On Saturday night, Nashville SC defeated FC Dallas 2-1. The win extended NSC’s undefeated streak to eight matches.
Here are my three thoughts on the match.
Nashville SC’s win away at Toyota Stadium is the stuff of championship-caliber squads. Not only is Nashville the league’s hottest team, but they are also flexing their silverware-chasing bona fides.
It is incredibly difficult to win on the road in this league. MLS stands out, among all the top professional soccer leagues, for its home-field advantage. Home teams win more often in MLS than they in any other top league.
That Nashville traveled to fourth-place F.C. Dallas and pulled out a 2-1 win should not go unnoticed. It was the type of match, in years past, that Nashville would have settled for a draw – especially after Los Toros found the equalizer.
With the score still level, Gary Smith easily could have made an early switch to a back five when he removed Walker Zimmerman in the 58th minute. Instead of collapsing into their defensive shell to see out a road point, Smith stayed aggressive and it paid off with a second goal. This club has certainly come a long way from the tepid tactics of last year’s first-round playoff exit.
It has been a dramatic shift for NSC. Back in April, following a loss to NYCFC, I wrote that Nashville’s ceiling felt lower than an airplane cabin. The following week, Gary Smith unleashed the 4-4-2 Diamond against LAFC which resulted in one of the best first-half attacking displays of the year. With the modified midfield, Nashville started pushing up its defensive lines on goal kicks and immediately following turnovers. The tactical tweak was a breath of fresh air as it gave the ‘Yotes a platform to take the game to its opposition.
With a more aggressive approach, even on the road against talented opposition, Nashville is displaying the necessities to challenge for the Supporters’ Shield. Now, it may not come off for the ‘Yotes. F.C. Cincinnati keeps winning as well and LAFC hold a better points per-match rate. However, Nashville has the look of a team that will remain in the conversation until the final weeks.
Even if it is not a talking point for those in Nashville SC’s locker room, the Coyotes’ championship-caliber bona fides will quickly become one among the national media.
I hope every Nashville supporter realizes and appreciates the greatness that they are witnessing each time Hany Mukhtar takes the field.
Last week, it was the lethal combination of stepovers and an unstoppable roofed shot from an acute angle. This week’s Mukhtar masterpiece featured a clever nutmeg with a calm finish while looking the keeper off in the other direction.
Despite having a target on his back each match, he keeps finding ways to literally dance around the opposition.
With half of the season remaining, Muktar is only three assists away from becoming just the second player in league history to complete three consecutive seasons with double-digit goals and assists. Even if Muktar is not awarded back-to-back Most Valuable Player honors, this three-year stretch will go down as one of, if not the most, dominant spells in league history.
I say that I hope Nashville supporters appreciate Mukhtar’s greatness because it is easy to think that this is normal. As long as Nashville has had an MLS club, Hany Muktar has been there ready to dazzle audiences.
There are plenty of clubs that have existed for decades without having anyone of Mukhtar’s caliber – he is in a class of his own. Even if a Mukhtar-level talent comes again for a future Nashville squad, there is no guarantee that they won’t be immediately sold to Europe for tens of millions of dollars. It is the nature of the league.
With Mukhtar, Nashville captured lightning in a bottle. An unbelievable talent at an age and profile that is not itching to return to Europe but is young enough to still have plenty of prime years remaining.
The point is that Nashville SC may never have a Hany Mukhtar ever again – appreciate every moment we get of him.
The subtle, little things
Last week, Ben Wright and I attempted to compile a list of potential striker targets for Nashville SC this summer. While we will inevitably be wrong and fail to identify who Mike Jacobs and Gary Smith have their eye on, our process involved a lot of poking around looking for players in other leagues that generally fit the profile of striker that Nashville has sought in the past.
Our self-admitted blind spot is that statistics only tell you a part of the story. Of course, Nashville needs to find a striker that can more reliably score goals. However, whichever forward NSC eventually signs will need to contribute all the subtle, little things that Teal Bunbury adds to the overall team.
The moment above stood out to me in my game notes. It won’t appear in any traditional stat sheet. However, Bunbury’s back pressure on Nolan Norris rushed the 18-year-old midfielder into making a turnover.
It is the subtle, little moments like Bunbury’s pressure that will determine how quickly any new signee will force their way into the starting XI.
Last week, Nashville SC owner, John Ingram, signed a letter to Mayor John Cooper expressing “significant concerns” with plans to upgrade the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway next door to GEODIS Park.
Ingram’s stance sparked backlash online, particularly from racing fans, in the Nashville area who see no reason why the two cannot coexist.
On the one hand, I would love to see the raceway relocate altogether outside the city. As a non-racing fan, the track does not serve my personal interests. I would just as rather see the area redeveloped with plenty of bars, restaurants, and perhaps a couple more parking spots.
On the other, it simply won’t happen. Given its charter-protected status and an activist Tennessee General Assembly that is willing to step into local matters, the Nashville Speedway is there to stay.
Ingram’s insistence that another 30,000-seat sporting venue was not anticipated next door is naive at best and disingenuous at worst. The story of Nashville’s developmental boom for the last two decades has been one of significant projects spurring other nearby projects with even greater investment dollars. The construction of GEODIS Park was always going to spark additional interest and investment in the surrounding area – the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway included. It is too attractive of a property for the racing business not to.
Rather than a quixotic letter in opposition to the project in general, I wish Nashville SC had proposed real solutions to address the valid concern of eliminating favoritism toward the other project should the Nashville Speedway threaten default on its debt obligations. A stance that sought solutions rather than lobbing stones would have likely prevented the vitriol unleashed on the club this past week from outside voices.