With RSL facing Nashville SC, we’d all be forgiven for not knowing that much about this newly Western Conference team. It is with some pleasure, then, that I can share these responses from Ben Wright, who writes for Broadway Sports Media in Nashville.
1 - Nashville is in the middle of an eight-game road trip. How’s the team coping with the difficulties of constant travel?
Well, they started off well. Their 1-0 win in Seattle was a fantastic start to the year, and they followed it up with a solid 1-1 draw in Minnesota that probably should have been more (PRO has since admitted that Nashville should have had a penalty kick and a Minnesota red card that would have put them up 2-0). Then came last week’s 2-0 loss in Dallas, in which the Coyotes were thoroughly outplayed. It remains to be seen if that was down to travel or just an off night, but it seems like the road trip will only get more difficult as it goes on. Flying in a day or two before and then flying out immediately following the game takes a toll on players, and they still have five more matches like that before they finally return home.
2 - Can we expect more staunch defensive performances from Nashville? Is 2022 the year of adding more layers of attack?
Yes to both. The foundation of the team will always going to be defense, and I expect they’ll lean into that heavily for the remainder of the road trip. But a primary goal of the team is to turn some of their 18 (eighteen!!) draws last year into wins, and a big part of that is finishing chances.
Ake Loba was brought in last summer to help with that, but he’s played just 516 minutes in the 26 games he’s been available. He’s now the third or fourth option off the bench, which is a growing concern around the team. That might all change once Nashville gets home, as Gary Smith has shown to be very conservative on the road, but at some point Nashville will need more from their club-record signing. Nashville need to add more layers to their attack besides just Hany Mukhtar, and if Loba’s not a big part of that, it’s a problem.
3 - What’s the one thing that should give Real Salt Lake supporters hope for this match?
Nashville have scored just twice in three games, and their five total shots was just the third time they’ve taken five or fewer shots under Gary Smith, going all the way back to 2018 in the USL Championship. If Salt Lake can force them into a similar performance on Saturday, their chances are great. The bad news is that they’ve tended to bounce back quickly from performances like that.
If Salt Lake can keep Hany Mukhtar and CJ Sapong as isolated as they were against Dallas, Nashville’s attack is essentially nullified.