MATCH PREVIEW: Nashville SC v Portland Timbers

By Jonathan Slape (@jslapessp), writer/co-host.

After an exciting home opener that left Nashville fans with everything they could have asked for, bar the result, they embark on their first away match. Nashville SC heads out to the Pacific Northwest as the take on the Portland Timbers.


There were quite a few positives coming out of the match against Atlanta United and as the team travels to Portland. Offensively, they were able to create several opportunities that with just a bit more sharpness could have led to goals. In the post game, Coach Smith and Dax McCarty both mentioned that offensive production and chemistry take a little longer to establish.

Last year in USL, Nashville SC had a great record but the home field advantage in MLS is quite a bit more difficult. The Boys in Gold will be tasked with playing in one of the most intense atmospheres in the league. If the occasion and atmosphere doesn't get to them, there are some areas to exploit.

Last week against Atlanta United, Coach Gary Smith deployed his favored 4-2-3-1 formation, and at this stage in the season it's likely that will continue in this game. Nashville will look to posses the ball when they can and identify certain pressing triggers to win the ball back and transition up the field quickly as Minnesota United did last Sunday.

In an effort to continue to foster chemistry in the attack, Smith likely won't make any changes in the front four. Dominique Badji will start in the number 9 position, with Randall Leal and David Accam on the wings. Both of the wingers had several flashes of brilliance last Saturday and their speed could be a dangerous asset against the Timbers. Hany Muhktar will be there in the 10 position, but per the Gary Smith system, will often push forward as a second striker in defense.

Aníbal Godoy and Dax McCarty both played great matches against Atlanta, and they allow Nashville to maintain possession and build out of the back. They also are crucial to breaking up play and starting quick transitions, which will be key for the match against Portland.

Defense is the one area where a potential change doesn't seem that far fetched. Dave Romney and Walker Zimmerman will line up in the center back positions in front of goalkeeper Joe Willis. At fullback, Daniel Lovitz seems like a lock on the left, but out on the right, Brayan Beckles may get his first start. In preseason, Eric Miller and Beckeles split a good bit of time with the first group and it wouldn't be a surprise to see some rotation there.


Before diving in to what to expect from the Timbers, I would be remiss to not mention their efforts to help the people of Nashville after the terrible tornado that caused so much damage on Monday. They are donating $15 from General Admission tickets to help those affected by the storm, so huge thanks to them for their support of Nashville and the surrounding communities.

Last Sunday, Portland kicked off their MLS season with a 1-3 loss to Minnesota United. The result ensured their finish as the only team in Week 1 to lose by more than a single goal at home. The match was not without controversy, as the Timbers were denied a fairly clear penalty early on before Kevin Molino scored the opener. Despite an impressive first half, the match finished all Minnesota.

Head Coach Giovanni Savarese will look to deploy a counter-attacking 4-2-3-1 formation on Sunday against Nashville SC, but he has to avoid some of the mistakes that cost his team points last week. Against the Loons, they struggled to breakdown a stout defense and then were punished on the counter attack when they committed too many players forward.

In the offseason, Portland were able to bring in several new attackers who Nashville should expect to see start on Sunday. Up front, Filipe Mora will start as the nine with veteran Diego Valeri pulling the strings behind him. Out on the wings, Sebastian Blanco will look to cut in from the left and deliver service into the box, with new addition Yimmi Charra rounding out the attack on the right.

The midfield battle with Nashville will be quit interesting to see with league stalwart Diego Charra and Christhian Parades up against Godoy and McCarty. This match will likely be won or lost in these central battles.

At the back, veteran Steve Clark will be in net with Dario Zuparic and Larrys Mabiala sitting in front of him. Jorge Villafaña and Jorge Moreira will be out wide in the fullback positions, with a chance that Marco Farfan coming in for Villafaña. Portland's defense is far from airtight, and if left exposed, Nashville should find opportunities to punish them.


Ben Wright

Score: Nashville 2 - 2 Portland Timbers

Scorers: Randall Leal, Dominique Badji

MOTM: Randall Leal

Bold Prediction: Nashville SC scores two second half goals

Andy Simmons

Score: Nashville 1 - 1 Portland Timbers

Scorers: David Accam

MOTM: Hany Muhktar

Bold Prediction: Both goals come in the second half.

Jonathan Slape

Score: Nashville 2 - 2 Portland Timbers

Scorers: Randall Leal, David Accam

MOTM: Hany Muhktar

Bold Prediction: Hany Muhktar registers two assists in a MOTM performance.

John Sloop

Score: Nashville 1 - 2 Portland Timbers

Scorers: Randall Leal

MOTM: Hany Muhktar

Bold Prediction: Nashville takes an early lead but ends up losing on a late goal.

Davey Shepherd

Score: Nashville 1 - 1 Portland Timbers

Scorers: David Accam

MOTM: Joe Willis

Bold Prediction: There is another shocking referree decision that Ben defends out of his endeavour to not be a take artist.

KEYS TO THE GAME by Ben Wright

1. KEEP THE GAME IN FRONT OF THEM: Portland will look to control the bulk of possession at home, but they do have several pacey attackers who will look to get in behind Nashville's defense. A striker like Mora thrives on a half yard of space, and if he can get on the back shoulder of Romney or Zimmerman, he only needs a half chance in the box. With plenty of service from wide areas, as well as Valeri, who will peel off and find pockets in the half-spaces, Nashville will need to keep their lines compact and make Portland work hard to find a line-breaking pass.

2. GET THE BALL TO SPACE QUICKLY: Minnesota shredded Portland on the counter last week, and Nashville's front four will like their chances to do the same. Leal, Mukhtar, and Accam should be able to get in behind with Portland pushing their fullbacks high. Nashville probably won't win the possession battle, and they probably shouldn't try to. If they can be alright with conceding real estate in the middle third of the pitch and let Portland commit numbers forward, there will be space for the taking. With a pair of excellent passers in Godoy and McCarty and runners like Leal and Accam, maybe a low-block counter attacking game plan isn't such a bad idea.

3. FINISH CHANCES: This has really been the big question of Nashville's roster leading into this season: who will finish the chances? Against Atlanta, Nashville were able to create a good amount of chances, and had two brilliant opportunities in the second half to draw level. More composed finishing would have secured a result in their MLS debut, and they should have chances on Sunday in Portland. It'll take better finishing, though, to earn points from this one.

Have a prediction for this week's match? Vote in our Fan Forecast!


Date: Saturday, 03/8/20

Time: 6:00 PM, Providence Park, Portland, Oregon


Stream: ESPN App

Radio: 94.9 The Game 2

Forecast: 53°/30°. Partly Cloudy. 10% chance of rain. 55% humidity.

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