We're just a couple of days away from witnessing the final of Leagues Cup 2023. This match is the culmination of the most ambitious tournament in the history of North American soccer. Forty-seven clubs from MLS and LIGA MX paused their respective seasons to participate in this FIFA World Cup-style championship. And now, it's reaching its conclusion.
The contenders are Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF. Each team has crafted its own narrative in the tournament, but today we'll be analyzing the defensive aspect of each side. How many goals have they conceded and what could be the keys to thwarting their opponent's attacks?
Nashville SC's defense has undergone several changes throughout the six matches they've played in Leagues Cup 2023. Their coach, Gary Smith, has experimented with both a backline of four and five, but it seems he's found the winning formula, as in the last two quarterfinal and semifinal matches, his team hasn't conceded a single goal.
Nashville has let in a total of eight goals in six matches. Four in the group stage, one in the Round of 32, and two in the Round of 16. As mentioned before, they managed to keep a clean sheet in both the quarterfinals and semifinals against the likes of Willis and Panicco.
Interestingly, this team is one of the few that hasn't had the same goalkeeper throughout the tournament. In the group stage, both played, each taking one match. In the Round of 32 and Round of 16, it was Willis guarding the goal. However, after the penalty shootout against Club América, Panicco seems to have secured the starting position. He played against Minnesota and Monterrey and is likely to be in the starting lineup for the final.
As mentioned, Gary Smith has experimented with both a backline of four and five, deploying a total of five different defenders. However, all indications point to him using a back four in the final, featuring the same defenders who started the last two matches: Lovitz, MacNaughton, Zimmermann, and Moore.
INTER MIAMI CF
Inter Miami CF's defense, on the whole, has been slightly more solid than Nashville's, even though they've conceded just one goal less. Nashville has conceded eight goals, while Inter Miami CF has conceded seven. The difference is that Inter Miami CF only conceded more than one goal in a single match during the tournament, that being the 4-4 draw against FC Dallas. In all other matches, they've either conceded one goal or kept a clean sheet.
How were the conceded goals distributed for Inter Miami CF? They conceded one in the group stage, one in the Round of 32, four in the Round of 16, none in the quarterfinals, and one in the semifinals.
'Tata' Martino has used six different players as defenders, always with a back four where the center-backs, Miller and Kristov, have been consistent. It's the full-backs who have seen rotation. Yedlin, Fray, and Allen haven't quite met the expectations of the Argentine coach, unlike Jordi Alba, who has played every available minute since arriving. For this final, it seems likely that the starting back four will be Alba, Miller, Kristov, and Yedlin.
We hope that in this grand final, both teams' defenses perform at their best and manage to stop their opponents' attacks.