Three thoughts on Nashville SC’s home win over D.C. United

On Saturday night, Nashville SC provided another entertaining night in front of a packed house at GEODIS Park defeating D.C. United by a 2-0 scoreline. 

Here are my three thoughts on the match. 

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Leal’s night in the spotlight

On Saturday, Randall Leal showcased his immense talent by scoring two crucial goals, instantly earning Man of the Match honors. While he often plays Robin to Hany Mukhtar’s Batman, Leal catapulted himself into the spotlight on Saturday night. 

If Leal can replicate that sort of display with any sort of regularity, Leal would raise Nashville’s ceiling to title-contender status, regardless of the club’s decisions regarding its Designated Player slot.

When healthy, Leal has proven to be an essential cog in Nashville’s attacking machinery. Recently though, that’s been a tough ask. pair of muscle injuries in the past two seasons have made it difficult for Leal to get in and stay in form. He’s missed 18 matches since the start of 2022,

Earlier this season, Leal missed two months of action due to a hamstring injury. Gary Smith took his time integrating the Costa Rican back into the starting lineup and ramping up Leal’s fitness. The patient approach is paying off. Saturday was Leal’s fourth-straight start and certainly marked his return to top form. 

Leal’s brace not only boosts his own confidence but also sends a strong message to the rest of the league that Nashville SC possesses multiple threats in their attacking arsenal.

Leal doesn’t need to score every week. Just chipping in a goal every few matches will lighten the load for Mukhtar. If Leal can recapture a bit of the magic from his 2021 season in which he contributed 8 goals and 9 assists, Nashville will legitimately challenge for titles this season – whether via the upcoming Leagues Cup, MLS Cup Playoffs, or even catching F.C. Cincinnati in the Supporter’s Shield race. 

Leal’s deserving of recognition and appreciation for his contributions to Nashville SC. His technical ability and goal-scoring prowess make him an integral part of the team’s success. While he may often play the role of Robin to Mukhtar’s Batman, Leal has proven time and time again that he is more than capable of being a hero in his own right.

Attacking versatility

Speaking of Leal, it has been fascinating to watch the interchange between him and Hany Mukhtar in recent weeks, especially against D.C. United. The duo complement each other’s strengths on the field. 

Leal and Mukhtar share several similarities. Both players are technically gifted and adaptable enough to affect the game from deep in the midfield and as high up as the most advanced forward. Gary Smith gives both plenty of freedom in attack to find the game. In their fourth season together, they have developed a level of chemistry that allows the creative duo to play off each other. It is a push-and-pull relationship. 

While Muktar started on the forward line paired with Teal Bunbury, the two seminal moments of the match came when Mukhtar dropped deeper into the midfield with Leal replacing the vacated space. 

The attacking versatility does not stop and start with just Mukhtar and Leal. At various moments, Alex Muyl and Teal Bunbury are able to flash their history as advanced wingers. In Nashville’s 4-4-2 Diamond, Muyl’s interpretation of the position is especially notable. 

Below are two examples of the wrinkle that Muyl adds to the attack. While he may be aligned as a midfield shuttler, he is given enough freedom to push as high as the last defender giving Nashville versatility in where the attacking runs come from. When Aníbal Godoy, Sean Davis, and other midfielders play in a similar position in the diamond, you will hardly ever see those individuals venture quite as far as Muyl.

In the video above, Muyl squares off the diamond putting himself into position to flood the box. He wins the second ball which falls to the feet of Randall Leal at the top of the box. Leal fires it in, but the goal is disallowed due to Hany Mukhtar’s offsides.

In the next video, Muyl pushes ahead as a forward and then pinches inside as Teal Bunbury runs down the right wing. He makes himself available in the box. Nothing ultimately comes from the attacking sequence. However, ensuring that the Coyotes have numbers in the box should lead to future goal-scoring opportunities.

Nashville has unlocked the best version of itself since arriving in MLS in 2020. The versatility of featuring forwards who can drop back and affect the game from the midfield and midfielders occasionally pushing high up to add another forward creates variety in the attack leading to more scoring opportunities. 

Fast starts bearing fruit

Nashville burst onto the field with great energy and determination against D.C. United, dominating the game during the first 15 to 20 minutes. This has been a recurring pattern in their home matches at GEODIS Park. The team consistently starts strong, employing an aggressive press to put their opponents on the back foot.

In their previous nine home matches, Nashville showed their aggressiveness but struggled to convert their chances into goals. However, their luck seems to have turned around recently. The team has now scored within the first 20 minutes in two consecutive matches, breaking the pattern of missed opportunities. While they might have previously struggled to find the net early on, they have excelled this season in finding the breakthrough before halftime. In fact, Nashville has managed to score in seven out of their ten league matches at home.

Seizing these early opportunities has made all the difference between their struggles at home last year (6 wins, 6 draws, 5 losses) and their current dominance this year (8 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss). The Coyotes have already surpassed their total points from 2022 at home, and with six more matches remaining at GEODIS Park, they have a chance to further improve upon that record. By consistently scoring early goals in front of their home crowd, they have a strong chance of setting a new club points record.

Bonus thoughts

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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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