Three takeaways from Nashville SC's 1-0 loss at Portland

By Ben Sundock
Mar. 09, 2020

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

In their first road game in MLS and second match of the inaugural season, Nashville SC again showed promise but again could not find that finishing touch which Gary Smith is so desperately looking for.

Much like the first outing against Atlanta United, Nashville fell behind early as Portland Timbers' midfielder Diego Valeri scored 12 minutes in. NSC was unable to clear the ball away from goalkeeper Joe Willis and the clinical Valeri tucked the bouncing ball into the side netting on a stunning half-volley.

After the Timbers took the lead, Nashville seemed to settle into the match and dominated from the 20th minute until the final whistle, however, despite the high number of shots, the visitors could not manage a goal.

Here are the three takeaways from the tight match in Oregon.

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Quantity does not equal quality

For the second week in a row, NSC had more shots than their opponents. Of course, that doesn't mean that they had better chances by any means. Nashville outshot Portland 14-3, yet had just two more shots on target - four to the Timbers' two.

Randall Leal led the team in attempts on goal with four and Hany Mukhtar put in another solid performance with three shots.

There are some positive takeaways from this one statistic and there is one negative as well. The positive is that NSC went on the road and controlled the match for nearly 70 minutes. Nashville had 52 percent of the possession, had some high-quality chances, and played stunning defense.

The defense did not allow a SINGLE SHOT attempt from the 24th minute until the final whistle. That is something you rarely see in this game and it's even rarer when playing against a team who has made their home ground a fortress in recent years.

While this is all well and good, the negative is the lack of quality chances despite the number of shots.

If Nashville had more of a threatening striker, maybe some of these wayward shots would find the mark.

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Abu Danladi's injury causes problems

As he did against Atlanta, manager Gary Smith brought on winger Abu Danladi to replace David Accam on the right flank.

Danladi is a spark plug who has the pace and stamina to make a difference last in matches. That was the hope when he was brought on in the 61st minute, but, 20 minutes later, Smith had to use his third and final substitution on the substitute Danladi.

Danladi came up gimpy after a challenge on the wing and was replaced by Jimmy Medranda with under 10 minutes to play.

Nashville selected Danladi first overall in the MLS Expansion Draft, but this has been a constant theme of Abu's career in Major League Soccer.

His health concerns are making many second guess whether it was the right decision to take him first overall - and since he has come off the bench in the first two matches - it is quite curious as to what the future holds for this guy.

This was Jimmy Medrand's debut for NSC, and although it was incredibly short, he could provide some answers if Danladi is set to miss extended time.

As of this morning, there is no update on the extent of the injury.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Could we see a change in the formation?
I mentioned this last week in my recap after the Atlanta United match as well. Dominque Badji can not play alone as the striker. He also cannot play in a false nine role where he drops deeper into the midfield to help build up the attack.
His passing and ability to hold the ball up are simply not good enough to be trusted with this responsibility.
Therefore, a change in tactics and formation could provide the answers for Gary Smith and his staff. Hany Muhktar, Randall Leal, and Dax McCarty are the driving forces when attacking. McCarty is more of a holding midfielder and won't be taking many shots, but he should still be in the attacking third helping keep the ball moving.
Leal and Muhktar combined for seven of Nashville's 13 shots and the two were a treat to watch moving forward. Hany completed 44 of 47 passes while Leal finished with a completion percentage of 87.
I think a 4-4-2 or a 4-1-2-1-2 could solve a lot of Nashville's problems offensively. The defense and the midfield have performed beyond expectation in the first two matches and if Leal and Muhktar are moved to more advanced positions, the goals could start flying in.
The 4-2-3-1 is not a terrible formation for the expansion team to use with the fullbacks expected to overlap Accam and Leal, but that has not been happening like it should.
It is worth noting that once Daniel Ríos replaced Badji in the 71st minute, NSC had more quality chances since Ríos is a more competent dribbler and is dynamic in his movement off the ball.
If Rios starts alongside Badji in a different formation, the NSC number nine will actually get touches and shots on goal. Through his first two matches, Badji has struggled to get involved. He had 16 touches in the opening match and just 21 against the Timbers.
Factor in that he had no shots on goal - yes, the striker didn't have a single attempt - and it's clear that change must happen in order to succeed in the MLS.