Nashville SC’s Early Playoff Exit Highlights Season Struggles
For the Eastern Conference’s No. 7 seed, their journey in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs ended prematurely, further emphasizing the struggles that have plagued them since their Leagues Cup Final appearance in mid-August. Head coach Gary Smith described that period of the year as “like a lifetime ago, maybe two lifetimes ago.”
“There have been some truly remarkable moments this season, but the playoffs certainly weren’t one of them,” reflected Smith after the game at GEODIS Park. “I believe we are better than that, and the players know it too. We didn’t showcase our true potential to the fans or anyone else tonight, or in the two playoff games. I think this disappointment will weigh heavily on us during the offseason.”
A Struggle in the Second Half of 2023
The second half of 2023 proved to be a challenging period for the Nashville Coyotes. Following their impressive Leagues Cup run, where they narrowly missed out on their first-ever trophy in a penalty shootout against Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami, the team struggled to regain their form in MLS play. They managed to win only two out of ten matches after the tournament and failed to score in six of those contests.
“The reality is that the demands of the season caught up with us. Looking back, it’s clear that we peaked in the Leagues Cup final,” lamented Smith. “There were numerous aspects of our game that fell short of the standards we have set for ourselves. It will undoubtedly leave a bitter taste in our mouths as we head into the offseason.”
When asked about the changes after their Leagues Cup run, Gary Smith attributed it to Hany Mukhtar’s loss of form and the lack of contribution from other players.
“We only need to look at our performance in front of goal.” #EveryoneN
Struggles in Attack and Lack of Consistent Goalscorers
Nashville’s attack faltered during the final stretch of the season and in the playoffs, failing to score in both Round One matches against Orlando. In the crucial second match, where a win was necessary, the Coyotes managed only 10 shots and accumulated a meager 0.41 expected goals compared to Orlando’s 1.18 xG.
While known for their solid defense, Nashville once again faced issues with poor finishing and a lack of consistent goalscorers beyond Hany Mukhtar. The 2022 Landon Donovan MLS MVP scored just two goals after the Leagues Cup, with his last strike dating back to September 20. Sam Surridge, the designated player striker brought in midseason to support Mukhtar, found the net twice in nine MLS games, both in a 3-2 victory over New England on October 14.
“Our output in front of goal is a clear indicator,” observed Smith. “Our talisman, who has been instrumental in our goal-scoring for a long time, hasn’t been as effective. I’m unsure of the reason behind it.”
“We’ve witnessed inconsistencies in our connections and our performance in the final third,” continued Smith. “No one else has been able to contribute consistently. While we’ve had a few moments, it hasn’t been enough.”
Looking Ahead to the Offseason
After their fourth consecutive postseason appearance, Nashville now shifts their focus to the offseason. Their 2024 campaign begins in just three months with their debut in the Concacaf Champions Cup.
“My mind is fully focused on how we can regroup, retool, and refocus,” stated Smith. “We have shown that we possess the quality and ability to challenge in a much stronger manner than we did in this year’s postseason. There’s no doubt about it.”