Crew-Nashville SC Preview
Caleb Porter has praised Columbus Crew's hunger to stay afloat in the battle for an MLS Cup Playoffs spot heading into Wednesday's showdown with Nashville SC.
The reigning MLS Cup champions thrashed Inter Miami CF 4-0 on Saturday to move within four points of CF Montreal in seventh place with five regular-season games remaining.
A defeat at high-flying Nashville in midweek, coupled with wins for the sides occupying one of the postseason berths, could prove fatal for the Crew.
But on the back of a hugely positive display against Inter, Porter is optimistic about making up the gap on the playoffs.
"When a group of 11 guys who pull their sleeves up and work and fight and are organised, play hard, play smart, play together - good things happen," he said.
"It doesn't get any easier, but the guys will be confident. We scored four goals in the last game and got a clean sheet with a very comprehensive performance.
"You saw this group's hunger to make the playoffs. We're going to not get ahead of ourselves. We're going to play the next game and we know it's a very difficult game.
"We'll control what we can control and that's winning the next game."
Nashville are all but assured of a place in the playoffs as they sit second in the Eastern Conference and have an eight-point gap on the chasing pack.
Four successive draws has allowed others to close the gap in the battle for second, but Gary Smith was pleased with the most recent of those stalemates last weekend.
"The only disappointment in the draw with D.C. United was our lack of clear opportunities," Smith said. "When you look at the competition in front of us, a point is terrific.
"I'm just looking for that icing on the cake now. Once you've had a couple of weeks between games, you can sometimes find that players don't get into gear quick enough.
"But it was a fantastic point for us in a difficult environment."
Nashville SC - Joe Willis
Failing to score in three of their last four games will surely be a concern for Smith, but the flipside to that has been three clean sheets across the same period.
Joe Willis made five saves against D.C. United and now has an MLS-leading 13 shutouts for the campaign, which is the joint-eighth most in a single MLS season.
Columbus Crew - Gyasi Zardes
Zardes scored twice in the win against Inter Miami to make it nine goals for the season, which includes a run of five goals in his last four appearances.
The United States forward was on target in both meetings with Nashville last season, including an extra-time strike in the MLS Cup Eastern Conference semi-finals.
- Columbus have never lost to Nashville in MLS play (W2 D1, including playoffs), though the lone meeting this season was a scoreless draw at Columbus. Nashville have never scored a goal against Columbus, but this will be the Crew's first visit to Nashville as the first three meetings were all in Ohio.
- Nashville are unbeaten in their 15 home matches this season (W8 D7), the lone unbeaten home team in the league in 2021. The last team to go a full regular season (excluding 2020) without a home loss was Colorado in 2016 (W11 D6).
- Columbus matched their largest margin of victory in nearly six years with a 4-0 win over Inter Miami. The defending MLS Cup champions have had just one winning streak during their title defence, winning three in a row in May-June.
- Nashville's scoreless draw at D.C. United on Saturday was their 24th clean sheet (including playoffs) since joining MLS before last season, four more than any other team in that span. Except Austin FC, who joined the league this season, no team has allowed fewer goals than Nashville (50) since they joined MLS last year.
- Zardes scored twice in the Crew's win on Saturday, taking him to five goals in his last four matches. Three of the four goals were scored at home, as Zardes has scored just once in his last 14 away matches dating back to October 2020, with 14 of his 15 goals in that span being scored at home (including playoffs).
Updated October 19, 2021