Nashville SC traveled to the nation’s capital for its first away match in nearly a month. The Coyotes picked up a point, although they will surely regret squandering a late lead.
Here are my three thoughts on the match.
Fluke goal, repeatable pattern
Nashville SC’s breakthrough came in the 73rd minute thanks to a fluke Alex Muyl armpit goal.
There is no one else who would plausibly have that happen to them, let alone hunt down the referee to show where the ball hit them by pulling up their shirt.
But I digress.
What I noticed, more than Muyl’s goal, was just how wide open Hany Mukhtar found himself in the box to fire off a shot that eventually led to the goal.
Let’s look at the tape.
The key from this entire sequence is the positioning of Mukhtar vis-a-vis Teal Bunbury and Fafá Picault.
Nashville switched back to its novel 4-4-2 Diamond for the second half. While operating as the central attacking midfielder at the tip of the diamond, Mukhtar occupied the pockets of space between D.C. United’s three central defenders and their midfield line. With these defenders focused on Nashville’s two most advanced forwards, Bunbury and Picault, Mukhtar got lost in the shuffle.
This same attacking pattern likely would not have worked in the first half when Mukhtar served as the second striker paired with Bunbury. He would have commanded direct attention from Derrick Williams and Donovan Pines and likely never received Picault’s cutback pass.
However, with Gary Smith’s halftime adjustment to redeploy the Diamond, Nashville constructed the means to give Mukhtar an unmarked run into the box. The MVP may not have scored, but the shot generated 0.33 xG – the Yotes’ most dangerous shot of the night based on expected goals.
Luckily for Nashville, Alex Muyl’s armpit was there to save the day. But I am much more encouraged by Mukhtar’s shot than Muyl’s improbable goal.
A simple mistake snatches away all three points
Nashville SC was well on its way to a precious road victory until a simple mistake gave away the lead.
For a club on pace to set a league record for the fewest goals conceded, it was an uncharacteristic slip by an ordinarily locked-in defense.
D.C. United found the equalizer with smart movement and tidy one-touch passing. The mistake came as the Boys in Gold lost track of Kristan Fletcher’s run.
Fletcher took up the space vacated by Cristian Dájome as he checked back to the ball. Shaq Moore stepped up with Dájome leaving no one to cover Fletcher.
It is unclear if Moore should have sunk back into position, Sean Davis should have slid over to provide cover, or some combination of both. What is clear is that Nashville cannot allow Fletcher to receive the ball with a free run into the penalty area.
It was an unfortunate mistake that undid 90 minutes of otherwise excellent defensive work. D.C. United only managed a single shot on goal. It was the one that sank the Boys in Gold.
The goal notwithstanding, it had been an impressive Nashville defensive performance. However, the margins in MLS, especially on the road, are razor-thin.
Tenth year anniversary
This thought has nothing to do with the match against D.C. United. However, I could not let the 10th anniversary of this club go unmentioned.
On May 13, 2013, a group of soccer lovers gathered together to form a grassroots-organized, fan-owned soccer club.
That meeting birthed Nashville FC, the precursor to what would eventually become Nashville SC.
Just over one year later, Nashville FC took to the pitch for the first time as a National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) club.
For three years, Nashville FC existed as an amateur club in the fourth tier of the American soccer pyramid.
In 2016, a separate ownership group was awarded an expansion team in the United Soccer League (USL). The fan-owned Nashville FC agreed to merge with the new organization ensuring an unbroken throughline between the amateur and professional eras of soccer in Nashville.
Simultaneously, John Ingram led a group seeking to obtain an expansion slot in MLS. In early 2017, Ingram purchased Nashville SC, still a year out from its USL debut.
The next several months featured a contentious approval process for the stadium that eventually became GEODIS Park. Many of those who spent countless hours attending meetings, talking with neighbors, and lobbying elected officials were the same individuals at that original organizing meeting on May 13, 2013.
In late 2017, MLS awarded Ingram an expansion slot with Nashville SC to begin MLS play in 2020. In the build-up to the inaugural MLS season, Nashville SC participated in two seasons in USL playing at First Tennessee Park with Gary Smith managing the club.
For most readers, this is a cursory and surface-level recap that fails to truly capture the blood, sweat, tears, and hours poured into making what seemed like a dream ten years ago become a reality. A few of you readers probably lived it and could write entire books on all the little moments that led us from 2013 to today.
However, the history is a story worth repeating and ensuring that every Nashville SC supporter is aware of and appreciates. This is especially true as the club is not always the best at recognizing and retelling that history.
Admittedly, I was not around in those early days. Living in Knoxville makes participation in weekday meetings and events a near impossibility. However, I am forever grateful that those that poured their hearts into building a club that would eventually lead to where we are today. Because of those contributions, Nashville now has a cathedral – nay a castle – devoted to soccer with 30,000 spectators able to watch a team play at the highest level.
It is an unfathomable amount of growth in just one decade. I cannot wait to see what the next decade has in store.
This question and answer is an absolute must-watch.