MATCH PREVIEW: Nashville SC v Atlanta United

Updated: Mar 7

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

Thanks to Jason Longshore (@Longshoe) for his Atlanta United perspective.

It has been 800 days since Nashville was awarded a Major League Soccer team and every day since then, has been building up to this game. In a nationally televised event, Nashville SC takes on Atlanta United in their inaugural MLS match and we take a look at how it could play out.


After two seasons in the USL Championship (the second division of professional soccer in the US), Nashville SC is ready to take on Major League Soccer. While there are a few familiar faces from year past, this is basically a brand new team. A team full of new players looking to all get on the same page and a hungry fan base will look to create new traditions and build on the foundation of years past.

Nashville SC has spent the past two years hearing about Atlanta United building a successful team and record-setting fan base, and now is the time to see how the newcomers measure up. In front of a Nissan Stadium crowd of over 50,000 people, Nashville SC will look to show they are not just content to be in the league; they are there to compete.

While we may not know exactly what the lineup will be for Saturday, there are a few things we do know. Head Coach Gary Smith will look to deploy his favored 4-2-3-1 formation and based on the preseason we have a good idea of who is in the mix to start.

The question throughout the preseason has been, "who is going to score goals for Nashville?" Dominque Badji, Abu Danladi and Daniel Ríos all scored goals during the preseason and each player bring a different skill set to the table. Ríos's ability to bring others in to play, along with his finishing ability, provides him with a unique skill set that could ensure his role as the starting forward on Saturday.

Behind Ríos, there are a couple different options that Smith could employ. Hany Muktar and Randall Leal are near locks in the three line behind the striker, but the third spot in that line still seems up for grabs. When fit, David Accam will make his claim the starting spot with Muhktar in the #10 and Leal wide left, but this match could call for another option. Smith has at times deployed Derrick Jones as the #10 with Muhktar left and Leal right. Starting Jones would theoretically clog up the middle and force Atlanta out wide.

The two midfielders behind the three attacking midfielders need no introduction. Dax McCarty and Aníbal Godoy will be the two holding midfielders that will look to chew up ground, break up the Atlanta attack and quick transition forward. Look for specific pressing triggers from Nashville when they win the ball back. Nashville will look to control the center of the field in order to disrupt service to Atlanta United.

The defense is one of the more settled areas of the pitch. David Romney and Walker Zimmerman will pair together at the center back positions in front of goalkeeper Joe Willis. Daniel Lovitz will lineup at left back and we expect to see Eric Miller at right back. Miller has seen the majority of time at right back, but it would not be a surprise to see Brayan Beckeles get a chance. Beckeles, no stranger to a big game, brings 66 appearances for Honduras, including three in the World Cup. If called upon, he bring an additional veteran presence to that backline.


We will update once the information becomes available Friday afternoon.


Frank de Boer enters his second year as head coach for Atlanta United and unlike 2019 he comes in with multiple changes. Most notably, Atlanta lost Julian Gressel (15 goals and 32 assists) to DC United, Darlington Nagbe to Columbus Crew and Leandro González Pírez to Tijuana.

Atlanta United comes in to Nashville fresh off two CONCACAF Champions League matches, most recently a 3-0 win over Honduran side Montagua that saw them advance to the the next round. However, that success is offset by the injuries and roster delays that they have already run into. George Bello, Edgar Castillo and Miles Robinson will miss out due to injury and newcomer Mattheus Rossetto will be unavailable due to visa issues.

De Boer has been known to use both the 4-3-3, as well as a variation of a three back set up, but has favored the three back a bit more. Atlanta will look to lineup in a 3-4-2-1 and try to dominate possession.

Brad Guzan will line up in net with Anton Walkes, Fernando Meza and Franco Escobar comprising the back line. MLS veteran Jeff Larentowicz has the versatility to slot in at the center back positions or in the midfield, but expect to see him left as an option off the bench.

