DC United 0-0 Nashville: 3 takeaways for the men in yellow

Nashville drew their fourth MLS match in a row thanks to a disappointing performance against D.C. United on Saturday. Nashville are still second in the Eastern Conference, but 16 points back from New England. And with a feeling of gratitude around scraping the point, what went wrong up North?

1. Stick to the defensive corps

Jack Maher slid into a back three with Walker Zimmerman and Dave Romney which unnerved the two latter defenders. And without key figures like Alistair Johnston on the left, the wide creativity that typically comes from a wingback setup was lost.

Rotating defenders was necessary for the game, but by adding a new cog in the defense other pieces of Nashville’s consistency fell sideways.

For example, Dax McCarty was forced to touch the ball more — 7 times more than his average this season — but had a worse pass completion rate than his average. Part of this falls on trust. He was given the ball deeper in his own half on the left side of the midfield, but tried to force the ball forward rather than utilize his centerbacks.

2. Mukhtar needs a line to himself

So far this season Hany Mukhtar has played as a second striker in a front two, as a wide player in a front three, or as the lone no. 10. Gary Smith decided nearly 30 matches into the season to play Mukhtar in a false nine pairing just as he is hitting his potentially MVP-level form.

Mukhtar is ninth in the league for progressive passes, highlighting his strong ability to keep an attack alive, and showing how much his team relies on his creative instinct.

Against D.C. United, Mukhtar completed zero dribbles. Every opportunity saw him come face-to-face with one of his own teammates. Mukhtar thrives when he has his own line to operate and when he has diagonal space to break into. On Saturday, both the wingbacks took away the diagonal areas, and Luke Haakenson’s mirrored position on the right side meant Mukhtar could not dribble through the middle.

3. Finish your chances

Nashville are not a high-volume team; that fact is easily recognized. But only two attempts on target against D.C. and going 1/14 on crosses indicate how wasteful Nashville were.

Nashville failed to register a big chance, even while having virtually 50% of the ball and three shots inside the 18-yard box.

The post-season is coming, and if Nashville continues to lack desire in the final third they will get punished much more easily than they would in a league match.

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