Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith anticipates the match against New York City FC to be the game of the season as the two teams battle for superiority towards the top of the Eastern Conference.
The Tennessee-based team are currently tied for second place with Orlando while New York City FC trail one point behind in fourth.
Smith believes this match could be the deciding factor as the 2021 Major League Soccer playoffs approach, but it will not be easy for either side.
“We’re getting ready for what could possibly be classified as one of the games of the season," said Nashville head coach Gary Smith (via MLS Soccer).
"New York City are coming in with good form, in a good position in the league. When you look at the best teams in any league, you’re talking about a group of players are capable in so many different areas, their front line, a center forward in wonderful form. Castellanos has tremendous creative ability around him, with multiple bodies who can fill those roles and strength who can come in off the bench.”
Despite the importance of the game, both teams will have players missing due to the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
Nashville will be without Walker Zimmerman, Anibal Godoy, Randall Leal and Alistair Johnston, forcing Smith to rethink his roster. Meanwhile NYCFC enters the game without most of their first-choice defensive foundation as James Sands, Alexander Callens and Maxime Chanot are all away on international duty.
"Then guys like (Keaton) Parks and Sands – I know Sands will be missing – but they have a structured group who can support the front line. They have everything you need,” said Smith.
“They are one of the best teams in this division. I think we can say New England and New York are fighting it out for the two very groups in the Eastern Conference and this is our opportunity to challenge that.”
NYCFC are in a strong position, having lost just one of their last eight matches and beaten conference leaders New England Revolution last weekend. Even with a strong record, coach Ronny Deila admits Nashville is a difficult opponent for anyone in the league.
“It’s a clear style by a team who executes a plan really well," Deila said of Nashville. "Good discipline, togetherness and hard work. They have skilful players who cause problems for any team in MLS, it’s a good mix. They’re hard to break down, that’s the main thing.”