Cup. He scored twice across Nashville’s seven matches. For the reigning MVP, I am not sure it was enough to mentally reestablish his confidence in front of the net.
Against Atlanta, Mukhtar missed a golden opportunity as he rushed a shot following a dangerous turnover.
A more confident Mukhtar likely takes an extra touch or two before attempting to curl a shot in from the top of the box.
After the early miss, Mukhtar was pressing to find a goal. Often, it was at a detriment to the overall team. We have seen him roof shots from tight angles before, but his 23rd-minute shot was hopeful even by his standards. Rather than hunt for a redemption goal following the earlier miss, Mukhtar needs to either square that ball for Jacob Shaffelburg or send it to Sam Surridge on the pullback. The Englishman, particularly, was visibly frustrated that his teammate did not look in his direction.
In the 45th minute, Mukhtar again needed to look elsewhere rather than call his own number. As he dribbled into a collection of defenders, he had Godoy in space to his left. The Panamanian had a clear look at goal as Surridge drug the lone, remaining defender further toward the back post.
For so long, Mukhtar bore an immense responsibility for Nashville’s goalscoring. With additional help now added, he needs to let the goals come naturally rather than forcing an end to this summer slump.
I knew Messi’s arrival would be a big deal. However, the hoopla has exceeded even my biggest expectations.