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Nashville SC vs. Charlotte FC: Score prediction, scouting report for return to MLS play

Nashville SC vs. Charlotte FC: Score prediction, scouting report for return to MLS play

Nashville SC’s first-ever run in the CONCACAF Champions Cup came to an end in the round of 16 with a 3-1 defeat to Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami on Wednesday.

Now it must quickly put its elimination behind it.

Nashville (0-0-3, 3 points) hosts Charlotte FC (1-1-1, 4 points) at Geodis Park on Saturday in its return to MLS play (7:30 p.m., Apple TV). The game will cap a grueling stretch of eight games in 24 days to start the 2024 season.

Nashville is 1-1-1 all-time against Charlotte, which entered the league as an expansion franchise in 2022. Charlotte won 4-1 in the teams’ only meeting of that season. Hany Mukhtar’s 93rd-minute penalty kick in May 2023 gave Nashville a 2-1 win at Bank of America Stadium, and another stoppage time spot kick by Mukhtar forced a 1-1 tie in September.

Here’s our scouting report and score prediction for Saturday:

Nashville searching for answers on defense

It has been an up-and-down start for a Nashville defense that has been one of the league’s best the past four seasons. The unit betrayed no ideas of being anything else heading into 2024, with center backs Walker Zimmerman, Jack Maher and Lukas MacNaughton, and fullbacks Shaq Moore and Dan Lovitz all returning.

But Nashville, which tied for the top scoring defense in MLS last season with 32 goals allowed, has conceded seven from open play in its past five halves. It coughed up 2-0 leads in draws against Inter Miami and the LA Galaxy last week.

“Simply put, I think there are some guys that have been very, very good for us that have dipped in form,” Nashville coach Gary Smith said after Wednesday’s defeat. ” . . . I’ve not been happy with what’s been going on in the backline. We’ve been getting results, but we’ve been giving up goals.”

Injuries have affected the defense. Lovitz missed most of the preseason and has started just three of seven games. Zimmerman has been strong when available but hurt his knee in the first leg on March 7 against Inter Miami. Smith said the club hoped Zimmerman could overcome his injury “without any sort of procedure,” but it wasn’t to be.

“He’s had what can only be described as a fairly non-invasive procedure that may well keep him out for three to four weeks,” Smith said Wednesday. “But at this point it’s nothing serious, and we’re all expecting a pretty rapid recovery.”

Charlotte FC looking for change in third season

Charlotte’s first two seasons in MLS have taken place mostly in anonymity.

In 2022, Charlotte placed ninth in the Eastern Conference with 42 points. Last season’s finish was almost identical: 43 points and ninth in the East, though MLS’ new playoff format meant it still earned its first playoff berth. It didn’t last long: the New York Red Bulls routed Charlotte 5-2 in the wild-card round.

Charlotte was active in the offseason, firing coach Christian Lattanzio and hiring Englishman Dean Smith, who has managed Brentford, Aston Villa, Norwich City and Leicester City. In February, the club loaned out its leading scorer, Polish national team striker Karol Swiderski, to Hellas Verona of Italian Serie A. That same week, Swiderski’s countryman Kamil Jozwiak signed with La Liga club Granada.

Swiderski and Jozwiak were both designated players. Charlotte still has one DP spot open after the club acquired Liel Abada from Celtic last week for a reported $8 million transfer fee. However, the Israeli winger won’t be available against Nashville.

MORE: Nashville SC schedule, game times for 2024 Leagues Cup group stage released

McKinze Gaines goes up against former team

Charlotte saw 12 players leave the club after last season. One of them, McKinze Gaines, now plies his trade for Nashville.

Gaines, who scored two goals in 43 games with Charlotte in two seasons, was traded to Nashville in December for a second-round SuperDraft pick. He has started two games this season and appeared in four more as a substitute, with a goal and an assist. The 26-year-old winger’s speed down the flank already has made a positive impression on Smith.

Nashville SC vs. Charlotte FC score prediction

Nashville 2, Charlotte 0: Consider this a “get right” game for Nashville, which can finally dedicate all of its resources toward MLS play and will want to wipe away the taste of a slipshod performance against Inter Miami. Mukhtar and Jacob Shaffelburg find the net and Joe Willis records his third clean sheet.

Jacob Shames can be reached by email at jshames@gannett.com and on Twitter @Jacob_Shames.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nashville SC vs. Charlotte FC: Score prediction, scouting report

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