Analysis: Nashville SC To Face Challenges In Final Stretch Of MLS Season

Pictured: Nashville SC being led out of the Nissan Stadium tunnel by team captain Dax McCarty and goalkeeper Joe Willis. Photo: Courtesy of Nashville SC/MLS

The final international break of the MLS season has come to an end and players will be back for their clubs for the final stretch of the regular season. Nashville SC’s final six games will be a true test for the second year franchise as they play four of these final games on the road against teams set for the playoffs or fighting for a spot.

Nashville SC currently sits in second place in the Eastern Conference standings with 47 points and a record of 11W-3L-14D. The Boys in Gold have the the fewest losses in all of MLS, a testament to the team’s stellar defense from USMNT captain Walker Zimmerman and goalkeeper Joe Willis, who leads the lead in clean sheets with 12. NSC also has the second best goal differential in the league with 20.

But the star of the team this season has been Hany Mukhtar who is making his case for the MVP with 13 goals and eight assists. Mukhtar gave the club its first ever hat trick against Chicago in July, which was also the fastest hat trick in MLS history. Nashville SC has put themselves in a great spot to make a run in the MLS Playoffs in November, but they still have six games to go against some highly competitive and talented teams.

Nashville will head to the nation’s Capital on Saturday, Oct. 16 as they face D.C. United. The club beat D.C. 5-2 in it’s last matchup in August, but this time around the stakes are much higher for the United as they sit in fifth place in the standings with 40 points. NYCFC and CF Montreal, who are in sixth and seventh place, respectively, also have 40 points. D.C. will definitely want a few wins to give them some breathing room between them and the rest of the pack to secure a playoff spot. D.C. also has one of the MVP frontrunners Ola Kamara who leads in goals (17) and minutes per goal(79).

Hany Mukhtar. Photo: Courtesy of Nashville SC?MLS

The Boys in Gold will come back to Nissan Stadium on Oct. 20 to play defending MLS Champion Columbus Crew, who are currently out of the playoff picture in 10th place. The Crew have 34 points, six points behind the Montreal who holds the last playoff spot. Nashville drew against Columbus in July 0-0.

After the game in Music City, Nashville SC will head to Philadelphia to face on the third place Philadelphia Union who have 45 points, just two points shy of Nashville. New England is sitting pretty in first with 65 points, so the odds of Philly or Nashville taking first is unlikely. However, a fight for second will be extremely contentious as both teams will want the better seed in the playoffs.

The Unions goalkeeper Andre Blake has 10 clean sheets this season along with 3.2 saves per match. He will be attempting to play his best against Nashville’s versatile offense when they meet in Philadelphia on Oct. 23.

The club then heads back to Ohio to play last place FC Cincinnati. Cincy has only 20 points this season, the least of any team in the league. Nashville drew 2-2 against them in the season opener and then won 3-0 in July. Hopefully Nashville can take advantage of Cincinnati’s weak team to pick up three points.

NSC will fly to Orlando for the last away match of the regular season to face Orlando City on Halloween evening. Orlando is also trying to work its way up the playoff standings, sitting in fourth behind Philadelphia with 42 points. When Orlando came to Nashville in late September, the match ended in a 2-2 draw after Brian Anunga scored the equalizer in the 90th minute, sucking the air out of Nissan Stadium.  A win in Orlando can be a huge momentum booster going into November for Nashville.

Finally, NSC will play its final game of the regular season at home against the New York Red Bulls on Nov. 7. The Red Bulls are sitting in ninth place with 37 points, three point out of the final playoff spot. The Red Bulls are a club who has consistently put a solid team on the pitch year in and year out. New York beat Nashville 2-0 at Red Bull Arena in June, handing NSC its first loss of the season. By this point in the season, the game may not matter for Nashville if they can pick up wins in the previous matches, but it most likely will matter for the Red Bulls as they attempt to solidify a playoff spot.

Steven Boero