Leagues Cup Preview: FC Cincinnati faces familiar Foe Nashville SC

Photo by Scott Huck
Photo by Scott Huck

A familiar foe will return to TQL as the knockout rounds of the Leagues Cup begin, as FCC welcomes Nashville SC on Friday, Aug. 4.

It may feel like déjà vu as Nashville just visited the Queen City prior to the start of the Leagues Cup, but based on group results, it ships the old USL opponents back up just three weeks following the 3-1 FCC win.

“We anticipate a lot of the same from our last two games and knowing that they’re a very difficult team to play against, certainly to break down and then excellent in transition,” FCC head coach Pat Noonan said. “So those are a lot of our talking points.”

Nashville SC played to a 1-1-0 set of results, beating a struggling Colorado Rapids 2-1, then losing in a track meet to Liga MX side Toluca 4-3. They were then able to advance as the second-place team in their group as Toluca traveled to Colorado and won 4-1.

This most recent game was a bit of a departure for the usually stingy Nashville defense giving up a season-high four goals, compared to their average 0.9 goals against. And while their offense was able to produce three goals, any late-game heroics were dashed when striker Teal Bunbury received a red card in the  86th minute.

While it may concern Nashville manager Gary Smith to not have a senior striker for this game, he may be more worried by the team’s disciplinary pattern as this is now their sixth red card in the past six games. Cincinnati fans may remember there being two sendings off in their match-up just three weeks ago, and while those cards wouldn’t carry over into this tournament, this latest card will leave the attack with questions of who will score goals.

For the longest time, Nashville SC striker Hany Mukhtar has been a near guarantee in either scoring or creating goals for the Coyotes. But he has hit a bit of a dry patch recently with 1 goal and 1 assist in his last eight games. And while it can be pointed out that this stretch has coincided with fellow strike partners Jacob Shaffelberg and Fafa Picault being away on Gold Cup duties, it cannot be understated how singularly Nashville’s offense has revolved around Mukhtar’s production, as he leads the team in both goals and assists.

In search of a remedy, the club went out in search of a solution and believe they have found it in England. Nottingham Forest striker Sam Surridge was announced earlier this week by Nashville after the completion of a $6.5 million transfer fee was agreed upon. While his stats may not be eye-popping (1 G, 0 A in 20 Premier League appearances) he fits a target striker role the team has wanted for several years, and leaves behind a popular reputation amongst fans. However, despite him being a new face to the team, the club also announced he would not be available for the team’s matchup against FCC. 

Ultimately, these two teams are not very different from the ones that faced off three weeks ago in MLS play, but with the higher stakes of knockout soccer, expect a tense affair as FCC continues to defend their home turf. Noonan reported that Santiago Arias has returned from Colombia (where he worked on his visa) and will be available to the team Friday, with a final decision on his role being made before kickoff. Sergio Santos and Dom Badji however will both be absent through injury.

Noonan agreed that the knockout nature of the contest should add to the intensity for all involved.

“I think it’s just the idea of, you know, the game will feel different,” he said. “Maybe it feels more like a playoff game because you know there’s no tomorrow if you don’t have a good performance and the importance of getting out in front of a team and being able to play with a lead and not having to go for it late, where you start to – you know, we’ve experienced that last year in the playoffs – where, you know, you’re down a goal and maybe you have a very aggressive attacking unit on the field, things present themselves that you typically don’t see in regular season play. So it’s just I think preparing guys for situations like that. But cup play, the win-or-go home, I think, you know, that adds some intensity, certainly. But a lot depends on your opponent, your form, how you’re playing the game, but with the recognition that you can’t be off on the night or you’re done.”

Game Time: August 4th, 8 p.m.

Location: TQL Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio

Broadcast: MLS Pass on Apple+

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