When Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF take to the pitch at Nissan Stadium on Friday (9 pm ET | TV & streaming info) it will be a showdown of two expansion sides that accomplished the credible feat of reaching the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in their first year. But according to Nashville head coach Gary Smith, the similarities end there.
“In any normal year, they wouldn’t have made it,” the manager told the media on Wednesday about a Miami team that finished 10th in the Eastern Conference to gain a place in an expanded playoff field.
Smith feels that while Nashville have created a strong foundation that they can build upon, Inter Miami might have some regrets about how their first season played out.
“I would suspect that there's probably a little bit more disappointment in their camp in the way that things have gone this year," he said. “However, they've certainly finished the season and off in a decent run, and they've clinched that final spot, so they’ll be dangerous, there’s no doubt about it. We’re by no means taking this game lightly and shouldn’t be.”
The clubs met twice during the regular season. Nashville took a 1-0 victory at Nissan Stadium on Aug. 30 and then they played to a scoreless draw on Sept. 6 in Fort Lauderdale. But the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs Play-in Match is win or go home and the Boys in Gold are ready for whatever Inter Miami throws at them.
“As far as [Gonzalo] Higuain is concerned, his reputation precedes him," Smith said. "He’s more than capable of winning a game, changing the course of a game… we'll put our record in front of anyone in terms of how we compete and how we go about our business. And my hope is we can make his life as difficult as possible and limit him to few chances. But, you know, he's not the only person in that group who is capable."
Nashville captain Dax McCarty added that Miami has changed since the last time the two sides faced each other and that Higuain has given the side a much-needed boost in the attack. But he also acknowledges that there’s more to the Florida side than the Argentinian.
“[Blaise] Matuidi’s starting to find this form, I think Lewis Morgan has really actually taken it up a notch, their winger, has probably been their best player this whole season. We've talked about him a little bit being a very dangerous player that we have to account for at all times. And so they've changed a little bit, they still want to be a team that dominates possession and dominates the ball. We'll see what their tactics are coming on the road, coming into Nashville where we've been very good.”
Nashville has only lost twice at home this season — their very first game in MLS against Atlanta United on Feb. 29 and then an MLS is Back Tournament make-up match against FC Dallas on Nov. 4 (which was deemed a neutral game for purpose of the standings).
The expansion side allowed just 22 goals, thanks in part to 2020 MLS Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman, who plans to treat their playoff match-up like any other game.
“Ultimately, it's about inspiring the guys to do the work that we've done all year at home. And that's just go out there and compete, and know that there are going to be plays and there are going to be situations that the intensity is just going to be a little bit higher. And that's how it is in these bigger games and these bigger moments.”