Nashville SC host MLS new boys Austin FC at Nissan Stadium on Sunday (9pm ET; TV: Live on FS1). The hosts look to extend their unbeaten start to the season, while the visitors are hoping to bounce back after consecutive losses. So how will this MLS matchup play out? Read on for our full preview, picks and predictions.
It’s not been a glamorous start to the season for Nashville, who impressed by reaching the playoffs in their inaugural MLS campaign last time around, but they are once again showing up as a strong side, a side that is not easy to face. Five games in and Sunday’s hosts have accumulated a modest seven points, but they’re yet to taste defeat, meaning that they’re one of only two Eastern Conference teams to be unbeaten at this stage. In fact, there are just three teams across all of MLS that are without a loss on their record this season.
We saw last season that what Nashville lack in flair and offensive creativity, they more than make up for in determination and solidity. Gary Smith’s men are disciplined, they are well organised and they are often set up with disrupting the opposition’s flow in mind.
As an entirely new MLS franchise, Austin was always likely to come up against it this season, though they have performed with credit on more than a few occasions, so much so that they may just be able to rustle up something more than a fight to avoid finishing bottom of the Western Conference.
We are five games in and Austin FC have two wins on the board, both of which were deserved, while they have produced moments of promise against some strong sides, avoiding a battering against both Sporting Kansas City and LA Galaxy in their last two fixtures.
Against the Galaxy last time out, Josh Wolff’s men did come under plenty of pressure, some of which they succumbed to, while they weren’t at their creative best, but they hung in the game for large periods and avoided a heavy defeat. Against a Nashville side that has thus far been less threatening than a side of Galaxy’s current calibre, Sunday’s visitors ought to be able to get more competitive.
Hosts to attack?
From an attacking point of view, Nashville have delivered some subdued efforts this term, but they are clearly very tough to beat at home, as no loss in four suggests. On occasion, they have not been great going forward, or rather they’ve focussed on a more defensive approach. There have been times, against the right sort of opposition, where they’ve opted for a more free-flowing style, and when they’ve looked dangerous in the final third, particularly in their early home matches.
Against both Cincinnati and Montreal, Nashville scored more than once, while they posted encouraging expected goals for numbers of 3.4 and 2.5. In those two matches, they also registered a combined total of 50 shots, showing that they are more than capable of getting on the front foot and attacking.
Austin have looked quite rickety at the back at times, so it would be no surprise whatsoever if Nashville looked to play more openly and take the game to their opponents, much like they did for large spells against both Cincinnati and Montreal.
Bet on goals?
Nashville come into this fixture off the back of three clean sheets, while they have only scored in two of those games, so it may seem logical to assume that a goal-filled game is unlikely. However, as touched on in this preview above, a couple of Nashville’s efforts at this venue suggest that they are likely to adopt a front foot approach against a visiting side that hasn’t been secure at the back. Austin have conceded in four out of five and given up two or more goals in three of those four games.
At the current lines, ‘Over 2.5 Goals’ looks slightly generous. As previously mentioned, Nashville produced two pleasing attacking displays against Cincinnati and Montreal, creating lots of chances, scoring a total of four goals, and registering lots of shots. At the same time, against such opposition, they failed to keep things tight, conceding twice on both occasions.
Austin, who have quite a young squad, lack defensive solidity, but they have shown plenty of forward gusto against teams that have accrued a similar number of points to Nashville. Away against Colorado, they scored three times, posting a pleasing 2.1 expected goals for. Although they only scored once against Minnesota in their following outing, they once again created plenty, posting 2.3 expected goals for. Add in the fact that there has been an average of 3.68 expected goals per Austin fixture this season and a play on ‘Over 2.5 Goals’ starts to make plenty of appeal, especially at odds of -105.
Visiting striker to break duck?
Dutch forward Danny Hoesen, who joined Austin from San Jose during the off season, is yet to score for his new club, but the forward has found himself getting into some promising positions. Starting four of Austin’s five matches, the 30-year-old has averaged a pleasing 0.43 expected goals per 90 and is averaging 2.22 shots per 90 too. Such numbers make the forward stand out as a healthy goalscorer bet at appealing odds of +310.
So these are our Nashville vs Austin FC predictions and betting picks for this MLS match preview: