Dominique Badji photo by Alexander Aguiar / Courtesy Major League Soccer
It probably won’t be like this going forward. Nashville recently announced the signing of Venezuelan striker Jhonder Cádiz, and Miami is linked with soon-to-be-former Juventus standout Gonzalo Higuaín. But Sunday evening in Fort Lauderdale – after a nearly two-hour lightning delay – neither team could find the back of the net in what was ultimately a 0-0 draw.
The Herons took 13 shots, but did little more than trouble Nashville keeper Joe Willis into five saves, while the Boys in Gold put four of their 16 efforts on the frame, and were unable to beat veteran keeper Luis Robles with any of them. On a night when clinical finishing was an issue for both teams… it was Nashville that saw the lack of production as part of a season-long trend.
“There were some very good openings for us,” said Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith. “Yet again, the only thing that’s missing for us is that end product. Some very good chances, clean sheet, a wonderful display under the circumstances again – a long delay. I really can’t ask more from this group at the moment.”
While Miami began the game strong – four shots (three of them inside the Nashville SC penalty area) in the first 20 minutes – Nashville managed to take a stronger grip of the game thereafter. Although the Herons had a 1.80-1.30 expected-goals advantage in the end, Nashville had more than enough opportunities to make things level. That the opponent had similarly unrefined finishing boots on the evening does little to salve the wound of what could have been an even more impressive road result in trying circumstances.
“Our opportunities to score were every bit as clear-cut as theirs,” Smith lamented. “I honestly wasn’t surprised at how they started the game. What I was surprised about was the fact that after about 10-12 minutes, that pressure and those opportunities started to dissipate. I think that was down to a bit of resolve in our group. Listen, everyone was up at 6 o’clock this morning, we jumped on a flight, we’ve sat around for two-odd hours in a storm delay. We finish again late at night. This group is having to deal with some of the most incredible circumstances that I have ever seen. To give up a couple of opportunities is, at this precise moment, minimal for this group.
“We still had enough opportunities to either get ourself back in the game if they’d have scored, and win it in the end because they didn’t. And that’s the frustrating part.”
Nashville SC came out in what has become something of its first-choice lineup – with Alex Muyl and Randall Leal on the wings, and rookie Alistair Johnston at right fullback, and the chances came. A team that has struggled in finishing this season saw more of the same doom what was a strong defensive performance.
“I think we came into this game knowing we could get a lot out of it if we were compact in the back,” said Willis. “Getting a clean sheet is the foundation to getting points in this league. We came into it knowing that if we could at least give ourselves a chance, then the attacking players would create chances for us. I think we were very organized, and dealt with their more-dynamic players, as well. A lot of good defensive plays.”
“I think for us, in games – especially early – we’re pressing and we’re creating opportunities out of it,” Muyl added. “As long as we continue to do that, I think goals are going to come. We’ve shown we’re comfortable to sit back and absorb pressure and break out of that. But to add to our game a little higher press will definitely lead to some more goals for us, and also lead to us having more control of the game.”
It remains to be seen if Cádiz will be a game-changer for Nashville, or if the positive trends for midfielder Hany Mukhtar (five shots and four key passes on the night) and Randall Leal (two shots and one key pass) can turn potential into production going forward.
Certainly, there’s some confidence to take from the fact that Miami has only lost to Nashville SC since the Phase Two portion of the 2020 season has begun. Or that, after last night’s 2-1 victory over Atlanta United, Inter Miami has won all its games at home aside from this draw.
Still, Nashville’s season has been one of what-ifs so far: what if the team had been able to participate in the MLS is Back tournament, what if nearly half of the squad’s players hadn’t had to quarantine in-place in Orlando after the team was removed from that tournament, what if the travel schedule hadn’t been so rigorous with two games already delayed on the road after Nashville had flown in that day, what if the coronavirus pandemic had been quashed by now, and a more typical season was under way? In this one, it may be: what if an 80th-minute attempt from Daniel Lovitz had been just inches to the left, tucking inside the post rather than glancing off the outside of it?
“It’s the easiest one to pick out because of the clear-cut nature of it,” Smith said. “But I did think that there were two or three others.
“It’s the easiest one to pick out because of the clear-cut nature of it. But I did think that there were two or three others. Drake’s mentioned the corner or set-piece, Hany did well a couple times. There’ve been some really nice moments that we haven’t converted again. It’s been the achilles heel for this team.
“We’ve had 16 efforts at goal tonight away from home, and we’ve only hit the target four times. Not only is it a problem not scoring, it’s a problem hitting the target as well. This is an ongoing problem for our group. I only know two ways of trying to correct that: one is you change the bodies, the second one is you work ever-so hard at it. And we’re working ever so hard at it. The hope is, we see the rewards from that.”
May that no longer be a worry going forward.