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Nashville SC will hold the edge against Minnesota in the Leagues Cup quarter-finals. However, in this tournament stage, stats will only be a number as both clubs will look to put their best foot forward to qualify for the semi-finals. Incidentally, both clubs will be bolstered by respective wins over tournament heavyweights and look to carry the momentum.
Nashville United’s clash against Club America concluded dramatically. The Liga MX side’s new recruit Julian Quinones converted a spot kick in the 94th minute, which looked like the potential winner. But Hany Mukhtar found Sam Surridge on his debut in the ninth minute of stoppage time.
More drama unfolded after a series of sudden death penalty kicks. Jack Maher had his shot saved by Club America goalkeeper Luis Malagon. It looked like the Liga MX side had clinched the thriller for five minutes or so before VAR intervened to show that the goalkeeper had stepped off his line in the penalty that won the game.
In the next set of sudden death penalty kicks, Club America’s Giovani dos Santos missed, and Daniel Lavitz scored to take Nashville through to the quarterfinals in dramatic fashion.
Meanwhile, the clash between Toluca and Minnesota United also went to the penalty shootouts. The MLS side took a 2-0 lead at half-time through goals from Joseph Rosales and Bongokulhe Hlongwane. But their heavyweight opposition restored parity in the second half via Valber Hureta and a Tiago Volpi penalty.
Minnesota United were resilient not to concede a third while playing with a man down for 23 minutes after midfielder Hassani Dotson received a second yellow. They made no mistakes in the penalties to seal a 4-2 win.
Despite being in the same domestic league, Minnesota United and Nashville SC are in two different Conferences. Hence, the two clubs have only locked horns thrice. Two of those games have ended in draws, while Minnesota United nabbed their first win over Nashville SC last season at the same venue that hosts their Leagues Cup quarter-final encounter.
The most recent meeting between the two clubs occurred in the MLS last year in August. Franco Fragapane netted the opener for Minnesota, while Mukhtar scored the equalizer for the home team in the 61st minute. Alan Benitez’s 75th-minute strike handed the visitors all three points.
In the MLS, Nashville SC have a decent record at home after losing just two out of 12 home games this season. In the Leagues Cup, they have won only one game in regulation time, and that solitary victory came against an MLS side – Colorado Rapids..
The major concern for Nashville SC are the new recruits. The club signed Jacob Shaffelburg from Toronto FC and Fafa Picault from Houston Dynamo earlier this season. Both players have made their presence felt on fewer occasions in the MLS as the burden has been largely on Hany Mukhtar.
Shaffelburg has not been active amongst the goals consistently, and as a result, he has found the net only on three occasions in 20 MLS appearances. Meanwhile, Picault has shown his creativity in midfield by scoring four times in 20 appearances while pocketing one assist.
Randal League and Daniel Lovitz have also played a pivotal role in the team so far. However, towards the business end of the 2023 Leagues Cup, it will be crucial for these players to deliver to secure the first title of the season.
Hany Mukhtar has been among the thick of things in the MLS and has also carried his talismanic form in the Leagues Cup. He was involved in a crucial assist in the Leagues Cup Round of 16 clash and will be looking to take his side to the semi-finals.
The prolific striker will try to forget about his missed penalty in the shootout against Club America and focus on the next game. In the MLS, the German has scored 13 times in 24 appearances for the club and has also registered seven assists.
Nashville SC coach Gary Smith is set to rely primarily on his compact style of play, making it difficult for their MLS counterparts to flourish in the midfield and create spaces to penetrate through the opposition's defense.
Smith has majorly relied on his 5-3-2 formation but also switched to a 4-4-1-1 and 4-2-3-1 as per the need of the club to tackle the opposition. The compact playing style needs speed and precision. However, Nashville SC’s major concern is consistency. The club has lacked fluidity in its approach, with Mukhtar bearing the brunt and carrying most of the responsibilities.
It is likely that the outcome of the Leagues Cup quarter-final between Nashville SC and Minnesota United will be decided on penalties. In this case, Minnesota have the edge as they have won both their previous games after a shootout.
Minnesota United beat Columbus Crew 4-3 on penalties in the first knockout round before beating Toluca 4-2 in the Round of 16. If the side are able to take their quarter-final encounter to penalties, they might have a chance to continue their fairytale voyage in the Leagues Cup.
The goalscoring onus for Minnesota United is entirely on African forward Bongokuhle Hlongwane. The 21-year-old has netted six times while assisting thrice in 21 appearances in the MLS.
He will be the vital cog for the club to take them through to the semifinals. However, if Hlongwane fails to bring his A-game to the quarter-final, Minnesota United could collapse like a house of cards.
The club will expect Argentine midfielder Emanuel Reynoso to make his creativity in the midfield count. He has delivered four assists in seven appearances for the club in the ongoing season of the MLS.
In a crunch encounter, Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath is only expected to make minor tactical tweaks to his game plan, keeping Nashville SC’s strategy in mind. The club is expected to stick to the 4-2-3-1 formation that has helped them create opportunities in the final third with their short and crisp passing.
Interestingly, Heath also likes a compact style of play but holds an edge against his League Cup quarter-finals oppositions in moving the ball forward quickly and creating attacking moves.
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With an interest in strategy and mathematics, applying that to sports writing was the natural progression. A writer at night and the founder of a gaming company, Nikhil’s previous experience includes working with ESPN for five years. His specialization includes soccer, basketball, tennis, and esports betting. Email: [email protected]More info on Nikhil Kalro
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