In a season full of firsts for Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC, the expansion sides will check another off the list when they meet for the first time in MLS play on Sunday (8:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; DAZN in Canada).
There have been some growing pains for each club to this point in their MLS existence, with each sporting just one win from six matches. But neither side has looked out of their depth either, as has been the case with some expansion teams in recent years. Nashville, while goal-starved, have proven to be a sound defensive unit that has proven competitive in most of their games. Inter Miami are coming off what they hope is a momentum-turning 3-2 win over in-state rivals Orlando City SC in their first home match, and have also arguably played better than their 1W-5L-0D record would indicate.
Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith indicated his team is well aware of the challenges Inter Miami present, especially now that they've cleared the hurdle of picking up their first three points after opening with five straight losses.
"They are very similar to us in many, many ways," Smith said. "I know they’ve recruited differently, but I think there are some fundamentals that are the same. In six or eight games' time, I think you’re going to see a very different team, guys like [Rodfolo] Pizarro and [Lewis] Morgan and [Matias] Pellegrini, they’ll find themselves in a world where they’re understanding [Julian] Carranza up front.
"These guys have got a lot of talent, they’ve got a lot of energy and against Orlando, for the very first time, in their very first home game, I think you saw a different edge to them. They played with a lot of passion. I would imagine the way that the Orlando tournament unfolded for them was not pleasing, and I think you saw a very different team in that game a week ago. So my expectations are that we’re going to see a team that’s inspired, that are still finding their way, but if they’re not dealt with or treated in the right way, then I’m sure they can be very damaging."
Smith noted that while the sides may have taken different approaches to their roster-building, establishing an identity is still a work in progress for both teams. For Nashville, the story has been trying to figure out how to foster some more dynamic attacking play to compliment their solid work at the back. When it comes to Sunday's match, Smith said it's an ideal opportunity to show they've made positive strides on that front.
“They’ve signed different players, they have probably a different budget and different idea of how they want to go about their business. That’s their way, and there are plenty of other teams in the league that are going that way as well," Smith said. "So, the only things that are the same are what I’ve mentioned [learning to bond as an expansion team] and it can result in inconsistencies. We’ve seen it in their team, we’ve it in our team and until we get into a rhythm and the players are more appreciative of each other, it’ll carry on that way.
"We’re hoping we can turn the corner this weekend and get on a reasonable track. For every time you see some good signs, you see one or two things you know you’ve got to improve. Unfortunately that’s the way with expansion teams, but it doesn’t stop you having the ability to win, it doesn’t stop you having the ability to be passionate. But in terms of identity, you’re probably not going to see that shine through until a little bit further down the line for both teams.”
Inter Miami coach Diego Alonso said his team knows the difficulties other teams have had trying to break Nashville down. Miami's three-goal outburst against Orlando City, though, gives the coach hope that his side will be able to translate some of that intensity and aggression over to Sunday's match.
“They’re a very compact team that works really hard, is tactically disciplined and defends very well," Alonso said. "We have to try to be a team that can break through their defensive shape; we have to break lines either centrally or out wide. When it’s time to press we have to be a very organized team, like we saw against Orlando. We can be very aggressive with our press. We want to try to win the ball and keep possession as close to our opponent’s goal as possible.
“We’re very motivated and have a lot of enthusiasm," he added. "Now we have a great opportunity and we know that [Nashville] is a direct rival for playoff qualification, so we have to play well.”