Lessons from the roller coaster’s first season paved the way for Nashville’s success this year.
Nashville SC has had just three losses this season, the fewest in Major League Soccer. The team is currently ranked second in the Eastern Conference standings, below leader New England, with seven games to go in the regular season.
Nashville is riding a 16-game undefeated streak at home, the longest current streak in MLS.
The resilience the team showed last year – making the playoffs after the disappointment of sitting out of MLS’ back tournament due to coronavirus cases – has continued this season.
“What we’ve seen this year is really sort of moving on from last year’s confidence, if you like. It’s a rollover from last year’s achievements,” said coach Gary Smith. “Development at the group, Relationships within the group have increased. And I guess sometimes we all forget that we’re never much further than an 18-month-old franchise.
Nashville is playing a 2-2 draw at home against Orlando City on Wednesday night. Orlando’s Tah Anunga spoiled Nashville’s homecoming after a four-game road trip with a tying goal in stoppage time.
“It wasn’t meant to be, and I think it again shows you how tough this league is, how competitive it is and how good the sides are,” Smith said.
Hani Mukhtar leads Nashville with 13 goals, and is part of a three-pronged attack with CJ Sapong with 10 goals and Randall Leal. Mukhtar has nine assistants, while Lil has seven.
Mukhtar has been mentioned as a potential MVP candidate. New England’s Carles Gill, who has 16 assists this season, is considered the leading run. Before Gill was injured, he was on pace for the league’s single-season assist record.
Defensively, Nashville has only allowed 26 goals this season, the lowest in the conference.
Nashville’s inaugural season in 2020 was halted after just two matches due to the pandemic. The team was then not able to participate in the MLS Is Back tournament in a bubble in Florida due to the outbreak of COVID-19 cases on the team.
But Nashville persevered, earning a spot in the play-in round after finishing seventh in the standings. From there they shocked Toronto and eventually lost to MLS Cup champions Columbus in the conference semifinals.
Smith, who took over in Nashville before the team made the jump from USL to MLS, credits the character to a team that assembled well before the 2020 season began.
“You know, we were able to navigate those situations completely based on the strength of character we had in our group. Now of course there’s a lot more that goes into winning games and getting ourselves post season ,” Smith said. “But I think those kinds of characteristics are important on any team – individuals who can be trusted, have a good sense of humor, strong character and, when they are having tough times, They roll up the sleeves and work for each other. A little selfish.”
The team visits NYCFC for a match on Sunday, the first of seven games remaining in the season. Nashville is six points ahead of third-placed DC United in the standings, and seven points ahead of NYCFC as the teams struggle for an advantage in home turf. The revolution of the first place has already taken a place.
Whatever happens next this season, Year 3 will be big for Nashville with the opening of the team’s new stadium.
But for Smith, first things first.
“I’d love to think that when we get to the end of this campaign, and we’re in the post season, whatever comes, I can take a little moment to reflect on the season, some great results, some of the growth of the group. ,” said Smith. “And when all is said and done, of course, this year is important in what we all want to try and achieve. But as long as we are taking positive steps, and we are improving, and the foundation upon which But we are building, it is strong, then we are moving in the right direction.” ___
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