Nashville SC

Nashville SC game preview 2023: Toronto FC

The Boys in Gold welcome a team from the North to GEODIS Park for the second time already this season. Can they repeat their 2-0 result against The Reds of Toronto?

The essentials

Opponent: Toronto FC (1-1-4)
Time, Location: Saturday, April 8, 7:30 p.m. CDT • GEODIS Park
Weather: 57ºF, 21% chance of rain, 74% humidity, 7 mph Easterly wind
Follow: MLS MatchCenter • @ClubCountryUSA • @NashvilleSC
Watch/Stream • Listen: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV • 104.5 The Zone

Match officials: Referee: Guido Gonzales. Assistants: Jeremy Kieso, Diego Blas. Fourth official: Thomas Snyder. Video assistants: Sorin Stoica, Jonathan Johnson

Vegas Odds: Nashville SC -149, Draw +292, Toronto + 409

Etc.: Rate, review, subscribe. Gary Smith, Jacob Shaffelburg press conference. The Backline will be observing six minutes of silence from the 6th-12th minutes in honor of the victims of the Covenant School mass shooting.

Stat (2023!)Nashville SCToronto FC
Record (W-L-D)3-2-1 (1.67 PPG)
5th East
1-1-4 (1.17 PPG)
9th East
Recent form (most recent first)W-L-L-W-DD-D-W-D-D
xG Power*
-0.01 (16th MLS)+0.11 (11th MLS)
G Power+0.58 (3rd MLS)+0.12 (13th MLS)
“Luck”+0.59 (5th MLS)+0.01 (14th MLS)
Offense-0.26 (24th MLS)+0.00 (15th MLS)
Defense-0.24 (8th MLS)-0.12 (11th MLS)
Venue advantage+0.41 Home (10th MLS)+0.82 Away (8th MLS)
Injury reportOUT: D Nick DePuy (achilles, season), M Randall Leal (lower body)OUT: F Adama Diomande (lower body), D Cristian Gutierrez (non-Covid illness), F Lorenzo Insigne (lower body)
* The Power Rating numbers will still be a little wonky at this stage of the year thanks to small sample sizes

Toronto FC

As we noted on the podcast this week, Toronto FC has two of the top four highest-paid players in the league (including one who makes nearly as much money as the second-highest-paid guy in the league!), but… not a ton to show for it. Some of it is due to injury: that top-paid player in the league has missed all but the first 34 minutes of the season thanks to an injury he suffered in the opener. Some of it is that the team is just mediocre in attack and mediocre in defense despite that spend!

Bob Bradley’s mandate seemed relatively simple. Go to a team with a ton of top talent (and a healthy academy) but maybe some gaps in the roster, and get the most out of it. I wouldn’t say the job he’s done is a fireable offense, but I also have a hard time seeing him hold onto said job if the Reds don’t make the playoffs this year.

Starting from the attack, the absence of Insigne has been felt, given that he’s been elite when he’s been on the pitch… but only played barely over 1000 minutes for TFC since joining last year. His countryman, Federico Bernardeschi, has been a very good dribbler and above-average shooter during his time with Toronto FC… but he doesn’t receive the ball in dangerous positions, and his passing has been below average for a winger. He dribbles to create for himself and can smack a free kick, but otherwise he can struggle to find the game. Jonathan Osorio and Victor Vázquez have split the minutes on the opposite side in Insigne’s absence (including playing opposite each other in the 4-2-3-1 as Bernardeschi has manned the middle at times). Brandon Servania and Mark-Anthony Kaye play as the 10s there, and Kaye is having an awful start to the year, while Servania is a plus passer but not notable at much else. Those two score as DMs in American Soccer Analysis‘s statistically-derived positional distinctions, for what it’s worth.

Homegrowns Ayo Akinola and DeAndre Kerr have split the strikers’ minutes, and with Adama Diomande listed as OUT this evening, that will continue to be the case. Neither Akinola – the dual-nat who picked Canada over the US and hasn’t capped in a while as he suffered an ACL injury in World Cup Qualifying – nor Kerr has been much to write home about. Akinola has an xPass of 83% (pretty low, particularly for a striker since they’re in position to lay off regularly) and is underachieving it, which has been a major problem for TFC in holding onto the ball in the attacking third. Kerr has been mostly anonymous, perhaps in part because he doesn’t receive the ball in dangerous positions all that much. You’ll note this is an important part of the striker’s job description.

