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Nashville SC leave 2023 with “very bitter taste” after scoring woes | MLSSoccer.com

Nashville SC leave 2023 with “very bitter taste” after scoring woes | MLSSoccer.com

For the Eastern Conference’s No. 7 seed, their Audi MLS Cup Playoffs early exit continued struggles that have plagued them since reaching the Leagues Cup Final in mid-August. That portion of the year seemed “like a lifetime ago, maybe two lifetimes ago,” according to head coach Gary Smith.

“There have been some really high points of this season, but that certainly wasn’t one of them,” Smith reflected postgame at GEODIS Park. “We are better than that. I know we are. The guys know they are. I don’t think they’ve given the fans or anyone else a true reflection of what we’re capable of here tonight, or in the two games. I think that will sit heavy going into the offseason.”

The second half of 2023 has largely been tough sledding for Coyotes.

After a magical Leagues Cup run, only denied their first-ever trophy by Lionel Messi‘s Inter Miami in penalties, they resumed MLS play not quite looking like themselves. Nashville won just two of 10 matches after the tournament and were held scoreless in six of those contests.

“The full story is that I think the season caught up with us. We can now look back and say that we peaked in the [Leagues Cup] final,” rued Smith.

” … There were many, many facets of our game that were not close to the standards or levels that we’ve achieved and attained here, for sure. And I think it will leave a very bitter taste in our mouths as we go into the offseason.”

I asked Gary Smith what changed for Nashville SC after their run to the Leagues Cup final. He says it essentially comes down to Hany Mukhtar’s form cooling off and no one else stepping up.

“We only have to look at our output in front of goal.”#EveryoneN pic.twitter.com/ZOqdoZ4Uy8

— Ben Wright (@benwright) November 8, 2023

Nashville’s attack left plenty to be desired down the stretch and in the playoffs, failing to score in either Round One match against Orlando. In Match 2, knowing they needed a win, the Coyotes took only 10 shots and accumulated 0.41 expected goals (compared to Orlando’s 1.18 xG).

Always a stout defensive team, Nashville were again plagued by poor finishing and a lack of consistent goalscorers beyond Hany Mukhtar. The 2022 Landon Donovan MLS MVP scored just two goals after Leagues Cup, with his last strike coming back on Sept. 20. DP striker Sam Surridge, brought in midsummer to help Mukhtar, scored twice in nine MLS games (both in a 3-2 win over New England on Oct. 14).

“We only have to look at our output in front of goal,” Smith posited. “Our talisman and individual who’s really dragged this team along in terms of goals for a long, long time has not been anywhere near as effective. I don’t know the reason for that.”

“I think you’ve seen a lot of inconsistencies there in connections and what we’ve achieved in that final third,” Smith continued. “Nobody else has been able to chip in. We’ve had the odd moment, but nowhere near consistent enough.”

After a fourth straight postseason trip, Nashville now turn towards the offseason. Their 2024 campaign begins in just three months with their Concacaf Champions Cup debut.

“My mind is firmly on what and how we can regroup, retool and certainly refocus,” said Smith.

“I think we’ve shown that there’s definitely quality and the ability to challenge in a far better way than we’ve done this year in the postseason. No two ways about it.”

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