The Timbers Army out-did themselves on opening day and weren’t given the performance they, and the rest of Portland, deserved. But once again, the supporters will be in full voice when the green and gold step into the stadium on Sunday. If nothing else, Nashville will leave Portland with the knowledge that the Rose City has the best support in the MLS.
Who knows if Nashville SC will have a good following of support but if they do, I hope they roll in playing banjos and drinking moonshine. Five years ago it might have seemed far-fetched for Tennessee to be the home of an MLS franchise but in 2016 the city was granted a bid and they took full advantage. First entering the professional ranks in 2018, the club played two seasons in the USL while stadium plans continued and the groundwork of club’s infrastructure was laid out. A $275 million soccer-specific stadium is set to be opened in 2022 but until then, the team plays their home games in Nissan Stadium, home of the Titans.
On the opening weekend against Atlanta United, the club fielded a starting eleven with as much MLS experience as pretty much anybody in MLS. The final result was a 2-1 loss but statistically, Nashville put up a good fight, outshooting ATL 14-6. Most danger came through their Designated Player, Hany Mukhtar. The 24-year-old German attacking midfielder had a promising youth career before hitting a plateau.
Starting with German Bundesliga giants Hertha BSC before moving to Portuguese powerhouse Benfica where he rarely featured for the first team and was loaned out to Red Bull Salzburg of Austria and Brøndby IF of Denmark. The latter eventually became a permanent move. His time spent with the Danish team was highly successful and he was one of their most important players for three seasons before the MLS expansion side came knocking. Mukhtar represented Germany at the international level all the way up to U-21. A shifty and creative player, Mukhtar is best when he finds small pockets of space between the backline and midfield. If our defense plays like they did last weekend he will have them in a blender.
The lone striker ahead of Mukhtar is prolific MLS forward Dominique Badji. Badji has boasted a good scoring record for both Colorado and FC Dallas. A two-footed player with natural instincts, Badji is clever and creates space for others with his work off the ball.
The backline will bring a return to Providence Park for Eric Miller who played for the Timbers U-23’s during his college days (2012/13). At the heart of the defense will be Walker Zimmerman. The USA international was the subject of repeated speculation over a summer move to Israel but in the end, he was traded to Nashville by LAFC for a whopping $1.25 million in General Allocation and an international roster spot.
Although they lost, their first game as an MLS team was respectable. ATL is a powerhouse and they held their own. If they have no other advantage, they are going to be hard to predict. Their wingers are all pace. David Accam and MLS rookie and Costa Rican international, Randall Leal will give Moreira and Villafaña headaches if we don’t stay compact and pick our battles with more security than we did against Minnesota. Look for Mukhtar to try and ghost into space around Chará and Cascante and spring their wingers or Badji.
Nashville are captained by MLS veteran Dax McCarty. On their roster they have six players who represented them in the USL either on USL contracts or on pre-MLS contracts. It’s a new week folks. Already it seems as though Gio is under a microscope and it will be blatantly obvious if we haven’t fixed our lapses from the opener. It should be an exciting one on Sunday! RCTID