Riding a six-match unbeaten run, Nashville SC returns to Nissan Stadium for one final time during the month of July to face rival FC Cincinnati on Saturday night.
The Boys in Gold are coming off a 5-1 win last Saturday at home against Chicago Fire FC and a hard-earned scoreless draw on the road at Columbus Crew on Wednesday night. Joe Willis earned his sixth clean sheet against Columbus, tied for the most in Major League Soccer.
Saturday’s match will conclude a stretch of six home matches in the last month dating back to June 23. Nashville has gone unbeaten during the homestand and won three of those five matches. Dating back to last season’s run in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, Nashville SC has not lost in 11 straight home matches.
Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday’s rivalry clash:
Adapt and Excel - With players on the injury report and away on international duty, several players have stepped up to buoy the squad. Other regular starters have also taken on new roles when needed.
Captain Dax McCarty played a hybrid center back/midfielder role on Wednesday night against Columbus, dropping back to bolster the backline while also providing stability and distribution in the midfield. He flabbergasted the Columbus attack, particularly attacking midfielder Lucas Zelarayán, who was held without a shot on target for the first time in nearly a month.
McCarty says he credits Head Coach Gary Smith for how well he was able to adapt to his temporary role.
“Gary’s one of the best, honestly,” McCarty said. “He simplifies things, he makes things really easy for players to understand what he wants out of the gameplan tactically, and he puts trust in his players. I think that’s one of the best qualities in a coach: a coach who puts trust and faith in players to go execute a gameplan. Gary knows me very well by now. He knows my strengths; he knows my qualities; he knows my weaknesses. Obviously we are a little thin in the back, and he wanted to rely on my experience to kind of step into that position and try to shepherd the backline along and continue to try to keep shutouts like we have been doing in the past.”
Loba Lurking – Nashville SC’s newest Designated Player and striker Aké Loba made his club debut against Columbus, stepping onto the pitch for the final nine minutes of the second half plus seven minutes of stoppage time.
McCarty says that Loba’s brief debut is only a small glimpse of what the Ivorian forward is capable of.
“The game tonight was a very difficult one for an attacking player to come into,” McCarty said. “We didn’t have a lot of possession. We didn’t have a lot of field superiority. But it was difficult and a struggle for us to hold possession of the ball in their half of the field, which is I think where Aké is really going to shine. You saw a few moments where he got on the ball in the corner of his technique, his technical quality, his ability to try to beat a few players and hold the ball and try to create something out of nothing.”
Re-Sparking the Offense – A few days after dismantling Chicago with five goals, the Nashville offense couldn’t find a way to put one past a stout Columbus defense. The Boys in Gold took eight shots on the night, including Hany Mukhtar’s bending free kick that nearly fooled goalkeeper Eloy Room in the opening minutes of the match.
Smith says he’s more than happy with the performance of Mukhtar and fellow attacker CJ Sapong, and knows they have more to give on Saturday.
“Hany and CJ have certainly done their bit for the team [Wednesday], and things started to get a little bit tougher for us as people got tired,” Smith said. “But look: when you come away from home, we’re not going to have long stages of the game and multiple opportunities at goal. We’ve got to learn to be a little more clinical when those moments come along, but we’ve also got to show the sort of discipline and desire that we showed to earn points and keep ticking over.”