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Nashville SC 2021 preview: Taking another step

After a highly successful 2020 campaign, Nashville SC will try to become a contender.

After a successful inaugural season that saw the Boys in Gold reach the MLS Cup Eastern Conference Semifinals, Nashville SC is back looking to build on its success and establish themselves as a contender for the foreseeable future.

2020 record: 8-8-7, 7th in Eastern Conference, Lost in Eastern Conference Semifinals

Head coach: Gary Smith

Key additions: Defender Dylan Nealis (Inter Miami CF), GK Bryan Meredith (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Defender Nick Hinds (Seattle Sounders FC), Defender Robert Castellanos (Rio Grande Valley FC Toros), Rodrigo Pinero (Uruguay), Forward C.J. Sapong (Chicago Fire)

Key losses: David Accam, Derrick Jones, Miguel Nazarit, Brady Scott

Projected Best XI: 4-2-3-1

Cádiz; Leal, Mukhtar, Muyi; Godoy, McCarty; Lovitz, Romney, Zimmerman, Johnston; Willis

Best offseason move: Nashville SC signed up and coming winger Rodrigo Piñero in February with the hopes his creativity and attacking mindset can lead to more offense. Coming over from Uruguay’s first division, Piñero was heavily involved in Danubio FC’s attack last season with three goals scored and three assists. Piñero, 21, is the latest addition in Nashville SC’s trend of signing attacking players under the age of 25.

Reasons to be worried about Nashville SC: The hardest thing to do in sports is take the leap from a good team to a great team, and that’s the predicament Nashville SC faces. Nashville has the roster to be a playoff team, but can it really challenge the likes of Columbus, Orlando and Atlanta?

Nashville will have to do better attacking as they could only muster a mere 24 goals last season. Randall Leal, Hany Mukhtar, and Jhonder Cádiz are a good front line, but the trio will need to up the production if SC is to be considered one of the Eastern Conference’s elite.

Why Nashville SC are worth watching: With contract extensions handed out to head coach Gary Smith and general manager Mike Jacobs, Nashville SC is getting both the band and the braintrust back together for what should be a successful second season at the MLS level.

Nashville had about as successful a season any expansion team could hope for, becoming the second expansion club to advance to the MLS Cup Playoff Conference Semifinals in its inaugural season. Along the way Nashville set an MLS postseason-record of 309 minutes without allowing a goal.

That was thanks in large part to centerbacks Walker Zimmerman, reigning MLS Defender of the year, Dave Romney and goalkeeper Joe Willis. The trio anchored one of the best backlines across the MLS last season and the group should only be better in 2021 with the additions of Robert Castellanos and Dylan Nealis.

Nashville also has a young, exciting core with 13 players under the age of 25. With that nucleus and construction now underway for Nashville SC Stadium, which will be ready for the 2022 season, Nashville SC has a bright outlook for 2021 and beyond.