We also answered some questions for Club and Country! You can read our Union viewpoint here.
1.) The last time that Nashville and Philly met, Nashville fell by missing all four of their kicks from the mark in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Is there any sort of resentment or feeling that Nashville needs to set straight the wrongs of the past?
Nashville SC fans definitely still feel the pain of the shootout loss - especially since there was a sentiment that if the game had been played at home (which it would have, had Nashville won on Decision Day), it wouldn’t have even come to penalty kicks. I think the resentment is directed less toward Philly and more toward what they represent as the team that knocked NSC out of the playoffs. If anything, there’s a more-respectful vibe among fans and players toward the Union, since it’s a likable (and of course successful) club.
2.) Nashville was a pretty consistently solid team during their time (however abbreviated) in the Eastern Conference. They’re currently sitting just below the playoff line in the West. Is the team struggling a little, is the competition tougher, or is this just a momentary setback that SC will recover from?
It’s largely down to the scheduling quirk of opening GEODIS Park this weekend: Nashville has played eight straight on the road to start the year, and in a league that’s one of the toughest in the world to win away from home, they’ve yet to benefit from being on the other side of that big home-road split. The front office and technical staff have been pretty open that their target point total for the opening road swing was eight points, so coming home with 11 - even though they feel like they left a couple on the table - is not worrisome unless and until the home results don’t live up to last year’s undefeated mark at Nissan Stadium.
3.) Like Philly, Nashville is struggling to produce goals and relies on their defense to get them by. Is Nashville looking for a goalscorer to emerge, or is this last year’s team that was expected to tie as often as possible?
The biggest factor has been that the connections developed between the front three toward the end of last year just aren’t polished yet. Hany Mukhtar was runner-up for league MVP last year, but has just two goals (both against San Jose) and two assists so far. CJ Sapong and Randall Leal haven’t quite found the end of a pass here, or a return ball to Mukhtar there. The margins are slim, but Nashville’s attack has been just on the other side of them at times. On the bright side, being close but not quite there could mean it clicks at some point and things really get humming. The downside is that there’s no guarantee that they do click.
4.) What are your lineup and score predictions? Are there any notable absences for Nashville?
NSC has been pretty consistent formationally (a 3-4-3/3-5-2 hybrid) and lineup-wise this season. Joe Willis in net, Dave Romney, Walker Zimmerman, Jack Maher L-to-R in the back, and Mukhtar, Sapong, and Leal in a front three that can take a variety of shapes. The midfield and wingbacks have seen some rotation, but L-to-R Dan Lovitz, Aníbal Godoy, Dax McCarty (who missed last week with the birth of his second child), and either Eric Miller or Alex Muyl at RWB. It’s a mostly healthy group, with a couple depth guys dealing with long-term injuries, but backup striker Teal Bunbury a notable absence for the past few weeks.
I do think Nashville’s going to come out trying to entertain and score in the first home game of the year (which could even mean a shift back to a 4-2-3-1, in which case Maher comes out of the starting lineup while Miller is at RB and Muyl on one wing), and it should be an open game. That also means Philly will get chances. 3-2 in favor of Nashville.