Five ways the Union can beat Nashville SC to make MLS’ eastern conference final


Seeds two and three meet up for a highly anticipated match in MLS’ eastern conference semifinals, as Philadelphia and Nashville square off! These two are some of the most defensively sound teams in MLS. Whoever is able to stay that way defensively while breaking down the other will be able to get the W and move on to the eastern conference finals. For the Union to get the win, they’ll need to do five things very well.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union, Andrew Zwarych

Five ways Union can beat Nashville SC

There’s no one way to beat a team like Nashville SC; however, there are some avenues that would be keys to victory in this matchup. They are:

  1. Have the strikers actually show up
  2. secure midfield domination
  3. Stop Hany Mukhtar from creating attacks
  4. Draw Walker Zimmerman out of Position
  5. Feed off of the crowds energy

If the Union can do these five things, they will have a better chance at beating Nashville SC, and making their first-ever eastern conference final. Let’s take a look at each of these pathways to victory for the Union.

1: Have the strikers actually show up

This first one is a tale as old as time for Philly. When Kacper Przybylko, Sergio Santos, or Cory Burke score a goal, then the union’s chances of winning go way up. When the strikers don’t score and leave it to someone else on the team, the team is less likely to win. It is like that for a lot of teams, but even more so for a Philadelphia side whose striker contributions have been few-and-far-between as of late.

The Union’s streaky strikers coupled with their recent starting formation of the 4-3-2-1 Christmas Tree means that there’s only one striker on the field at the beginning. Usually, that’s Kacper Przybylko, and when he’s on an island he has trouble finding moments to impact the game. This puts the onus on the midfield to set up chances. When the chances are there for the strikers they seem to have issues finishing them off. If the Union’s strikers can put one of the chances they get away against Nashville then they’ll be just fine in this match. The problem surrounding this key to victory is that it’s too big of an if for this striker core.

2: Secure midfield domination

The second key to victory will happen in the middle of the pitch. Philly loves to press and win the game that way. If they can do this against Nashville they will be able to check off this key to victory. Dominating the midfield should be no problem for this Union side. Whether they have four midfielders or five, Philly’s style of play should allow them to get the better of Nashville’s midfield.

Jamiro Monteiro was seen at training this week, which seems to be a good omen that he’ll be back in some capacity. If he’s back from the start of this match the Union will have no issues controlling things in the middle of the pitch. Couple that with the tenacity of Bedoya, Flach, and Martinez, and the skill of Gazdag then the Union could be in good shape to dominate the midfield. If the Union has their first choice midfield up for selection, they should have no problem getting this key to victory.

3: Stop Hany Muhktar from creating attacks

The biggest problem the Union will face is one player; Hany Mukhtar. Hany single-handedly destroyed Orlando in round one of the playoffs. His two goals gave his team the lead, and it’s something that the Union needs to stop in order to have a chance to win. Hany is elite when he’s allowed to be on the ball, pick his head up, and run at defenders. Usually, this gives his team the ability to create chances for either Hany or his teammates. Philly will need to pest Mukhtar all game if they want to come out on top.

Against Orlando, Mukhtar was given space to run at the backline. There was no midfield presence to stop him and no centerbacks stepped up to stop the run. For the Union, they’ll need Martinez to dog Mukhtar all game and if Hany gets loose, then one of the centerbacks needs to come up and stop his run. Mukhtar wasn’t at the last game between these two sides, as he was suspended, but the Union will need to watch him closely. Philly cannot allow him to go on his meandering runs that lead to goals. Stop those and the chances for victory go way up.

4: Draw Walker Zimmerman out of position

Nashville’s defense has been so good in their two years in MLS thanks to their head coach Gary Smith, and their leader in the back Walker Zimmerman. Zimmerman is a dominant defender and can be a handful on set pieces. At times he can look like a dominant center-forward, not a centerback. When he’s on the backline for Nashville they can feel unstoppable at times. If he wins a strong tackle or picks the perfect pass to start an attack, his team gains confidence. The Union needs to draw him out of position if they want any chance of winning.

Getting Zimmerman out of position will be the job of the strikers and attacking midfielders. They’ll need to draw him further up the field during build-up play to neutralize him. This is easier said than done, but it’s something that a good hold-up striker like Kacper Przyblkyo can do. If Przybylko can back down Zimmerman and find the right pass to his strike partner or the attacking midfielders there will be more space for a Union attack. That’s how I’d approach it, and it’s the best way to get Walker out of the heart of Nashville’s defense. If the Union can disrupt Zimmerman’s play, then they could be on their way to the eastern conference finals.

5: Feed off of the crowd’s energy

The crowds at Subaru Park have been electric in these big matches. The crowd played a factor in the round one playoff match, and it’s looking like another sellout crowd will be at full voice to help the boys in blue push for the win. The fans will be cheering and yelling for 90-120+ minutes. It’s up to the Union to feed off of that and use it to their advantage.

This Union team has grown too much to not feed off of a crowd that will see their first-ever eastern conference semifinal in person. The crowd will be up for it, and Philly will need to match its intensity. This team is ready to prove that they can go on a playoff run. They’ll just have to show it on the pitch now with a full-voiced crowd at their backs.

Philadelphia vs Nashville Sunday, November 28 @ 5:30 pm EST

The Union takes on Nashville Sunday evening for the chance to make their first ever eastern conference final! The match is a tough one to predict as both teams are very good defensively and streaky on the offensive end. This match will likely tip the way the team this able to finish their chances and capitalize on the other ‘s mistakes!

Don’t miss out on the action of what could be a historic match! Kickoff is at 5:38 on Sunday, November 28. Will this Union team be able to utilize these five keys to victory? Or will they fall just short of the farthest they’ve ever gone in the MLS Playoffs?

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union, Andrew Zwarych

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