Three thoughts on a Nashville SC loss in Chicago

On Saturday night, Nashville fell to the Chicago Fire by a score of 1-0. It marks the third loss in four matches for the Boys in Gold, and the third consecutive away match in which they’ve failed to score a goal.

Here are my three thoughts on the match. 

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No Mukhtar from the start

Nashville began the night with Hany Mukhtar watching from the bench. We found out after the match that the reigning MVP carried a small ankle knock into the match.

Even if there had not been an injury, Mukhtar has earned a bit of load management. He has already logged over 2,000 minutes this season, the sixth most among attacking players. His workload is about to increase as well. In the coming weeks, Mukhtar will need to juggle a pair of important matches against Eastern Conference foes, the MLS All-Star Game, and the start of Leagues Cup. 

Gary Smith will need to be strategic in finding time to squeeze in rest for the Berlin-born playmaker. Although finding rest for Mukhtar presents a catch-22 for Nashville. Without its talisman, Nashville simply struggles to create meaningful chances. 

In the first half, Nashville created only a pair of possible chances. In the 12th minute, Dax McCarty pinged a wonderful ball to Teal Bunbury who did extremely well to bring the ball down and fire off a shot, but a well-placed Fire defender immediately blocked the effort. Later in the half, Lukas MacNaughton found himself free in the box off a corner kick. His headed effort sailed above the bar not requiring a save from the young Chris Brady. 

After Mukhtar entered at the start of the second half, Nashville looked much more lively in the attack with 12 of the team’s 18 shots coming in the second stanza. 

Now, the game state partly explains the increase. With Nashville chasing the match, they had to throw numbers forward. Nevertheless, Mukhtar’s inclusion still opened up more chances for NSC. His skill and the gravitational pull he has on opposing attackers manufacture additional attacking opportunities that simply don’t exist when he is not on the pitch. 

Gifting Chicago the win

This match goes down as one to forget for Nashville’s backline. The Boys in Gold gifted a goal to Chicago and nearly gave the Fire a second. 

Jack Maher, in particular, will look back with a load of regret from the first half. After receiving a heaping of praise these past few weeks as perhaps deserving of an All-Star Game appearance or even a Gold Cup squad call-up, Maher added a few lowlight reels. 

Undoubtedly, Chicago’s goal, of course, will stand out the most in the collective memory. Fabian Herbers seized on Maher’s misplaced pass. As Maher scrambled to recover, Maren Haile-Selassie’s cutback ball nutmegged Maher. Herbers struck the ball into the net making Maher and Nashville pay for their mistakes.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the sequence is that Maher had received a warning that Herbers was hunting his passes. In the 32nd minute, just two minutes prior to the goal, Maher had another pass picked off by Hebers. However, the referee bailed out NSC by calling a foul called on the Chicago midfielder.

Maher is not the only one who may look a little sheepish during the video review session. A calamity of errors provided a gift to Chicago of his own that nearly led to a second Fire goal. 

In the video below, we can observe the series of errors that unfolded, ultimately leading to Brian Gutiérrez’s attempt to score, although it was disallowed due to a handball.

The sequence begins with a giveaway by Nashville. I am not sure if I should blame Daniel Lovitz, Alexy Muyl, or both of them. Either way, Lovitz and Muyl were not on the same page which resulted in an easy interception for Chicago. As the ball works itself to the other side of the pitch, Dax McCarty bears responsibility for allowing Brian Gutiérrez to run into the box unchecked for a clever one-two pass. McCarty needs to track and follow Gutiérrez to ensure he is dealt with. Lastly, Lukas MacNaughton committed my biggest pet peeve in all of sports – not playing until the whistle blows. Now, he was correct in protesting for a handball offense by Gutiérrez. However, your eyes are not infallible and you cannot be certain that a referee will make the right decision. MacNaughton must play out the sequence putting pressure on Gutiérrez to make the finish as difficult as possible. 

While Maher will broadly catch the blame for the loss, it was a forgettable night for many members of Nashville SC. 

Crosses in need of a target

As the match bled deeper into the second half, Nashville SC resorted to a bombing campaign of aimless crosses with not much of a target in mind. It is never the most efficient means of goal production but has often been the NSC’s response when trailing and facing a compacted defense. 

When faced with such situations, it would be helpful to have a target forward with a history of scoring goals via winning headers in the box. 

Regardless of whether Adam Buksa aligns with your preference for Nashville’s open Designated Player slot, it’s difficult to deny that his presence would have been beneficial in the latter stages of the match against the Chicago Fire.

We still don’t know who Nashville is chasing in the transfer window. But whoever Mike Jacobs does sign, that player needs to provide NSC with a goal-scoring threat for when matches become bogged down. 

Bonus thought

On another night, Nashville earns a goal from a Jack Maher header or a Hany Mukhtar penalty shout. It was likely the difference between a point and going home empty-handed. 

For both referee decisions, I vehemently disagree with the call on the field. However, I am not certain that either was a clear and obvious error. A couple of weeks ago, I went into detail about the standard and how to best conceptualize a concept borrowed from legal standards of evidence

In the 42nd minute, Jack Maher’s potential equalizing goal was disallowed due to a foul called on The Milkman. The decision was controversial, with Miguel Navarro’s exaggerated reaction amplifying the relatively minor contact. It was a pivotal moment in the game that was always going to hinge on the referee’s call. While Maher did make contact, whether it justified a foul was purely subjective. Personally, I don’t believe the level of contact warranted a foul, but it would have been wrong for VAR to re-referee the judgment call.

In the second half, Hany Mukhtar called for a penalty after being taken down by a Chicago defender in the box. This is another one where Nashville should feel unlucky to not receive the benefit of the call on the field. In both real-time and on review, it appears that Mukhtar was fouled. On closer review, Carlos Terán may have got to and deflected the ball before clattering into Mukhtar. If it was the referee’s determination on the field that Terán had put a foot on the ball, I am not sure there is a clear and obvious error that he failed to get the ball. 

On another night with a different referee, the decisions and breaks may have resulted in a different outcome. That is just how sports go sometimes. 

Author: Chris IveyChris is a senior writer covering Nashville SC. His writings focus on the team at large and often navigate the complexity of roster building around the myriad of MLS rules. Outside of Broadway Sports Media, Chris resides in Knoxville and is a licensed attorney. Beyond NSC, he is always willing to discuss Tennessee football and basketball, Coventry City, and USMNT. Follow Chris on Twitter

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