On Saturday, Nashville traveled north of the border and took on Toronto FC. A Lorenzo Insigne curling shot opened up the scoring for the home squad. Nashville answered with a long-distance shot of its own, which was spilled by Toronto goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
Here are my three thoughts on the match.
Sean Johnson’s howler of a goalkeeping error bailed Nashville out of a remarkably poor performance.
Trailing by a goal, the Boys in Gold were handed a gift by the ordinarily sure-handed Johnson as he spilled a relatively routine save off Randal Leal’s shot from outside the box. It was an uncharacteristic error for Johnson and a lucky break for Nashville.
Mere seconds earlier, NSC found its best chance of the match. Hany Mukhtar, left unmarked in the six-yard box, headed a Teal Bunbury cross toward the corner of Toronto’s net. The ball had Johnson beat, but Aimé Mabika cleared it off the line.
Other than Mukhtar’s headed effort, Nashville never truly tested Toronto. NSC finished with just 0.4 xG – the lowest output since a 0-0 draw at home against this same Toronto side.
Nashville’s chaotic midfield and disjointed attack in the final third made the match one to forget for Nashville SC. However, sometimes even the best teams need a little bit of luck.
The undefeated streak continues
With the draw in Toronto, Nashville SC extended its undefeated streak in the league to nine matches. It ties a club record set in the 2021 season.
Even if the match was quite ugly, Gary Smith should be pleased to maintain the unblemished record. MLS is a challenging league to maintain that level of consistency. Forced parity, grueling travel, and a well-known home-field advantage, all make keeping an undefeated streak alive a problematic task.
Nashville will look to extend the streak next week with MLS newcomers, St. Louis CITY SC, coming to town. It won’t be an easy match. CITY SC has lit the league on fire with their stellar start as an expansion club. CITY SC’s high press will present a challenge for Nashville as the squad has tended to struggle against sustained pressure. However, if the Boys in Gold manage to pick up at least one point, they will break the club record and push the undefeated streak into double digits.
For those wondering, Nashville still has a ways to go to reach for the records book. The Columbus Crew (2004-2005) and F.C. Dallas (2010) jointly hold the top mark with 19 straight regular-season matches without suffering a loss.
Leal needs to be starting
Randall Leal didn’t enter Saturday’s match until the 58th minute. However, he immediately made an impact earning Man of the Match honors.
Sure, Leal scored the equalizing goal. That alone is sufficient to get the nod as Nashville’s MOTM. Equally important was Leal’s impact elsewhere on the pitch. The Costa Rican completed 22 of 24 passes, which included four progressive passes and one key pass.
The video below highlights Leal’s contributions between the 58th minute and the 75th minute. During that 17-minute stretch, Leal slotted into Nashville’s diamond midfield in the shuttler role opposite of Sean Davis.
Leal’s ball-progression ability brings an entirely different element to the position. Sean Davis and Alex Muyl both bring a lot of energy and defensive commitment to the central midfield positions. Yet, for all their strengths, neither is a particularly adept passer. When starting Davis and Muyl together, Nashville is missing a critical link between Dax McCarty, Hany Muktar, and the forward line. By contrast, Leal’s vision and passing chops add another layer of creativity to break down opposing defense – as he did Saturday against Toronto F.C.
Randall Leal immediately sparked the Coyotes’ attack against the Reds. He needs to be given a platform to impact the game from the opening whistle. If Nashville wants to unlock another level to its attack, Randall Leal needs to be inserted into the starting lineup.
Nashville supporters lost one of their own this weekend. Ben Cowherd tragically passed away at 35 years old. Cowherd was a fixture in The Backline’s drumline since the early days in USL. He will be remembered in NSC circles as one of the foundational members that helped establish the atmosphere GEODIS Park is known for today.
While I never had the pleasure of meeting him in person, the tributes in his honor paint a picture of an incredible friend.
I am Ben's dad. His mother and I deeply appreciate the outpouring of love @NashvilleSC has shown. We knew he loved soccer, the team, @TheAssemblyNash , and everyone involved. Thank you for loving him, because he sure loved you.— LeeCowherd (@LeeCowherd) June 11, 2023