What’s wrong with Nashville SC on the road?

Nashville SC’s struggles on the road have been well-documented this season. In contrast to their largely exceptional performances at home, from which they’ve taken a league-leading 23 points, they’ve been anything but exceptional on the road. In seven matches away from Nissan Stadium, they’ve lost twice and drawn five for a total of 0.71 points per game, the eight-lowest tally in the league.

The discrepancy has perplexed Gary Smith.

“At home, we look free flowing, we look relaxed. There’s a real confidence about our play,” he said after a 2-1 loss in Miami in which Nashville conceded a 95th minute winner. “But away from home, we’ve looked uncertain, almost happy to allow teams to come and build pressure. Most of that has come from not being able to get in-behind or beyond, or secure the ball in good areas.

“So yeah… there’s a big difference,” he concluded. “I might need to take a little look at that and go back over the game, but it’s tough to evaluate and maybe compartmentalize, because there are so many good things at home.”

The issue is clouded by the fact that Major League Soccer is historically a very difficult place to play and win on the road.

Jamon’s right. It’s hard to explain. But there’s a significant difference between success MLS teams have on the road versus the rest of the world. In the same time span, 2015 through now, away sides won 31% of the time and drew 25%. That’s an 8% difference in away results, a significant margin.

Travel is a constant struggle in MLS. In addition to the huge distances teams are required to travel for routine away trips, they’ve often had to deal with logistical issues that are almost unheard of in top European leagues. But in 2021, teams are still able to use charter flights for every road trip under the league Covid protocols. In theory this should give teams an advantage on the road and lead to better results for the visitors, but that’s not the case. The visiting sides have won just 22% of the time this season, down from 25% in 2019, when commercial flights were routine.

In light of this information, Nashville’s road struggles shouldn’t be a shock. But the major issue isn’t even with the points they’ve taken on the road. It’s how they’ve played on the road.

Nashville SC aren’t just falling victim to the league’s typical road struggles. They’re underperforming the rest of the league on the road. MLS sides average 1.14 expected goals and 1.07 goals in road matches. Nashville’s nowhere close to that.

They also can’t claim that the opponents they’ve played on the road are elite sides. The sides they’ve played away from home this season average just 1.50 points per home match. If you remove New England from the mix, who Nashville held to an impressive 0-0 draw in Foxborough, their opponents average 1.34 points per home match. A side with Nashville’s quality and home form should be able to take points from these matches, and they haven’t.

It doesn’t get easier. Nashville’s opponents for their remaining 10 road games average 1.52 points at home. The make the playoffs, Nashville need to improve their road output, and they’re running out of time to do so.

The first step to fixing any problem is identifying it. That’s what this piece is. Next week we’ll continue this “Travelin’ Blues” series (I’m so sorry) with a deeper dive into the on-field issues Nashville have had on the road to provide solutions instead of just pointing out problems. Stay tuned.

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