Two games into their inaugural MLS season and so far to quote Dennis Green, Nashville SC is who we thought they were. When I wrote that the Nashville SC roster was disappointing to start preseason it was before they signed Walker Zimmerman. Yes, clearly he made them better and has been arguably their best player through the first two matches. Being solid defensively was never the problem with the roster build. The question was who is going to score goals. Ironically, through the two matches Zimmerman has been the only one. It’s clearly too early to panic, but it remains disappointing the front office is waiting to address what was a clear need. The entire attacking group just isn’t sufficiently clever enough to create good scoring chances. They are getting lots of shots (14 to 3 versus Portland), but few that have tested the keeper. The two closest chances last night fell to Godoy and Zimmerman. That’s the main point. Despite the shots or xG, which attacking player currently on the roster looks like they could score 10 goals this year? There’s not one.
Hany Mukhtar is a Creator
So far I’ve been impressed with two parts of Mukhtar’s game. One is he has been defensively responsible. Numerous times he has been back in the defensive third providing the team an outlet to relieve pressure. This is not something all attacking players do. Just another reason while Nashville is going to be really good defensively this year. His touch in tight spaces also is excellent. Even with two defenders around him, Mukhtar is very comfortable taking tiny touches to create just a bit more space enabling him to keep possession before finding a teammate. That said, he’s not going to score a lot of goals. Multiple times last night he was in front of goal with a cross coming in the air. He’s never going to score a header like that. He’s too short and also easy to push off balance given his size. Sure, Landon Donovan scored with his head a couple of times in his career so never isn’t correct, but you get the point. Double digit goals aren’t coming from Hany. His corners need to get better as well if he’s going to continue to be the main taker. Out of half a dozen last night, only once was it really put into a dangerous spot.
Badji, Danladi and Rios Not the Answer
Again, it’s only been two matches, but Badji has been pretty invisible. The same could be said of Chicharito in LA, so it’s not a complete indictment on any individual player. He hasn’t gotten service from anyone so how can he score goals? That said, I expect Rios to get the start versus Toronto. Just by making different type runs, he might connect better with Mukhtar and the wing players. That said, Rios has yet to score a single goal at any level higher than USL. While not impossible, it is hard to see him scoring 10 or more goals. He will likely suffer from service as Badji has the first two matches. Sadly, Danladi played about ten minutes before going out injured. That is the story of his MLS career. It wouldn’t shock me if Danladi scores less than 3 goals the rest of his MLS career.
Accam and Leal are Fine, Just Not Great
Through the first two matches, both Accam and Leal have flashed their speed on the wings and gotten in a good cross or two. However, on the few chances they’ve had to shoot, neither has looked like a player Nashville can count on for lots of goals. Accam is the only player on the roster that has a track record of scoring in MLS. However his best days were with the Chicago Fire which was three years ago. He might never regain that form. The Atlanta and Portland games should have made one thing clear. You don’t need a lot of shots, you need talented players that finish with a moment of brilliance. Something Diego Valeri showed last night and has shown throughout his MLS career (he was 2017 MLS MVP). Nashville SC doesn’t have a player like that on their roster. It was clear before the season started and it’s even more evident after two matches. Expect more games and results like this the longer the front office waits to address this glaring need. Hopefully, it is soon. Waiting until the summer will make even being near the playoffs at the end of the season highly unlikely.
Nashville SC taking the Minnesota United Approach
Being an expansion team Nashville SC has been compared often to FC Cincinnati and Atlanta United. Neither is a great comparison. To me it seems the closest analogy for Nashville is Minnesota United. They also took the approach of not filling the DP slots early in their history. It showed and the team struggled badly the first season. The major difference being what money Nashville has spent has been focused on defense something Minnesota neglected to do. Expect Nashville SC scoring woes to continue until they spend on attacking players. This tweet from Matt Doyle is sadly almost worth considering. The best option Nashville SC has at striker right now might be a MLS best 11 center back.
Minnesota has gotten better every year they’ve been in MLS and quietly have become a good model for success when compared to Orlando and Cincinnati (I’m throwing Atlanta and LAFC in a separate “big spending clubs” category). Things will very likely get better after the club follows through on a big summer singing. Then filling another DP spot at some point should make the Nashville SC a legit playoff team. But you don’t have to be part of Team Shill. It’s fine for fans to be disappointed and ask why the club isn’t spending in the mid range of MLS like promised? Until they do Nashville SC is just participating in MLS. This isn’t a roster that can compete for the playoffs.