There may not have been any goals but there was still plenty to take away from Tuesday's clash between playoff-chasing Nashville SC and Minnesota United at Nissan Stadium. Here are three things that stood out.
Nashville full-backs deserve credit for defensive excellence
Another shutout on Tuesday means Nashville have conceded just 14 goals in 15 games and remain on course to match or even surpass the best defensive record ever by an expansion team, set by the Seattle Sounders in 2009. While Walker Zimmerman and Dave Romney, and lately goalkeeper Joe Willis, have rightly garnered plenty of plaudits, the team's full-backs deserve their share of the credit as well.
Daniel Lovitz may not be the flashiest of full-backs but he's been a steady and impressive presence for Nashville since joining from Montreal in the offseason. On Tuesday, he made the standout defensive play of the night, and one of the best this season, with a spectacular challenge to deny Kevin Molino what looked like a clear strike at goal.
On the right side, 2020 SuperDraft pick Alistair Johnston continued to show why he's been a near ever-present in the side since play resumed in home markets in August. He was solid defensively, winning all four of his tackles and making four clearances, and was useful on the ball going forward, too, particularly in the first half when he supplied multiple good crosses into the box that Nashville attackers might have done better with.
Dayne St. Clair continues rapid rise for Loons
When Tyler Miller went down with a season-ending hip injury at the end of August and backup Gregory Ranjitsingh suffered a knee injury that required surgery just a couple of weeks later, Minnesota United were left to turn to a 23-year-old without a single minute of MLS action to his name. Dayne St. Clair has exceeded all expectations since and on Tuesday kept his third straight shutout. While it wasn't his busiest night, the seventh pick in the 2019 SuperDraft handled what did come his way expertly.
He stood up strongly in the 26fh minute to deny a close-range effort from Alex Muyl and then made an even more impressive stop a few minutes later when diving at full stretch to turn behind a Randall Leal drive that looked destined for the bottom corner of the net.
"Our goalkeeper came up with a great save in the first half, and I don't use that word lightly," Minnesota head coach Adrian Heath said in his post-match press conference. "It's an unbelievable save. Only somebody of his size and length would get to it. It's been another great night for the kid."
Heath explained that he was determined to give St. Clair his chance in the team after Miller and Ranjitsingh went down hurt, rather than signing a more experienced backup. That decision has certainly been vindicated.
"He's proved he can play in MLS and he'll only get better," Heath said.
Nashville can't wait for Jhonder Cadiz
It would certainly be a stretch to say that the revelation that Nashville need some scoring help is a new one. While the defense has shone, Nashville's offense has misfired and only FC Cincinnati have a worse scoring record than Nashville's 11 goals this season. And that deficiency stood out particularly strongly on Tuesday.
"Of course, the need up front is one that we all see, from my position to all of the fans looking in on it," Nashville head coach Gary Smith acknowledged afterward.
Nashville were the better team in the opening exchanges and with a more clinical presence spearheading the team would have made that early dominance count. Most notably, Derrick Jones, who was filling in up front for a team without a recognized striker in the absence of Daniel Rios and Dominique Badji, shot wide from just a couple of yards out inside five minutes.
It is the sort of chance that Nashville will be counting on new Designated Player signing Jhonder Cadiz to finish. It is almost a month since the club announced Cadiz's signing from Benfica but with the player having to deal with visa and quarantine requirements, he has yet to make his debut.
Given Cadiz has not played since March, it can be expected that it will take some time before he is fully up to speed. But with a lack of sharpness in front of goal as evident as it has been all season and opportunity for crucial points in the hunt for a playoff spot coming thick and fast, time is not a luxury that Nashville possess.
"He's going through his paces at the moment, he's working hard," Smith said of Cadiz. "We'd love to try and fast track him into the group, and be ready for us as soon as possible."