For the first ten-plus minutes of Nashville SC’s derby game against Chattanooga FC, it looked like their NPSL opposition may be able to spring the upset. Chattanooga smashed a shot against the crossbar barely more than a minute into the game, earned a free kick in a dangerous position just minutes later, and had consistent pressure (including a pair of solid crosses left wanting) on Matt Pickens’s net.
After that point, though, the Boys in Gold asserted their dominance. The USL side – the one that will be in Major League Soccer come 2020 – showed that a higher level in the US Soccer pyramid more than likely means a higher level of play to correspond.
In the 14th minute, a cross from central attacking midfielder Alan Winn fell to defensive midfielder Matt LaGrassa at the top of the box, and his shot went just high (ramming the football goalpost, rather than the crossbar on the soccer goal). Two minutes later, Winn went down in the box applying heavy pressure, though he couldn’t draw the foul call. In the 18th, NSC earned a corner.
That corner turned into first blood on the night. Defender London Woodberry’s header rang the crossbar, and the rebound fell to midfielder Bolu Akinyode. Akinyode didn’t find the back of the net, but only because the ball was handled in the goalmouth. The infraction earned a penalty, and LaGrassa coolly slotted it inside the right post.
Impressive physical feats from strikers Ropapa Mensah and Tucker Hume would follow in the 30th and 45th minutes. Mensah made a physical tackle on a lazy Chattanooga backpass, rounded the keeper and fired into the back of the net. The 6-5 Hume showed agility and skill unexpected of a player his size, cutting back twice in traffic to finish inside the box just before halftime.
From there, it was all procedural and a matter of playing out the contest.
A Host of Nashville subs at the half saw the team struggle to find a rhythm – similar to the first half, with a mix of first-XI regulars and players fighting to make the gameday 18 going forward – and Chattanooga buzzed the net consistently. Juanito got the home side on the board in the 59th minute, firing from the top of the box through traffic and wrong-footing NSC second-choice keeper CJ Cochran.
There was a bit of chippiness in the game, with a couple second-half bookings (LaGrassa was also carded in the 20th minute), one for Chattanooga’s Daniel Valeciano in the 68th minute and from NSC’s Ryan James in the 72nd. A chance for Chattanooga also saw a player injured – while Nashville continued to work the ball up the field instead of playing it out-of-bounds for a restart to let him seek treatment. It may be that there’s a little of the old NPSL rivalry left yet.
The final 10 minutes saw only half-chances for Nashville, while Chattanooga couldn’t win this particular game of keepaway long enough to muster anything on net.
In the end, the 3-1 result in favor of the Boys in Gold – in front of 3,239 fans (more of whom were there to support Nashville than the hosts would like to admit) – was a fair one. Going forward, beginning next Saturday in Louisville, the games count.