The previously struggling visitors have enjoyed a revival of late, following back-to-back wins – beating both Atlanta United and Orlando City recently – so travel south in hope of closing the gap to their Tennessee-based rivals.
Nashville approach this weekend’s action sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference standings, and will defend an unbeaten record at Nissan Stadium when Chicago Fire roll into Music City.
While their home record demonstrates potential to contend at the top end of the table this term, Gary Smith‘s men lead the league in draws so far – with seven from 12 matches – and are therefore five points adrift of leaders New England Revolution, albeit with a game in hand.
They have, though, shown resilience when coming back from two goals behind down on three separate occasions to pick up a point, before coming from behind to lead Atalanta last time out – only to concede an equaliser which ultimately saw the spoils shared.
For Smith’s side, it was perhaps another case of two points dropped, as if not for a pair of tight offside decisions and some wayward finishing in the second half, they most probably would have posted a second successive win.
Introduced to MLS as an expansion side last year, Nashville harbour expectations of progressing to the playoffs again, with their next three games coming against teams currently outside of the top half of the standings – two of which they will host on the banks of the Cumberland River.
Their only previous MLS match with Chicago came late last year – a 1-1 draw on home soil from which they were fortunate to take a point – so one of the league’s new boys will seek a first-ever competitive win over them on Saturday evening.
Following a losing streak of three consecutive matches – also failing to score on each occasion – Chicago Fire now find themselves unbeaten in three straight games.
Rattling in a total of nine goals during this miraculous upturn in fortunes, the club which was radically overhauled last year have revitalised apparently lost hopes of a playoff push, but still have much ground to make up this summer. Six points behind the New York Red Bulls – now occupying sixth place in the East – there remains much to play for, but Swiss coach Raphael Wicky‘s side are in need of a further three-point haul this weekend.
Having previously put three past Atlanta with no reply, Robert Beric gave Chicago the lead for a second time in the 72nd minute versus Orlando City last Wednesday – with his first goal since the opening weekend – before the Fire went on to defeat their visitors 3-1.
Previously dropped due to fading form, ex-Real Madrid midfielder Alvaro Medran provided the final ball for two of those goals to record his fourth and fifth assists of the season – all in the last three games – while substitute Chinoso Offor added a touch of gloss to the scoreline deep into stoppage time.
Despite having less of the ball in each of their recent victories, Wicky’s men have proved able to create several scoring opportunities and clinically capitalise on them. As a result, the first time all year that Chicago have avoided defeat for two successive matches may even provide a platform to make it three from three following a tricky trip to Tennessee.
Nashville SC Major League Soccer form:
Chicago Fire Major League Soccer form:
Chicago coach Raphael Wicky saw Polish midfielder Przemyslaw Frankowski net his first goal of the season after returning from international duty at the Euros earlier this month and he should join Alvaro Medran in the engine room. The Spanish playmaker responded well to some tough love from Wicky – who dropped the former Valencia man and asked him to improve defensively – by being the team’s most productive creator since his return to the first XI.
After the conclusion of his nation’s run in the Copa America, Paraguay’s Gaston Gimenez came back from the bench last time out and is now a contender to start, but Francisco Calvo is still representing Costa Rica at the Gold Cup, so is unavailable for selection on Saturday.
Though Fire’s reserve goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm remains sidelined as he recovers from knee surgery, first-choice stopper Bobby Shuttleworth has conceded only once in the last two games; making several important saves. Winger Stanislav Ivanov, meanwhile, is much closer to his return following knee surgery and could possibly make the squad.
Nashville profited from Chicago’s clear-out last year, as they brought in Fire captain Dax McCarty, and the central midfielder recently moved into fifth in the rankings for all-time outfield appearances in MLS history. The veteran former US international will once again line up alongside Brian Anunga in the middle.
Nashville SC possible starting lineup:
Willis; Maher, Anibaba, Romney; Muyl, Leal, Anunga, McCarty, Lovitz; Mukhtar, Sapong
Chicago Fire possible starting lineup:
Shuttleworth; Kappelhof, Pineda, Bornstein; Sekulic, Gimenez, Herbers, Medran, Frankowski; Aliseda, Beric
We say: Nashville SC 1-1 Chicago Fire
Draw specialists Nashville have demonstrated a weakness when faced by apparently beatable opposition this term, as they have won just two of nine matches against teams in the bottom seven of the standings, so may again fail to get the job done despite home advantage.
Resurgent Chicago, meanwhile, have improved beyond all recognition during the past month, so should pick up another point on the road.