Nashville SC, no. 2 in MLS Eastern Conference, turned St. Louis CITY SC into an average team last weekend. Yet, somehow, CITY remains atop MLS West.
St. Louis CITY SC lost the element of surprise in their attack while losing 3-1 to Nashville SC last weekend. St. Louis still barely edges Seattle Sounders SC for first place atop the MLS Western Conference.
Nashville attacking midfielder Hany Mukhtar led the thrashing, scoring all three goals on five shots, including a 70th-minute penalty. Only one of the scores, in the 75th minute, was assisted.
That came in a crowd of CITY players attempting to defend and clear around the right side of the box. Nashville midfielder Dax McCarty somehow executed a short pass that was more of a layup or even a magician’s illusion.
What counted as a pass was when he nudged the ball about three feet into place, and then merely stood there, still as a statue. Mukhtar ran to the ball and skimmed it into the bottom-left corner of the goal while McCarty turned to his bench and thrust his arms triumphantly into the air.
Just as they practiced it?
CITY wasn’t completely helpless during the visit. Striker Niko Gioacchini scored in the 41st minute. But by scouting reports, the relentless pressure that Nashville exacted in their team’s attack reduced St. Louis CITY performance to an average performance overall.
And Nashville will neither lose nor draw to an average team this season.
CITY defender Kyle Hiebert especially suffered during the contest. After fouling him twice, he was matched against winger Jacob Shaffelburg and drew a second yellow card – yellow-red – in the 67th minute.
Also, the second foul was in the penalty area. That allowed Mukhtar to score their second goal in the 70th minute. And his greatest strengths on the pitch are set pieces and penalty shots.
Regardless of problems in the St. Louis performance against Nashville, CITY head coach Bradley Carnell said the team knew what to expect. But he noted moments define games and many moments in this match hurt St. Louis.
Understanding the opponent, Carnell said CITY made adjustments and called in substitutions. While not winning, St. Louis outshot the home team 13-10 and executed more crosses 17-12.
St. Louis also nearly equaled Nashville in winning tackles and ended the match very close to 50% possession.
CITY goalkeeper Roman Burki acknowledged that one key failing was in facing Mukhtar. The team had studied him in depth before traveling to Nashville and knew they’d have to neutralize him. And they didn’t.
In fact, Mukhtar played one of the greatest matches of his career. And that will never average out well when the opponents have an average game.