Coach Gary Smith is not yet content with Nashville’s debut MLS season despite the four-match unbeaten run that has moved the team into playoff contention.
Nashville have taken eight points from a possible 12 and are now ninth in the Eastern Conference, good enough for a place in the play-in round in this revamped 2020 campaign.
But Smith believes his players, even in their first year in the league, must have loftier ambitions.
“I don’t think there should be anyone in our group, be it players or staff, who is looking and compartmentalizing where we should be and saying, ‘Well if we make ninth or 10th, that’s success’,” said Smith, who led the Colorado Rapids to the 2010 title. “I firmly believe at this point we are in charge of our own destiny.
“There’s no reason why we can’t finish in the top three or four in the league. I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest. Of course, we need to take every game as they come. But on an unbeaten run, as we are, we’ll be certainly trying to keep that run going.”
Their next test is against Conference leaders Columbus Crew, yet Caleb Porter has a number of injury concerns heading into Saturday’s match.
Lucas Zelarayan and Darlington Nagbe each missed last week’s 2-2 draw with Chicago Fire due to knee problems.
Porter said: “We’ve had a number of injuries where I don’t have clear answers in regards to where guys are at.
“This is another week where, again, we’re not sure where they’re at at this point. They have been in training, but they’ve also been out for a couple of weeks. Different injuries.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Columbus Crew – Gyasi Zardes
The Crew may have selection issues in midfield, but there remains no doubt who their leading marksman is. Zardes scored 13 goals last season and already has eight in just 11 games in 2020, including the late equaliser at Chicago last time out.
Nashville – Walker Zimmerman
Last week’s 4-2 win over Atlanta United was a little out of character for Nashville, who had previously been blunt in attack but relatively tight at the back. Star centre-back Zimmerman must lead defensive improvement against Zardes and Co.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Columbus have struggled against expansion sides recently, winning just three of their past 11 meetings with new MLS teams. All three of those victories have come away from home as they have collected just two points in their past three home matches against expansion sides.
– The Crew conceded two goals in a three-minute span against the Fire after conceding just twice in their first 10 games this season. Only LA Galaxy in 2010 (two) have conceded fewer than four goals after 11 matches of a season.
– Nashville nearly doubled their goal output from their first ten matches (five goals) with a 4-2 win against Atlanta on Saturday. The expansion side have not lost any of their past four matches (2-0-2) after losing four of their first six in MLS.
– Zardes has been directly involved in the Crew’s most recent four goals (three goals, one assist). Only Seattle Sounders’ Raul Ruidiaz (seven – five goals, two assists) has been directly involved in more goals than Zardes (six – four goals, two assists) since the MLS regular season restarted last month.
– Dax McCarty recorded a goal and two assists in Nashville’s victory over Atlanta. It was the first time he was directly involved in three goals in a match in his 394-match MLS career (including playoffs).