The TFC offense has been mostly-good at home, and against non-DCU opponents (you’ll note: still not good enough to win!) absolutely awful on the road, with less than half an expected goal in a draw at Atlanta and less than three-quarters of one in a scoreless draw at San Jose. Assuming they normalize a bit, particularly when healthier, but a trip to Nashville probably shouldn’t be their breakout game.

Michael Bradley has been a mainstay in the defensive midfield, almost always alongside one of Kaye and Servania – you’ll note given what I said about them when considering them Nos. 10 that Kaye has been bad (absolutely awful passing, and not breaking much up, especially given that more than half his minutes are in a double-pivot or as the more defensively-minded of the advanced midfielders in a 4-3-3, with the other advanced midfielder ofter being Bernardeschi about whom “lol defense” is an apt description of his lifestyle). Servania’s passing is a weapon there, though, and if I’m Bob Bradley, I want him to settle into that role a bit.

The rumors of Bradley’s demise are greatly exaggerated. He’s basically average for the position, which probably means he’s got a couple more years if he wants to keep playing. He’s just not the same Michael Bradley over the past three or four years-ish that had the endless motor and incredible long passing that he was earlier in his career.

The backline has been very active in the interruption game, with both fullbacks and one of the CBs doing a lot of breaking up play. This is an area where team context is important to consider, since they have to break up a lot when the DMs in front of them largely ineffective (or in Bradley’s case “just fine”) in that regard. Matt Hedges and Sigur Rosted (Ágætis byrjun was their best almbum, imo) have played every minute in the middle, with Hedges the super-active disruptor while Rosted makes up for his lack of activity in breaking up play with… uh… maybe he’s in position in ways that don’t come with an event in the data, because the G+ numbers are lukewarm at-best in all six breakout categories.

Richie Laryea on the right and Raoul Petretta on the left has been the most-common FB pairing so far this season, but the last two games have seen Laryea move to the left while Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty plays on the right. Both Laryea and Marshall-Rutty are active in breaking up opposing attacks, while Laryea shows ability on the ball that has seen him approach 40 CanMNT caps. Petretta has been meh all around, but when TFC can put an underachieving Italian on the pitch, by god they’re going to do it.

In net, it has not been a smooth transition for Sean Johnson, who arrives after several elite seasons for New York City FC… and has allowed seven goals on 6.83 xG. That’s not bad (particularly given small sample-size caveats), but he’s not out here stealing games, to say the least. And when Toronto has failed to win four games in which they gave up at least one goal (and dropped a game at DC when they allowed three on 1.17 xG) …well, he probably isn’t the problem. He’s just not been the solution, either. The bright side is that more than anyone else who’s currently seeing the field – i.e. not Insigne or Diomande – you can reasonably expect him to level up over the course of the year.

The Boys in Gold

If you are attending the match in-person this afternoon, please be aware that there will be a six-minute silence early in the first half, in honor of the six people – including three nine-year olds and three employees – who were murdered with an AK-47 at Covenant School a couple weeks ago. “This Little Light of Mine” will be the first song sung after the silence.

Nashville will do the things on the pitch that you’re used to seeing them do. Randall Leal is still out but is expected back for the Open Cup match on April 26.

Keys to the game

  • Don’t give up free-kick opportunities. Toronto has a legit shooting threat in Bernardeschi, and he can assist as well. Hell, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Michael Bradley are dead-ball threats, too. Just don’t put this Toronto team in positions to score outside of open play.
  • Make the central midfielders move. They really, really don’t want to do that. Or they do and their traitorous legs won’t comply. Either way, the (im)mobility there should allow Nashville to create gaps through ball and player movement just outside Zone 14.
  • Draw them up and pounce. I don’t think Nashville should devolve into a bunker-counter by any stretch of the imagination, but Toronto is also a team that wants to play a ton of short combinations in the attacking third, and if they get frustrated when those aren’t creating opportunities against a disciplined Nashville defense, they’ll push numbers forward and be exploitable with the speed of Jacob Shaffelburg, Fafa Picault, and the like.
  • Set pieces. Yes this is redundant with the first one. Deal with it.


Nashville SC 3, Toronto FC 2. TFC is absolutely one of those teams that could break out at any moment, but they’ve been quite bad n the road, and Nashville has every opportunity to establish GEODIS Park as a fortress (in a way that it never became last year). A bit more open a game probably suits a Nashville team running up against a team that wants to play beautiful soccer but doesn’t have an athleticism advantage to capitalize on that.

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