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Oppo Research: 5 Things about Nashville SC

Ben Wright of Broadway Sports Media tells us about Rumba Munthali's success, why Hany Mukhtar has slowed down, and how Sam Surridge can trouble NYCFC on Saturday.

Sam Surridge has a lot to smile about | Courtesy Nashville SC

In this edition of Oppo Research, Hudson River Blue spoke with Ben Wright of Broadway Sports Media to learn more about Nashville SC, New York City FC's road opponent on Saturday night. Here is your NYCFC vs Nashville preview.

Nashville SC at a Glance

• League Form: W-D-L-W-D

• Record: 5W, 8D, 5L | 23 points, 8th place

• Scoring Leader: Sam Surridge, 7 goals

• Assist Leader: Hany Mukhtar, 5 assists

1. Rumba Munthali is getting the job done

Hudson River Blue: Nashville fired Gary Smith, the team’s only-ever head coach, in mid-May. Since then, interim head coach Rumba Munthali earned nine points in his first six games at the helm. How has the Nashville faithful assessed him and the team’s season so far after starting off poorly?

Ben Wright: Surprisingly, Nashville are up to eighth in the East and have looked somewhat better under Munthali. They've been more proactive from the start and have tried to play with the ball more, and Muthlai's subs have been much more aggressive.

I still think there are some big flaws with this roster, but Munthali has been able to get more from them than Smith did towards the end. In fairness, a lot of that may be down to health. Smith had to deal with a ton of injuries, and players started coming back just when he was fired. Maybe these results would have happened either way. Who knows? Munthali has exceeded expectations, though.

2. Nashville's defense is legit

HRB: Nashville’s defense has always been strong, with key players such as Walker Zimmerman and Joe Willis solidifying the backline. How has Nashville been so consistent defensively since their inaugural season?

BW: I think most of it comes down to personnel. Walker Zimmerman is legitimately among the best-ever in MLS, and I think you'd have a tough time having him in your squad and being bad defensively. While Nashville's midfield struggles in possession, they're good defensively and the entire squad works hard on both sides of the ball. It definitely raises their floor a ton.

3. Hany Mukhtar is slowing down

HRB: After Hany Mukhtar’s MVP season in 2022, he has started to score fewer goals. This season, he has four goals and five assists in 16 matches. The eight-goal contributions in 15 games are respectable, but it’s significantly less than what he is capable of. What’s led to his lack of goal-scoring recently?

BW: He was injured for the first part of the season, and I think that made his historically slow start even slower. But he hasn't looked the same since last July when the Qatar transfer rumors started, and he never regained his form. He's been fine this year, and he's up to 12 goal contributions in 1,400 minutes, which isn't terrible.

But he certainly hasn't looked close to his 2022 form. Part of that is structural — Nashville's midfield can't really get him the ball in space close to goal, and he and Sam Surridge have been taking each other's space. Getting him back to form has to be priority number one for a new coach, but it's not a guarantee.

4. The X-Factor: Sam Surridge

HRB: What's the X-factor that could decide this game?

BW: Sam Surridge has been playing more as a left winger, and he was really good against Toronto. He hasn't quite lived up to his $7 million transfer fee, but he's up to seven goals in 1,200 minutes and is really good in the box with the right service. The issue has been service. (You're probably picking up on a trend here, huh?) He can punish teams with a chance or two and could be the difference on Saturday.

5. Predicted score, Starting XI

HRB: Prediction time: Starting XI? Final score?

BW: 3-1 Nashville win.