Real Salt Lake host MSL newcomers Nashville SC. It will be the first ever time these two teams have faced one another, so we spoke to Ben Wright of Broadway Media Sports to gain some Nashville insight.
Nashville had a good first season in the league – what changes did they make to improve over the offseason?
Nashville honestly didn’t have to make too many changes. That had one of the highest retention rates in the league over the offseason, and the core of the team is in tact. The starting XI is virtually unchanged from last year. They did add a few key attacking pieces, like CJ Sapong and Rodrigo Pineiro, as well as some fringe defenders who could contribute over the summer.
The biggest change is larger roles for Jhonder Cadiz and Handwalla Bwana. Both players joined late in 2020 and weren’t fully integrated into the squad. They’ve already contributed more and pushed for starting minutes. But overall, there wasn’t a ton of change needed from last season, which is a huge win for an expansion team.
Nashville are only one of three teams without a loss so far, what has worked well for them and what can they improve based on the four games we’ve seen so far?
Even though they conceded four goals in their first two matches against Cincinnati and Montreal, the defense was actually pretty solid. They were a bit unlucky to concede when they didn’t give away too many high danger chances. The main story of the early season has been the attack, which is generating chances towards the top of the MLS table. They had a bit of a snoozer against Miami, but put it all together against New England, keeping a clean sheet and scoring twice.
I said all offseason that if they could maintain their defensive level and marginally improve going forward, they’ll be an excellent team. It looks like they’ve done that. Maybe more.
Who are Nashville’s three most exciting players and what do they bring to the team?
Randall Leal has been far and away Nashville’s best player. He primarily plays inverted on the left, but can play anywhere across the front four. He’s constantly involved on both sides of the ball and is consistently Nashville’s most dangerous player in the final third.
Dan Lovitz has been arguably the best left back in MLS this season. He’s second in MLS in chances created, and is always a threat down the left side. His set piece delivery could improve a bit, but overall it’s hard to complain about his performance through four matches.
And then Hany Mukhtar is always involved in the attack and gets in excellent positions. Nashville needs more from him with the final ball, though. He’s a huge piece of the team in the 10 role, and Nashville really need him to excel to hit their potential. I think he’s more than good enough to be their long term option, but at some point he has to show it on an every week basis.