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Nashville SC 2022 season preview: The contender no one expected

Nashville SC has quietly put together one of the best expansion launches in history.

Nashville SC (12-4-18, Third in Eastern Conference)

Head coach: Gary Smith

Key additions: Ethan Zubak, Teal Bunbury, Sean Davis, Ahmed Longmire (10th overall in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft), Will Meyer (38th overall in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft)

Key losses: Jhonder Cádiz, David Accam, Jalil Anibaba, Abu Danladi, Tor Saunders, Tom Judge, Matt LaGrassa, Nick Hinds, Alistair Johnston

Projected Best XI

(3-4-3): Leal, Sapong, Mukhtar, Lovitz, McCarty, Godoy, Miller, Romney, Zimmerman, Maher; Willis.

Best offseason move

Signing Sean Davis in free agency was one of the wow moves of the offseason. Davis has been New York’s captain the past two seasons and played every single minute of the 2021 season. He brings to Nashville a plethora of playoff experience, making seven straight postseasons with the Red Bulls, and helped them win two Supporters’ Shields

Best reason to pay attention

Two years, two playoff berths is the story in Music City as Nashville SC continues to be one of the most successful expansion teams in not just MLS but across all major sports.

SC carried over its stifling defense from 2020 to 2021 and finished tied for the fewest goals allowed with New York and Seattle. Led by two-time defending MLS Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman, and Joe Willis’ 13 clean sheets — tied for the most in 2021 — Nashville figures to be one of the top defending clubs in MLS once again.

But Nashville started to add some offense too as Hany Mukhtar, fresh off finishing second in last season’s MLS MVP voting, led the club with 16 goals. As a team Nashville scored 55 goals (fourth most in the East) and had a +22 GD which was second in all of MLS.

Finally, it’s goodbye Nissan Stadium, hello Nashville SC Stadium as the club moves on from sharing a home with the Tennessee Titans to its very own, state-of-the-art building that will host 30,000 fans (with 20,000 season tickets already sold at the time of this writing). Opposing teams attempting to walk out of Nashville with a win will be that much more of a challenge once Nashville SC Stadium opens on May 1.

The one glaring weakness

Set pieces, set pieces, set pieces.

For as great a defensive team Nashville was last season, Nashville was inexplicably poor at defending set-pieces, surrendering 14 goals — accounting for 40 percent of goals they allowed all season. The goal that Nashville surrendered to Orlando City in Round 1 of the MLS playoffs came off a set-piece. The game-tying goal Philadelphia scored in Round 2 came off of, you guessed it, a set-piece.

With the addition of Charlotte FC, Nashville is also getting relocated to the Western Conference meaning they won’t get to feast off the lowly likes of Toronto, Cincinnati, or Chicago. Instead, they’ll have to regularly contend with the likes of Colorado, Kansas City, Portland and Seattle who all finished ahead of Nashville in the Supporters’ Shield standings last season.

It’s also fair to wonder if Nashville has developed that much-needed killer instinct yet. Nashville tied 18 times last season, by far and away the most in MLS; and as we saw in the postseason loss against Philadelphia–where Nashville went a humiliating 0-4 on PKs — you can’t draw your way to an MLS Cup.

One fact you can use to impress your friends

Nashville SC Stadium, opening May 1, 2022, will be the biggest soccer-specific stadium in the United States.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe character who most personifies this team

It’s a low hanging fruit but Walker Zimmerman is Thor. A tall, handsome, golden-haired god that sometimes goes abroad on missions with Captain America (Christian Pulisic) who is trying to *ahem* AVENGE last season’s postseason failure.