Orlando City kicks off another busy week with a midweek clash tomorrow against Nashville SC. With a trip to Nashville coming up, I spoke to former USL Lion and current Nashville SC television analyst Jamie Watson. He provided some excellent insight and helped get us caught up on Nashville.
So far, Nashville has done very well to build on what it started in 2020, and is very comfortably in the playoff places. What has been the most important factor in the team’s success for its first year and a half of MLS play?
Jamie Watson: I think there are a couple of factors that have played into the constant rise month over month for Nashville SC since their inception into Major League Soccer. First, the GM, scouting department and the head coach were very thoughtful with their inter-league acquisitions. They got the midfield pairing of Dax McCarty and Anibal Godoy for a combined $650,000 GAM (and $50,000 in TAM). Exceptional price to pay for your starting two central midfielders. They’ve formed a wonderful partnership together. Walker Zimmerman was someone I thought LAFC would never part ways with. Until they did. Mike Jacobs got a deal done for just over $1 million in allocation money and he was the 2020 MLS Defender of the Year. Joe Willis led the league in shutouts last year, currently tied for the league lead today — Expansion Draft pick. Alistair Johnston was a draft pick. CJ Sapong was a free agent. Randall Leal was a relatively small fee for his output and future. You go down the list and you see how astutely the team was put together. It’s brilliant management.
Next reason is the continuity of the group. Gary Smith has found a reliable and consistent starting group that is filled with very good and hardworking professionals. This preseason wasn’t about acclimating players to a system, it was more about building off of what they built as a group in 2020. That’s a big reason they’re off to a great start, in my opinion. They play an entertaining brand of soccer that has led to more goals, while also being one shutout away from matching their total from last season in fewer games.
Nashville has already eclipsed the number of goals it scored in its maiden season, and has done so in eight fewer games (if my math is correct). What has been the difference on the offensive end this year?
JW: I think there’s been a step forward in the finishing production and goal creation from Hany Mukhtar this year. The partnership he has with CJ Sapong and Randall Leal makes this nearly unstoppable at times. Sapong had a brace on Sunday evening and Mukhtar had a goal and an assist. They’ve been the real story lately for the outpouring of goals over this season
What are your expectations for Nashville this year? What would you consider a successful season to be for the team?
JW: I think the playoffs are one big barometer of success in MLS. Nashville is still only in their second season in MLS. The accomplishment of making the playoffs last year and winning a game made them the first expansion team to do so since 1998! Miami got in the playoffs as well, but they got one of the expanded spots and lost to Nashville 3-0. Nashville would have qualified by the standards set at the beginning of the year. Most teams don’t expect playoffs until at least year 3. So if they make the playoffs, you can count this year as a success. A home playoff game would be lovely. But as they’ve shown last year, beating Miami (home) and and TFC (away) before ultimately falling in extra time to the eventual champions, once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen.
Are there any injuries, suspensions or call-ups that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
JW: Heading into the last match, every player was available for selection. I’m not aware of any changes to that as of Monday morning. As far as lineup, we don’t find out ahead of time so I have no idea what Gary Smith has planned. Score prediction wise, I think it’ll be a very entertaining game. Last year’s season finale had a thrilling finish and ended 3-2 in favor of Nashville. There were some stunning goals that night. Let’s hope for a great game and we’ll all anxiously wait from now until kickoff to see who will get the better of the other!
Big thanks to Jamie for all of the insight into Nashville. Vamos Orlando!