Jake Mulraney and Brooks Lennon will provide width out at the wing back positions while trying to open up space between the Nashville fullbacks. Emerson Hyndman had a fantastic evening on Tuesday and misplaced only one of his 57 passes. He will be partnered up next to Eric Remedi, who covers a lot of ground in front of the defense and frees Hyndman up to focus more of the attach.

The Atlanta attack is filled with a who's who of top MLS talent. Josef Martínez (90 goals, 12 assists since entering the league in 2017) will lead the line against Nashville with a red hot Gonzalo "Pity" Martínez and Ezequiel Barco behind him as the inside forwards. Nashville's defense will have their hands full keeping this forward line quiet. In order to be successful, Nashville will need to create turnovers high up the pitch while Atlanta commits numbers forward.

KEYS TO THE GAME by Ben Wright

1. LIMIT SPACE BETWEEN THE LINES: Atlanta tore Motagua apart on Wednesday night when Josef Martínez dropped in between the midfield and forward lines to play quick, one-touch passes with Pity Martínez or Ezequiel Barco. If Nashville allow him to find those uncontested pockets of space between the lines, they'll pay for it quickly. Gary Smith and his side will need to have a clear plan for how to handle this threat, whether one of the centerbacks steps with him, or a midfielder drops deep to pick him up. Controlling the space just outside their penalty area will be vital to their success.

2. FORCE TURNOVERS HIGH UP THE FIELD: Atlanta have looked committed to playing the ball out of the back in their first two matches, and while it can be a productive way to build an attack, they've looked shaky at times, with risky passes from Fernando Meza nearly leading to goals. Smith has talked about implementing a press, and if they can push Atlanta into a few sloppy passes, it could result in a rare clear-cut chance.

3. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE MOMENT: This opportunity will never come around again for Nashville SC. They'll never have another first-ever match. They'll never have a chance to introduce themselves to a city for the first time. They'll have the backing of a potentially record crowd. Four of the last six expansion sides have won their home openers (Orlando drew and Minnesota lost). They've outscored their opponents 14-8. That home-field advantage and opening day buzz is a real thing. If Nashville can capitalize on it and get a result, they'll set themselves up well for success in the Music City.

Pod Picks

Ben Wright

Score: Nashville 2 - 1 Atlanta United

Scorers: Randall Leal, Walker Zimmerman

MOTM: Walker Zimmerman

Bold Prediction: Walker Zimmerman gets the winner on a late set piece.

Andy Simmons

Score: Nashville 0 - 1 Atlanta United

Scorers: Josef Martínez

MOTM: Josef Martínez

Bold Prediction: Nashville has more possession than Atlanta.

Jonathan Slape

Score: Nashville 2 - 2 Atlanta United

Scorers: Randall Leal, Walker Zimmerman

MOTM: Randall Leal

Bold Prediction: Nashville gets an early lead before Atlanta comes back and gets two goals. Walker Zimmerman gets a late goal off of a set piece to secure a draw.

John Sloop

Score: Nashville 2 - 2 Atlanta United

Scorers: Daniel Ríos, Randall Leal

MOTM: Randall Leal

Bold Prediction: Atlanta doubles Nashville's number of shots on target.

Davey Shepherd

Score: Nashville 1 - 2 Atlanta United

Scorers: Hany Muhktar

MOTM: Hany Muhktar

Bold Prediction: Atlanra scores a late winner after a great performance from Nashville SC.

John Nekrasov

Score: Nashville 1 - 2 Atlanta United

Scorers: Daniel Ríos

MOTM: Josef Martínez

Bold Prediction: Atlanta will score late to win the match, but Nashville will score first and go toe-to-toe with Atlanta for most of the night.

Lucas Panzica

Score: Nashville 1 - 2 Atlanta United

Scorers: Hany Muhktar; Josef Martínez, Ezequial Barco

MOTM: Hany Muhktar

Bold Prediction: Nashville SC is the aggressor in the first half creating the better chances.

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


Date: Saturday, 02/29/20

Time: 7:00 PM, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee

TV: Fox17

Stream: FoxSports App

Radio: 94.9 The Game 2

Forecast: 50°/37°. Sunny. 10% chance of rain. 51% humidity.

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