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Austin FC-Nashville SC Preview
Austin FC coach Josh Wolff is taking inspiration from Nashville SC as the two sides prepare to battle it out on Sunday.
Nashville reached the Eastern Conference Playoff Semi-finals in their inaugural MLS campaign last time out, reaching heights only matched by 1998 MLS Cup champions Chicago Fire.
They are unbeaten through their first five games this season, albeit with four of those matches finishing all square.
And while there are differences in the two sides' playing styles, Austin are looking to match Nashville's achievement in what is their own debut campaign in the division.
"You have an idea of what you want your playing style to look like, then you bring in players who will support that," Wolff said.
"Along the way, you keep evolving. That was seen last year with Nashville. They were difficult to play against and along the way, they became better offensively.
"That's the growth that can happen but it takes time. We're aware of that as well. We've had a lot of progress in our five games and we need to continue progressing."
Austin have lost back-to-back games, but they have six points from five matches overall to remain in the early pack of Playoff chasers.
"They have created quite a nice identity already," Nashville boss Gary Smith said.
"The way they play, the energy and enthusiasm, plus the technical quality they have in the group, has given them a shape already.
"Are players within that shape still trying to work each other out? Sure. We had that last year and it's not easy. But they've showed to everyone that they very much mean business."
Nashville SC - Dominique Badji
Smith's side have kept three clean sheets in a row, but they have also fired blanks themselves in two of those games.
Badji started the last two of those and could not find a way through from any of his six attempts, a run that the Senegalese will be eager to put an end to here.
Austin FC - Alexander Ring
The Greens were without former Finland international Ring for last week's defeat to LA Galaxy and that told at times.
Ring, who joined from New York City FC in the close-season, has averaged 77.7 passes per 90 minutes this term - the highest in MLS among those to have played a minimum of 150 minutes.
- This will be the first meeting between the teams in MLS. Nashville's only experience against expansion sides was last season when they were one, playing fellow newcomers Inter Miami three times, winning twice, and drawing once, including a playoff victory.
- Nashville is one of three teams (along with Orlando and Seattle) unbeaten entering matchday six in MLS. Nashville has kept three straight clean sheets and now has 12 regular season shutouts since the start of the 2020 season, tied with Philadelphia for most in MLS in that time.
- Austin has conceded two goals in each of its three losses this season, while allowing just one total goal in its two wins.
- Only the Red Bulls (7.6) have faced fewer shots per match than Nashville SC this season (9.0), while Nashville's 2.4 shots on target faced per match are fewest in the league.
Updated May 22, 2021