Nashville SC Will Get a Result Versus Atlanta United in MLS Opener
The first MLS match in Nashville SC history is this Saturday, February 29, 2020 versus Atlanta United. But of course, you already knew that. With Ian Ayre confirming ticket sales over 50,000 it will be the most remembered match of season no matter the result. The Five Stripes will likely bring at least five times the amount of away fans as any other game this season which will only add to the atmosphere. Perhaps the excitement level has me high, but I’m predicting a 1-1 tie. This might come as a shock to those that know me or have read my previous thoughts on the disappointing roster, but there are few reasons for this prediction.
Atlanta United is in Transition
This isn’t your Tata Martino MLS Cup winning Atlanta United anymore. Frank de Boer was hired as Head Coach back on December 23, 2018. Not surprisingly, in his first full off season with the club he has remade the team quite a bit. Gone are Darlington Nagbe, Tito Villalba, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Julian Gressel and Michael Parkhurst. Matheus Rossetto, a 23 year old Brazilian, was brought in as a TAM player to help replace some of the midfield losses. Due to issues with his P1-Visa, he will not be able to play versus Nashville. Starting center back Miles Robinson is also out for the match recovering from injury. There probably isn’t a better time to play the Five Stripes than right now. They will likely be much stronger later in the season. Atlanta has already played two matches in the CONCACAF Champions League this year. They played four in the back in the first match, but used 3-4-3 formation last night which I suspect will be the case Saturday.
Atlanta Attack Still Arguably Best in MLS
It’s a scary attack that features Pity Martinez, Ezequiel Barco and arguably the best forward in MLS in Josef Martínez. The trio cutely named PB and J. Josef Martinez is a player who has averaged just under a goal per game over the past three seasons. Last night Honduran side, CD Motagua, learned just how dangerous they can be. Josef got his usual goal and an assist and Pity bagged a brace as well in the 3-0 win. Quite concerning for the rest of MLS were post game quotes from Pity saying, “I think this is the version of Pity that you want to see. A Pity who is feeling confident, comfortable.” The former River Plate player had a poor first season in MLS. It’s not uncommon for a player to take a year to adjust to a new league. Atlanta paid about $14 million for 26 year old Argentine. I agree with what Taylor Twellman tweeted last night. No, it would not be a shock if Pity were MLS MVP this year.
Nashville SC Defense Good Enough to Shut Down PB & J
We all knew Gary Smith was going to build a defensive team and that’s exactly what has happened. The starting backline should be Daniel Lovitz, Dave Romney, Walker Zimmerman and Brayan Beckeles (or Eric Miller). Just as important are Dax McCarty and Anibal Godoy playing the defensive midfield spots just in front of the back four. This group is going to be hard to break down. If things go according to plan Atlanta should get frustrated controlling possession, but getting little from it. While Nashville has said they want to play a high press, I doubt we’ll see that this match. I fully expect them to sit back in a 4-2-3-1. This will invite Atlanta’s wingbacks to push forward leaving them open to the best asset Nashville SC has in attack. Speed can kill and if Dax can find Mukhtar in some space, he’ll have Leal and someone else flying down the field opening up space and leaving Atlanta vulnerable.
I thought for sure it would it Accam, but apparently he is still recovering from and injury so it would be any of Badji, Danladi or Winn. While few have been able to see the team in pre season, the results have been decent for a complete new group of players. It’s encouraging that the team appears to be gelling quickly.
First Match Adrenaline
I think most people under estimate how big a factor this will be. Sure they are all professional players that shouldn’t need motivation, but that’s just not how human beings work. Nashville is going to be flying this match. Even a historically bad FC Cincinnati won their first MLS home match 3-0 over Portland. The two biggest weaknesses in the Nashville SC roster are goal scoring and depth. Unfortunately depth is already showing with Accam likely out, but for one game he might not be missed.
So I’m predicting a 1-1 draw. Surely one Martinez will score for Atlanta with Hany Muktar to Randall Leal getting one for Nashville. They’ve already hooked up in pre season so why not. I do think the two weaknesses mentioned (scoring and depth) are going to be a problem this year. That coupled with playing in the more difficult Western Conference will make it highly unlikely for Nashville to make the playoffs. That said, there is always hope. I’m trying to be an optimist. Just look at where Sheffield United sit in the Premier League standings to see that soccer is hard to predict. What is guaranteed is the first true MLS match between Southern teams is going to be one hell of a time.