Nashville SC searching for pace, style of play in preseason match vs. Chicago Fire

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Nashville SC faced Chicago Fire Thursday at Bradenton, Florida, in its second preseason match and the first against an MLS opponent in 2020. 

The Fire earned a 3-1 victory over Nashville, but Nashville SC coach Gary Smith’s voluntarily focused on the positives – the importance of building on its style of play and the players improving their game stamina during the match after a weekend break.

Here are five takeaways from Thursday’s preseason game:

A slow start

Smith called the beginning to the match a “slow and sloppy” start after two heavy days of training Tuesday and Wednesday. The large workload early this week came after the team flew to Nashville Saturday, rested Sunday and returned to Bradenton on Monday. 

“We got into a very nice gear and not only scored a goal, but we were certainly in a position to be on level terms at the break,” Smith said on a conference call with reporters.

After CJ Sapong and Elliot Collier scored for Chicago, Nashville bounced back for a strong end to the first half.

First goal of the preseason

Winger Randall Leal scored Nashville’s first goal of the year, thanks to a thru ball from attacking midfielder Hany Mukhtar – a pass that surpassed Chicago’s back line and set up Leal for a 1-on-1 with Fire goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.

Inactive players

The club confirmed after the game that rookies Shak Adams, Tanner Dieterich, Alistair Johnston and Elliot Panicco did not see the field. Defender Jimmy Medranda was also inactive. Smith said he prioritized making way for winger David Accam and forward Daniel Rios to return to the field after both players were sidelined last week with injury.

Newcomers and returners

After missing the IF Elfsborg scrimmage Jan. 31, Accam (hamstring) and Rios (hip) played roughly 30 and 45 minutes in the second half, respectively. Center back Miguel Nazarit also made his first appearance for Nashville as a substitution midway through the second half for rookie Jack Maher.

Center forward battle continues

Forwards Abu Danladi and Dominique Badji swapped positions Thursday, when Danladi played on the wing and Badji as a center forward. Both prefer to play in the latter spot, but have MLS experience in both positions.

It’s still too early to determine a starter atop the formation, Smith said.

“Abu (Danladi) started wide because I think I see Dominique (Badji) working in that central area of the field throughout this season,” Smith said. “Will he be a starter there? I think it’s too early to start rubbing-stamping players in. I don’t want to discount anyone as at least being a contributor to the group.” 

That includes midfielder Dax McCarthy, who played against the Fire for the first time since his move from Chicago during the offseason.

Although it was McCarty’s home, a lot has changed.

“It’s a completely new (staff) – not just coaching staff, but it’s a completely new technical staff on the sporting side,” McCarty told The Tennessean Tuesday. “I think that Chicago is going to be barely recognizable for me in terms of what I was used to with that club.”

Chicago signed center forward Robert Beric from France’s Saint-Etienne, who will be the club’s newest designated player. The Fire also appointed Raphael Wicky as its new coach and technical director Sebastian Pelzer to oversee the technical staff.

The two clubs won’t face each other in the regular season.

Nashville is scheduled to play four more games in Florida, starting with a match Sunday against Louisville City FC, who recently welcomed back Cameron Lancaster from Nashville on a loan deal. Nashville will face the Montreal Impact Wednesday.

For stories about Nashville SC or Soccer in Tennessee, contact Drake Hills at DHills@gannett.com. Follow Drake on Twitter at @LiveLifeDrake.

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