Nashville SC continues to be one of the more maddeningly inconsistent teams in Major League Soccer.
Saturday’s 2-2 comeback draw with Atlanta United adds to the string of instances where the club has left points on the table. And while the team can feel good about grabbing a point from their Atlanta visit with two goals in the last 10 minutes, there's again the big what-if. What would happen if the team could play as well from the opening whistle as it does when the clock is winding down to the final whistle?
“We looked flat in the first 10 minutes of each half, and we paid the price for it,” head coach Gary Smith said. “I don’t know whether that was the field in the first half. We certainly chased the game an awful lot in that first period and, maybe, the opening exchanges in the second half just looked to be leggy.”
Nashville SC has followed the same blueprint on more than once occasion this year — surrender an early goal, fall into an early deficit, stage a late-match rally, leave with a draw and wonder what could have been.
Atlanta scored six minutes into Saturday’s match on a soft goal off a long ball into the box by Marcelino Moreno that trickled past keeper Joe Willis. Then again in the 51st minute, Erik Lopez flicked home from close range on the left side after a soft cross pass from George Bello. Both goals were a byproduct of a Nashville SC defensive lapse. Atlanta controlled possession for 60 percent of the match and Nashville struggled to settle in defensively.
“If you’re going to get scored on, you want it to be an absolute world-class goal,” defender Walker Zimmerman said. “That’s just not the reality from either goal tonight; I know we’re not going to be happy with the types of goals we allowed. It definitely is frustrating.”
Fortunately for Nashville, Hany Mukhtar wouldn’t let NSC go home quietly. In the span of three minutes, the 26-year-old German scored two goals, the first to the right corner, the second to the left.
But therein lies the problem. Nashville has been relying too heavily on a handful of players to produce most of its goals. Mukhtar, Randall Leal and Jhonder Cadiz have combined for seven of NSC’s nine goals. C.J. Sapong, Alex Muyl, Dom Badji, Anibal Godoy, Luke Haakenson, Dax McCarty and Handwalla Bwana have attempted 46 combined shots but only have produced two goals.
Seven matches into the season, NSC ranks second in MLS in shots on target (45), fifth in total shots (115) and third in shooting percentage (39.1) but has just two wins and 11 points to show for it. Nashville has either tied or outshot its opponent in every match this year.
That’s the kind of production you’d expect to see from a team that dominates its opposition. The three clubs directly behind Nashville in shots on target — Sporting Kansas City, New England and NYCFC — all have at least three wins and 11 or more goals, and two of those clubs sit atop their respective conference.
Nashville fell from fourth to seventh in the Eastern Conference as a result of its draw at Mercedes Benz Stadium — although it has a game in hand on several of the teams above it. Yes, the club is technically unbeaten, but Nashville SC should be better than five draws in seven matches.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_