Playoff chasers go head-to-head at Q2 Stadium on Saturday (9pm ET), as Austin FC take on Nashville SC. After finally regaining the winning thread last time out, the hosts will be looking for back-to-back wins, while the visitors will be hoping to extend what is already a rather solid winning run.
Austin’s run of losses came to an end last time out, as the men in green and black got the better of Real Salt Lake in somewhat convincing fashion, scoring three goals and conceding zero in the process. Not only was it a timely return to winning ways, but after two games without getting on the scoresheet, it was important for their forward line to get back at it. Moussa Djitte, 22, formerly of Grenoble in France, scored a hat-trick. After notching two goals in his first 26 appearances, the Senegalese forward more than doubled his club tally in an impressive 20-minute display during the second half.
Unfortunately, Nashville’s winning run came to an end last time out, as they tied 1-1 with the Los Angeles Galaxy in front of a home crowd, though there’s no cause for alarm. After all, they’ve lost none of their last five, four of which they’ve won. What’s particularly impressive is the fact that Gary Smith’s men have conceded just two goals during that time, keeping three clean sheets. Not only have they defended stoutly, but they’ve scored no shortage of goals in recent weeks, notching three or more in four of their last five. It is easy to see why the boys from Music City are flying high.
Still strong at home
Sure, Saturday’s hosts went through a bit of a rough patch recently, but most of their poor form was confined to their traveling games. At home, they are still very hard to face. They have won three of their last four at home, scoring a pleasing total of 12 goals. What is not so pleasing is the fact that they have conceded six during that time. Teams that visit Q2 Stadium always know that they will have a chance thanks to the rather cavalier approach adopted by the hosts, who can do plenty of damage offensively, but who also often leave themselves vulnerable at the back.
Wolff’s men have scored by far the most home goals in the Western Conference, scoring an impressive average of 2.66 goals per home game. However, they also have one of the worst defensive records. Only two teams in the west have surrendered more goals than Austin. The hosts have kept just one clean sheet in their last ten at home.
Back to their old ways
After struggling to get their noses in front, it looks as though Saturday’s visitors are back to their best. They are back to doing what they did so well last term, which was keep things tight before getting on top. As always, Nashville’s recent success has been built on solid defensive foundations. Not only have they shipped just two goals in five games, but they have given very little away in the process, conceding xG figures of 0.2, 0.6, 0.8 and 0.5. OK, they surrendered 2.7 against a useful Galaxy attack last time out, but they still held strong and claimed a point, so we shouldn’t read too much into that, especially since that’s the first time in six games that they’ve given up an expected goals total greater than 0.8. Not many teams can say that. Away from home, the men in yellow are the best in the Western Conference when it comes to xG against. They surrender an average of just 1.18.
Third time lucky for Austin?
This will be the third time that the pair have faced off since Austin entered Major League Soccer at the start of the previous campaign. Last season saw Nashville beat the Austin boys by a goal to nil, while they maintained their 100% record in this fixture by winning by three goals to nil just two weeks ago. Back on home soil, can Josh Wolff’s men return the favor?
Visitors offer value
We all know what the hosts are capable of on their own patch, but we can’t ignore how difficult the visitors are to face. In fact, they’re so difficult to go up against that they look slightly overpriced in the betting with the USA oddsmakers. In other words, a Nashville win on the moneyline might just be more likely than the early odds suggest.
Both teams are capable offensively, even if the hosts have impressed more in that sense. We shouldn’t forget that the boys from Music City are one of just five Western Conference teams to score 20+ away goals this term, while they are the fourth best in the division in terms of xG for on the road. They have also scored a solid 12 goals in their last six away games, only one of which they’ve lost.
Sure, Austin’s home attacking efforts are even more impressive than what Gary Smith’s men have produced on the road, but they lack security at the back, which is not something that can be said for the visitors, who arrive here in sensational defensive form. While the visitors have shipped just two goals in their last five games, the hosts have conceded a worrying nine during the same period. Therein lies the difference.
Bunbury to bag
Teal Bunbury has been somewhat overshadowed by the impressive Hany Mukhtar this term, and rightly so. However, the Canadian is not a threat to forget about. He hasn’t notched for a while thanks to injury, but now that he is fully fit, don’t be surprised if the man who scored in four straight games before missing four games has a big say now that he is ready to go after two substitute appearances. After all, we’re talking about a player who has four goals in just 542 minutes this term, as well as a player who averages 0.51 xG and 3.49 shots per game in a Nashville jersey.