5.21 Nashville Austin Matchup

When you think of American cities that are at the top end in terms of the music and culinary scenes, two that will likely quickly come to mind are Austin, Texas and Nashville, Tenn.
Of course both are known for their different takes on country music -- with Austin infusing more rock, blues and bluegrass into its sound, as evidenced in particular by favorite son Willie Nelson -- while Nashville has the Grand Ole Opry and Dolly Parton.
Then there’s the food. Austin probably has the best BBQ scene in the country, as any native would tell you, while Nashville sports their famous hot chicken. On Sunday night, the two cities will not just be battling to capture the hearts of Americans who love music and amazing food, they will also be facing off on the soccer field as Austin FC visits Nashville SC for their first-ever match. But the comparisons between the two cities and teams don’t end just because the fight turns to the soccer field.
Nashville are in their second season in MLS, after having made the MLS Cup Playoffs in their inaugural season in 2020. They were also able to win two playoff games and make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. 
“Nashville did a good job obviously, coming in last year and being competitive and making the playoffs and they’ve remained that way,” said Austin head coach Josh Wolff on Tuesday during a press conference. “So I think you recognized that they’ve built a strong roster as well with a good mix of domestic experience and introducing some international experience.”
As Wolff mentioned, Nashville’s roster was built to succeed in the first year. They had an American goalkeeper who probably never got a fair shake at a starting role (Joe Willis), two longtime MLS stalwarts at center back and defensive midfielder (Walker Zimmerman, Dax McCarty) and two international attackers to fill their Designated Player spots (Hany Mukhtar, Randall Leal).
Any of this sound familiar?
Brad Stuver. Matt Besler. Alex Ring.Cecilio Domínguez. Rodney Redes. These are just some of the players that are hoping to have similar success in an expansion season as Nashville did. But the way Austin will look to achieve that will likely be different.
Nashville mostly played in a defensive shape in their expansion season, which allowed them to concede just 22 goals in 23 matches. Through their first five matches, Nashville possessed the ball just 43% of the time -- good for second to last in MLS.
ATXFC and Wolff have shown that they are willing to play a more expansive style that focuses on possessing the ball and breaking down the opponent. While the goals haven’t necessarily been flowing quite as much as planned just yet, the Verde & Black rank eighth in MLS possession despite playing all of their matches on the road -- home sides generally control possession in MLS.
But Nashville have displayed a more potent attack in 2021, despite not converting most of their chances into goals.
“It’s like anything. You have an idea of what you want your playing style to look like. You go out and start bringing in players that support that and will give you the things that you want and along the way you keep evolving,” said Wolff. “That was seen last year with Nashville. They were difficult to play against and along the way they became better offensively and that’s the growth that typically can happen, but it does take time.”
After securing just four points through their first six matches last year, Nashville ended the year with 14 points in their last seven matches. That wouldn’t be a bad blueprint for Austin to follow in 2021.