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FCC-Nashville SC Preview
Gary Smith was delighted to sign a contract extension through 2023 with Nashville SC ahead of the new MLS season, providing stability that is the envy of many MLS teams.
In a league where players and coaches are regularly on the move, Nashville made sure to tie Smith down.
Their debut MLS campaign saw Smith's side take eventual MLS Cup winners the Columbus Crew to extra time in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
Ahead of another big year, news of the coach's commitment boosted the second-year franchise.
"Going into a new season, it's certainly very pleasing for myself and the family to know that we're going to hopefully be here for the next few years," Smith said.
"I think we live and breathe in an environment where if you're looking further than the next week and the next month in front of you, then I think you've not quite got the right mindset.
"This is a pressurized situation. I think every coach knows that you're normally only a couple of results away from being under a little bit of pressure."
Nashville also resisted the urge to make sweeping changes to their squad, with Derrick Jones the only regular to depart this offseason.
They play FC Cincinnati at home on Saturday and visiting coach Jaap Stam said: "[Nashville] have kept a lot of the same players as last season, also because I think they've been doing very well as a team in MLS.
"They play some good football, they go forward, want to play possession-based football at times, and they've got individual good players as well, so we need to be prepared for that. What we can expect is quite clear."
Nashville SC - Hany Mukhtar
Designated Player Mukhtar played only 18 games last season but was Nashville's top scorer with five goals, while he also contributed three assists. It is this creativity they will rely on again this year, with the midfielder playing 1.9 key passes per 90 minutes.
FC Cincinnati - Brenner
Cincy also missed a natural goalscorer last season, with Jurgen Locadia a huge disappointment. He scored just once as Yuya Kubo led the way with a measly three. Stam will hope a $13 million move for Brazilian Brenner, who had 25 goal involvements in all competitions for Sao Paulo in 2020, can provide a much-needed fix.
- This will be the first ever meeting between Nashville SC and FC Cincinnati. Nashville lost on their first two trips to Ohio, suffering a pair of 2-0 defeats at Columbus, including in last season's playoffs.
- Nashville advanced past both fellow expansion side Inter Miami and defending champions Toronto FC in last season's playoffs, becoming the first expansion side to win a postseason match since the Chicago Fire in 1998.
- Cincinnati scored six times in 18 matches after the regular season resumed in August, the fewest goals ever scored in a 16-match span in MLS history.
- Joe Willis led MLS with nine clean sheets last season, one ahead of Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake. Willis kept clean sheets in 39.1 per cent of his starts this season after recording a clean sheet in just 15.8 per cent (18) of his 114 starts in his first eight MLS seasons.
- Brenner averaged 0.51 goals per 90 minutes during his time in Brazil's Serie A, nearly equaling what the entire Cincinnati team averaged last season (0.52).
Updated April 16, 2021