Major League Soccer

Nashville-Crew Preview

Caleb Porter claims he always considered Nashville a tougher opponent for Columbus Crew than Toronto.

TFC reached MLS Cup in 2019, their third final meeting with Seattle Sounders in four years, and looked a good bet to return to the showpiece this time around.

However, Toronto went down 1-0 at home to expansion side Nashville.

The result was considered a shock by most, but Porter expected Nashville to advance and is not taking Gary Smith's side lightly.

"I actually thought Nashville were going to win," Porter said. "I don't look at it like we ever get favors in the playoffs, every team's good. And there's no easy road, ever.

"If you start to think that way when you play a different seed or lower seed, that's the wrong mindset. Every team's good, every team's capable.

"I would say that (Nashville) were, for me, the more dangerous opponent that we could face.

"Obviously, it's nice to be at home, so we're happy about that. But by no means were we celebrating the opponent in any way, shape or form.

"They're a good team, very well coached, they have experience and they're flying right now."

Smith had praise for the Crew in return but believes his team are capable of providing another upset.

"Columbus beat us 2-0 at their place earlier on in the season and, again, are a fabulously talented team and not easy to play against," Smith said.

"But I do think we're in a very different place mentally and in terms of where we're at confidence-wise as a group.

"The hope is that we can give them a bigger test and ask them a few more questions."

Columbus Crew - Gyasi Zardes

Zardes had a goal and an assist in the sides' previous meetings and will be licking his lips ahead of this game, having dominated expansion teams over the past two seasons. He has four goals and an assist across three games against FC Cincinnati in 2019 and Nashville this year.

Nashville - Randall Leal

Nashville have got their attack up and running at a perfect time. Leal has been a key figure in that improvement, excelling in the final weeks of the regular season and carrying that form into the playoffs. He scored against Inter Miami and then created three chances against Toronto - second only to Daniel Lovitz.

- Columbus won their first meeting with Nashville at MAPFRE Stadium on September 19. Nashville held 57 per cent possession and out-shot the Crew 15 to eight, although both teams managed two shots on target.

- The Crew continued their strong home play in postseason matches with a 3-2 win over New York Red Bulls on Saturday. Columbus have won five of their past six home playoff games (D1) and have suffered just four home defeats in 19 home playoff matches (W13 D2) dating back to 1998.

- This fine form extends to more than just the playoffs recently, the Crew winning 11 of their past 12 at MAPFRE Stadium dating back to their last home match of the 2019 season (L1). Columbus kept clean sheets in each of their first six home matches in that run but have not shut out a visiting team in any of their past six home games.

- Nashville became just the third team to win each of their first two MLS playoff matches when they eliminated defending Eastern Conference champions Toronto on Tuesday (also Portland Timbers, Colorado Rapids). Only the Rapids (W4) enjoyed a longer winning streak in their first playoff games; their four-match run took them to the 1997 MLS Cup where they would lose to DC United.

- Twelve different players were directly involved in at least one of Nashville's 21 shots in their extra-time win over Toronto in the first round. Five different players had a hand in at least four shots in the match (Hany Mukhtar - six shots, Leal - three shots, three key passes, Daniel Rios - three shots, two key passes, Lovitz - one shot, four key passes, Dax McCarty - two shots, two key passes).

Updated November 27, 2020

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