Assessing Nashville SC's opponents in the 'MLS is Back' tournament

By Ben Sundock
Jun. 22, 2020

Nashville SC will be back playing matches before you know it! The team is now able to train as a group and manager Gary Smith will be looking to get his team back up to speed as soon as possible.

With a lot to play for in the 'MLS is Back' tournament group stage, NSC knows who they will face after being relocated to the Eastern Conference and drawn into the only group with six teams.

Between July 8 and July 25, Nashville will face tournament hosts Orlando City, Philadelphia Union, and the Chicago Fire. How do the newcomers to MLS stack up against these three sides?

Let's take a closer look.

Orlando City SC

The host club for this tournament is a newer club in the league. This is Orlando's sixth season in Major League Soccer and despite having European legend Kaka and Portuguese stand out Nani on the roster for a couple of seasons, the Lions have not gotten off to a hot start.

In their first season, the club finished 14th and has not finished higher since. In fact, over the last two seasons, they have finished second to last and third to last based on points during the regular season.

So, much like Cincinnati FC, Orlando is trying to get their feet under them and begin performing at a higher level.

This is a great matchup for Nashville as I would consider the two sides very similar. ESPN ranked Orlando as the 21st best team in the league just before the start of the regular season while Nashville was ranked 24th.

Orlando did only slightly better than Nashville in their first two matches of the regular season before play was halted scoring one goal in a loss to the Colorado Rapids and drew 0-0 with Real Salt Lake.

Philadelphia Union

The best team Nashville will face in the group stage is the Philadelphia Union. Expected to finish in the top 10 this season, the side representing the city of Brotherly Love is one of the teams experts are predicting will make it through to the knockout stages.

Despite losing their season opener to FC Dallas, the Union fought to the bitter end to earn a 3-3 draw against a very talented LAFC side just before the pandemic put a hold on everything.

Philly tends to operate in a compact 4-4-2 formation and rely on veteran leadership from guys like Alejandro Bedoya and explosive Brazilian forward Sergio Santos Gomes to provide the spark.

Nashville's defense will be tested by Philadelphia and I am hoping that the schedule is kind to The Boys in Gold and they do not have to face the Union in their first game.

Chicago Fire FC

Veteran Bastian Schweinsteiger was the leader of this team and kept them somewhat relevant over the three seasons he played in the Windy City. Now that the German midfielder has called it quits, this is a side in a transition period and very few people trust the Fire to make a run for the MLS Cup this fall.

Chicago - like Orlando and Philly - earned one point out of their first two MLS regular season matches and will be looking to prove the critics wrong down in Florida. Referencing back to the MLS power rankings, Chicago was placed just in front of NSC at 23rd in the league.

Fans have very little faith in this year's team and so do the experts. This is a side trying to navigate a confusing period and a rebrand, so, Nashville needs to take advantage of the draw they have been given.

"You know how sometimes your computer starts running really slow and nothing you do seems to fix it, so you decide to take the nuclear option and format the hard drive? That's the Chicago Fire in 2020. How long will it take to install a new operating system?"

The final verdict - will Nashville SC make it through the group?

When I saw Group A of the Eastern Conference, I was definitely excited to see that most of the teams had not been challenging for league titles in recent years.

Nashville was very lucky to be placed in the only group where the top seed was not a team that had either won the MLS Cup or been challenging for it in recent years. Avoiding Atlanta United and Toronto FC is a huge boost for the club.

Although this is a complete shot in the dark since there is little information to base my claims off of, I think NSC makes it through this group. The match against Orlando will be the decider as I think Gary Smith's team can handle the Chicago Fire.

Philly will most likely qualify top of the group, so, it is up to Nashville to get some points against Orlando and win over Chicago. The team has the talent, but how big of a factor will rust and fitness levels play?

We will find out shortly!