Scoring chances were scarce for Nashville SC against Real Salt Lake. Between those chances were marathon stints of intense defending, resulting in a scoreless draw at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Nashville made its first trip to face a Western Conference opponent and remains unbeaten in the 2021 season.
For a second consecutive match, Nashville began with two center forwards; CJ Sapong and Dom Badji. Having four midfielders and four defenders behind them, as opposed to a conventional 4-2-3-1 formation.
Nashville played in the altered formation for more than half of the match.
The second half was slightly different, in Nashville’s favor.
CJ Sapong was determined to score in the 52nd minute. Alistair Johnston played in a cross from the right flank that found Sapong on the bounce. The center forward made a touch before aiming for the bottom right corner. Having goalkeeper David Ochoa beat, RSL center back Erik Holt’s block prevented the goal.
Later in the game, Johnston’s cross to winger Luke Haakenson in the 77th minute set up Randall Leal for a chance. Both Leal’s shot and Jhonder Cadiz’ header in the 79th were Nashville’s best chances.
Center back Walker Zimmerman was critical of the defensive backline’s performance in possession, starting with himself.
“We gave too many passes away,” Zimmerman told the club broadcast after the match. “We’ve got to be more organized and that starts with me.”
Smith recognized the vast difference between how Nashville cared for ball possession one week ago compared to Saturday’s draw.
“I think we’ve seen a below par performance with the ball from the group,” Smith began. “We’ve created a very high standard. And I think everyone who’s watched our home games would agree that we’ve looked very bright and very creative. And tonight, that deserted us a little bit.”
Central attacking midfielder, Hany Mukhtar, made his return after being sidelined last week against New England due to a sore hamstring. The German designated player returned Saturday as a substitute in the 56th minute, replacing Badji, which led Nashville back into its conventional shape.