Gary Smith has called on Nashville SC’s fringe players to make the most of their opportunity in Saturday’s huge contest with the Philadelphia Union at Subaru Park.
Nashville travel to its Eastern Conference rivals seeking to arrest a run of five straight draws, but they are without suspended attackers Hany Mukhtar and Luke Haakenson while defender Daniel Lovitz is injured.
Despite going a month since last tasting victory, the Boys in Gold still occupy second place, albeit with just a three-point lead on next opponents Philadelphia.
There is therefore plenty to play for with home-field advantage in the MLS Cup Playoffs potentially on the line, and Smith expects whoever he calls upon to step up.
“I’d have loved for Hany to have been there, of course. But that’s not to be the case. One door closes, another one opens. Somebody else gets the chance,” he said.
“We’ve got one or two players sitting in the background who are hurting over the fact that they’ve not been on the team, and they’ve not been getting minutes. I would hope that they see this as their opportunity to try and say, ‘you’ve been wrong’.”
The Union’s six-match unbeaten run was brought to an end with a 3-2 loss to Minnesota United FC in midweek, but three points on Saturday will lift them into second place.
“You see the table and you know what is on the line,” head coach Jim Curtin said. “They are all big at this stage but it’s a really tough match-up against a really organized, tough team to break down that doesn’t give up a lot of chances or goals.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Philadelphia Union – Sergio Santos
The Union have been boosted by the returns to fitness of keeper Andre Blake and striker Santos, the latter of whom has missed his side’s last two games with a quad injury. Santos will lift some of the weight off Kacper Przybylko’s shoulders and Curtin will be hopeful the Brazilian striker can pick up from where he left off before his short layoff.
Nashville SC – Daniel Rios
Rios may well get the nod to fill the void left by Mukhtar for what would be just his fifth start of the campaign. The 26-year-old played 22 minutes of the 1-1 draw with Columbus Crew last time out and made an impact with an assist for Mukhtar’s equalizer, so this will be a deserved opportunity.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– This will be the second meeting between Philadelphia and Nashville, with Nashville winning the first meeting 1-0 at home on July 3. Former Union striker C.J. Sapong scored the game’s only goal just 68 seconds after kickoff.
– Philadelphia has won three straight home matches, keeping clean sheets in each of the last two. The Union has lost just one of their last 13 at Subaru Park (W9 D3) dating back to mid-May, not allowing more than one goal in any of those games and letting in just six total in that time.
– Nashville recorded its fifth consecutive draw on Wednesday, coming from behind to earn a point against the Crew. Only Chicago in 2014 and Colorado in 2011 have drawn six consecutive matches inside of a single season in MLS history.
– Daniel Gazdag scored both of the Union’s goals in the 3-2 defeat to Minnesota United. Gazdag had scored just once in his first 18 MLS appearances, doing so against Toronto FC in August.
– Nashville has been the hardest team to beat in MLS this season, losing a league-low three games in 2021. Nashville is the second team in MLS history to have just three losses through 30 games of a season, along with the LA Galaxy in 2011.