Nashville SC defeated Atlanta United by a 3-1 margin on Saturday. With the win, Nashville climbs back into the top four of the Eastern Conference, even on points with Atlanta.
It was an impressive performance from the home side as they largely controlled the match. There were a few nervy moments after Atlanta pulled back a goal through a soft penalty kick award. However, the Coyotes erased any lingering doubts with a Jacob Shaffelburg goal in stoppage time. The goal sent Nashville supporters into euphoria and the traveling Atlanta fans packing toward the exits.
Here are my three thoughts on the match.
Since trading C.J. Sapong last week, Nashville strikers have scored in consecutive matches. Whether it is the result of causation or coincidence is anyone’s guess.
Regardless, Nashville is glad to see its goal contributions outside Hany Mukhtar.
Ethan Zubak kicked off the scoring streak in the midweek tie with San Antonio FC. On Saturday, Teal Bunbury found the back of the net to give Nashville a crucial two-goal need.
Neither goal required a well-placed shot to beat the keeper as both players stared down wide-open goalmouths. However, they were in the right place at the right time. For strikers, positioning is half the battle.
Nashville has never needed another golden boot chasing forward to reach the best version of itself. (although it certainly wouldn’t hurt). The Coyotes simply required a set of strikers that can take the scoring pressure off Mukhtar and take advantage of opportunities that arise, as Bunbury did by tapping in a rebound.
Gary Smith deployed a midfield diamond yet again to start the match against Atalanta United.
For the first 15 minutes, Aníbal Godoy and Alex Muyl occupied midfield shuttler roles while Hany Mukhtar dropped in behind Teal Bunbury and Fafà Picault. After the opening stanza, the Coyotes dropped back into their more traditional 4-4-2 empty bucket with Mukhtar playing further up and Muyl pushing out wide on the right side.
During those first 15 minutes, while operating with a diamond midfield, Nashville dialed up the ball pressure on the visitors. The Coyotes pressed high and won the ball in dangerous positions.
Although Atalanta struggled at times to deal with Nashville’s pressure, the Five Stripes did find a release valve on multiple occasions via big switches.
The downside of the 4-4-2 Diamond is that, by its nature, it is a narrow formation. If you can stretch the field horizontally, you can pull the defense apart. Atlanta’s best moments in the early going occurred when they switched the field and quickly got the ball to their attacking wingers.
When Gary Smith repositioned his side into their standard 4-4-2 “Empty Bucket”, it had a couple of knock-on effects. Nashville no longer pressed high up the pitch, which had caused Atlanta loads of problems. However, it did eliminate Atlanta’s big switches that had threatened to pull Nashville apart.
Managing a lead
Gary Smith’s second-half substitutions while managing a lead were intriguing for a variety of different reasons.
It started with Jacob Shaffleburg’s entrance in the 63rd minute. As Shaffelburg entered, Teal Bunbury exited the match. Without a true striker on the field, Fafà Picault slid into Bunbury’s position to form a strike pair with Hany Mukhtar.
The move is notable for two principal reasons. First, it suggests that Picault will be asked to fill some of the vacated minutes from the C.J. Sapong trade. Second, it could mean that Ethan Zubak will continue to find it difficult to earn playing time.
Smith’s second round of substitutions ushered in a formation shift as Nashville sought to see out the match.
A few minutes prior, Thiago Almada pulled one back via a penalty kick goal. Suddenly, momentum swung in Atlanta’s direction. Nashville needed to shut down the Five Stripes’ attack.
On came Taylor Washington for Alex Muyl and Brian Anunga for Aníbal Godoy. With Washington on the field, Smith shifted his side into a 5-2-3.
Sitting in their low block, it would be easy to have labeled the look as a 5-4-1. Shaffelburg and Picault dropped deep to help defend leaving Mukhtar as the single forward responsible for providing any sort of hold-up play.
In the 83rd minute, Smith brought on Luke Haakenson for Picault and Ján Gregus for Dax McCarty. While these substitutions simply brought on fresh legs without a necessary tactical wrinkle, Gregus made his impact felt.
It was Gregus’ tackle and quick pass that sparked the attack that led to Nashville’s third goal which iced the match away.
For Gary Smith, the Shaffelburg counterattacking goal shows the formula for managing a lead – soak up pressure and strike quickly.
We’re now 10 weeks into the season and 10 weeks into Apple TV’s broadcasting of MLS matches.
There are a lot of ways that the Apple TV broadcasting deal has changed the way we consume MLS. The standardized kickoff times, whip-around show, and national broadcast teams immediately jump off the page.
The most underrated aspect may be the ability to easily pick up and watch the league across the world.
For fans in the United States, it may only come in clutch when traveling abroad. However, it may be the most important feature for the future growth of the league.
If a certain World Cup winner named Messi signs with Inter Miami this summer, global interest in MLS will explode. The ability of fans in Argentina, Spain, and everywhere else across the planet to easily flip on a match should not go unnoticed.