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Crossing the Touchline: Crew vs. Nashville SC

We wanted to learn a bit more about Saturday’s Crew opponent. So we turned to Drake Hills, who covers Nashville SC for the Tennesseean.

SOCCER: MAR 12 MLS - Nashville SC at FC Dallas Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Saturday, the Columbus Crew returns from two weeks off from competitive soccer. While three senior team members played internationally during that time, the remaining Crew side worked on getting healthy. Specifically, midfielder Lucas Zelarayán, who sustained a late injury in the 1-1 draw against the New York Red Bulls in the last match

While head coach Caleb Porter is working out the answers to lineup questions within the Black & Gold, Massive Report wanted to learn a little bit more about Nashville SC. We spoke with Drake Hills, the soccer writer from The Tennesseean to discuss changes this year’s Nashville side.

Massive Report: This offseason, Nashville made some changes, moving a budding star in Alistair Johnston to CF Montreal for $1 million in General Allocation Money and brought in a couple MLS veterans. At the end of 2022, which moves will be the most impactful? Also, with that big trade for allocation money, where do you see Nashville using the funds?

The Tennessean: The best offseason move Nashville SC made this winter will, by far, prove to be center midfielder Sean Davis. Nashville pulled out the recruiting stops to sign a top-3 free agent in MLS. NSC flew to New Jersey to meet Davis and his girlfriend for a meeting, then hosted Davis in Nashville for dinner and a Nashville Predators hockey game and pitched a clear vision of Davis’ role in the team in 2022 and beyond. Dax McCarty will be 35 years old this month and Anibal Godoy is 32. Davis gives Nashville the midfield depth it needed last year.

Take Saturday’s game between Nashville and Columbus, for example. McCarty is out, serving the first of his two-game suspension after receiving a red card against Real Salt Lake two weeks ago. Brian Anunga can step in for a decent shift, but Davis is still there to be Nashville’s facilitator in what will be the most important part of the field on Saturday. Without Davis, I think Nashville would be in trouble against Darlington Nagbe, Artur and Lucas Zelarayán.

MR: In 2021, Nashville was third in the Eastern Conference and made it into the conference semifinals of the MLS Cup playoffs. So far this year, Nashville is 12th in the Western Conference. Is this nothing more than Nashville adjusting to a heavy away schedule due to stadium construction or are there areas on the field where the team needs to improve? If so, what area of the field sticks out to you?

TT: Two factors are haunting Nashville to start the 2022 season: a monstrous eight-game road stint to start the season and a lingering struggle to defend set pieces – a problem carrying over from 2021. Nashville should’ve beaten Minnesota United one month ago, but gave up a late goal to Hassani Dotson, giving up its 1-0 lead and playing to a draw. Against RSL, Teal Bunbury gets caught ball-watching and Bobby Wood scores two minutes into the game. Nashville played catch-up for the rest of the game and ended up losing, 2-1. Those two mistakes, alone, costed Nashville four points.

MR: That move from the East to the West, and all the extra travel and new opponents, going to cause Nashville to underperform in 2022? Where do you see Nashville standing at the end of the season?

TT: Nashville’s move from the East to the West, and the added travel included with that move, is a grueling challenge. However, it won’t cause Nashville to underperform. After Nashville opens GEODIS Park on May 1, it won’t play back-to-back games on the road for the rest of the year and plays at least two home games in between each road trip. Nashville remains one of the best MLS teams defending in the run of play, regardless of conference and it’s the same team that tied last year with Seattle Sounders for the least goals conceded in the regular season. The problem is defending set pieces. Before the beginning of this season, I had Nashville finishing third in the West. I still think it makes the playoffs, but if Nashville can’t pick up seven points out of the last four games of this road trip, I don’t believe Nashville finishes in the top four.