Its time for the rubber to meet the road for Orlando City. The Lions made the playoffs for the second consecutive year, but won’t be satisfied if they go out in the first round. In their way is Nashville SC, with OCSC traveling to Tennessee early next week to take on a team it has drawn every time the two have played so far this year.
Ahead of this one I spoke to Ben Wright, of Broadway Sports. As usual, Ben provided some excellent insight into Nashville. I also answered some of my fellow Ben’s questions, which you can find over at their place.
What style of play do you expect to see from Nashville given that the stakes are higher as a playoff game? Will it be more cautious or do you not expect much difference from the way they’ve played all year?
Ben Wright: I don’t expect anything to change, honestly. Nashville already have a pretty established identity, and there’s no reason to move away from it. They’ve never lost a game by more than two goals (that goes all the way back through their time in USL), and they haven’t lost by more than a goal in 2021. They’re always in games, and the back three they’ve used for most of the season has brought out the best from their attacking players.
Aside from the usual suspects of Hany Mukhtar, Randall Leal, and CJ Sapong, who needs to have a big game for Nashville next Tuesday?
BW: Walker Zimmerman is obviously a big one. He’s dominant on set pieces and cleans up so much at the back, like he’s done for the USMNT recently. Anibal Godoy is probably the other key player. He does a really important job to move the ball between attack and defense, and he shields the ball arguably better than anyone in MLS. He’s been a huge part of Nashville’s buildup, and when he’s in form Nashville’s just a better team.
If you were trying to attack this Nashville team, how would you do it? Is there a specific area where you think Orlando can have success?
BW: The biggest thing to try and do is keep Hany Mukhtar quiet. Easier said than done, for sure, and teams have tried and failed at that all season. But so much of the attack relies on him — he’s scored or assisted on 51% of Nashville’s goals all year. If Orlando is able to keep him from impacting the match, Nashville will be much less threatening.
Are there any injuries, suspensions, or call-ups that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
BW: No call-ups or suspensions. Daniel Rios has been out with a foot injury and was in a boot for their Decision Day match, and I expect him to miss this one as well.
As far as the lineup, it’ll be their best XI:
Joe Willis; David Romney, Walker Zimmerman, Jack Maher; Daniel Lovitz, Anibal Godoy, Dax McCarty, Alistair Johnston; Randall Leal; Hany Mukhtar, CJ Sapong.
I think it will be really tight, and to me Orlando is one of the toughest teams for Nashville match-up wise. But Nashville haven’t lost at home all year, and I don’t see that changing now. I’m picking them to win 2-1.
Thank you to Ben for the excellent information on Nashville. Vamos Orlando!