Nashville SC: Strong foundations to build on

MLS, Daniel Lovitz (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
MLS, Daniel Lovitz (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) /

Nashville SC may not have earned a point in MLS yet, but the expansion side have looked stable defensively. It is the ideal foundation to build upon.

On the surface, it does not look like the most successful start to Nashville SC’s Major League Soccer career. Two games, two defeats, just one goal and no clean sheets. The bare statistics are not particularly positive and paint a rather bleak picture of what is to come.

But dig a little deeper and their struggles are not as extensive as the basic results make it seem. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to be positive about the team that Nashville will be able to put out, especially defensively.

Through two games, Nashville have conceded three goals. That does not sound ideal, admittedly, but their defensive performance has been much more encouraging than that. In fact, they actually lead MLS in expected goals conceded with 0.45. Orlando City are the only other team to have an expected goals conceded less than one.

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Nashville have allowed only 4.5 shots per game. Only four other teams have allowed fewer than 10 shots per game, a clear illustration of the disparity in the MLS new boys’ defensive performance to their rivals. In the Week 2 defeat to the Portland Timbers, they allowed only two shots and Portland did not have a single shot in the second half, the first time they failed to have a shot in the second half at home in almost four years.

The statistics only tell part of the story. Nashville also pass the eye test. In the opening-weekend defeat to Atlanta United, one of the best teams in MLS, Gary Smith’s team looked well-organised, disciplined, diligent and tactically astute. They are industrious in midfield, have a star defender in Walker Zimmerman, acquired from Los Angeles FC, are experienced, and are more than comfortable without the ball, which is not always the case for teams in MLS.

The results are frustrating, undoubtedly. But the underlying performances are encouraging, and a strong defensive structure is an ideal foundation on which the team can build. As n midfielder Dax McCarty stated earlier this season, Nashville SC are not conceding chances but are angry at their failure to pick up points:

"“[It’s] incredibly frustrating, obviously, to come away with nothing. We’re not giving teams many chances and they’re punishing us in the worst possible way by conceding world-class goals left and right. We’re sitting here after two games on zero points feeling like we deserved a lot more.”"

Typically in MLS, teams do not have the greatest defensive organisation without the ball. This is the greatest disparity in quality between MLS and many other leagues around the world. But the early signs in Nashville suggest that they will be well-drilled and difficult to break down. There is no better starting point to build a team than a solid defence. Throw in the individual inspiration of Hany Mukhtar and Randall Leal in attacking areas, both of which have looked bright in the first two outings, and you have the makings of an intriguing team.

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Nashville SC will be desperate for their first points and victory of the season, make no mistake. But the start of their inaugural MLS season has not been as disastrous as the results make it seem. In fact, there are many positives to draw, and their excellent defensive record is chief among them.