Nashville made it look easy early – then not-so-easy in the middle – and put a 91st-minute capper on its 3-1 victory over Mississippi Brilla FC in the third Round of the US Open Cup Wednesday evening. New signing Brandon Allen scored his first for the club in his debut, defender London Woodberry added his first NSC goal in his second game back from injury, and oft-maligned Robin Shroot finally opened his account to seal the game.
It may have come against a fourth-division (Premier Development League) club, but Nashville SC finally had the long-awaited offensive breakout game in a competitive match. With a penalty kick (that could have provided Allen’s brace) saved in the first half, the Boys in Gold barely missed an opportunity to put this one to bed early on.
“We couldn’t have asked for much more in the first half other than to really have finished the game off,” said head coach Gary Smith. “The missed penalty and a couple of other opportunities could have made it quite an enjoyable evening and less stressful for me. But we have a great habit of making sure that I stay on my toes.”
Allen, whose transfer from Bethlehem Steel was announced just one day earlier, had a solid run in his first game wearing Blue and Gold. In 64 minutes, he scored the goal (on a lovely high-pressing defensive play and assist from Tucker Hume), had only one incomplete pass (11 completed, including a key pass), and gained possession for his team with three defensive actions.
Not bad for a guy who wasn’t even on the squad to start the week.
“It’s obviously really exciting,” Allen said. “It’s only my first game back in a while, so it’s obviously really exciting to get on the score sheet. We have an MLS team coming up [see below], so hopefully next game we can find a way to get that win as well.”
“Brandon is a caliber player,” Smith added. “He’s a class individual, he’s had just two training sessions with us but he looks sharp – he’s been playing at Bethlehem. There was never a doubt in my mind [about inserting him into the lineup], wanting to win this game.”
While Allen – who was the 2016 USL rookie of the year and USL Cup MVP with New York Red Bulls II – will draw many of the headlines, it was the subsequent scoring by Woodberry and Shroot that is a sigh of relief for NSC fans. Woodberry played 90 minutes in just his second game back after a knee injury had sidelined him since the opener, and the 30th-minute goal was just a cherry on top individually. Meanwhile, Shroot has been able to get into scoring positions, and seeing the ball hit the back of the net could be just the confidence boost he needs to start putting more of his chances in.
I wouldn’t think London was expecting to get himself on the score sheet,” Smith said with a grin. “I really hoped he would get through 90 minutes… You can see the way he performed, he’s in good shape. The biggest issue, of course, is when you get fatigued, but with the injury he’s had, he’s brought on the more stress, and suddenly you’re not quite as nimble in those late stages as you might have been early on.
“Robin’s got his first, we’ve waited a long time,” he added. “I know an awful lot about Robin, and he created both goals last week, got himself in a couple of wonderful positions and has done, and I could probably name those moments, but he’s just been unable to execute. I seem him every day in training, I’ve seen a lot of him in the past and he’s a terrific finisher. What you saw, the composure, the disguise at the end there, to finish the game off is really what Robin’s about. He’s a creator, he’s a finisher. And I really hope for him as well, he starts to open the gates a little bit more and get a bit of confidence.”
The game begins a stretch of six games in 18 days for the Boys in Gold: up next is a weekend trip to Charleston Battery, then a mid-week USL game in Pittsburgh, a home contest against Penn FC, a (likely long) road trip for a mid-week Open Cup match, then heading in the opposite direction to take on the Tampa Bay Rowdies in Central Florida. This team will be nothing if not tested.
“For any group of players that have got so many fixtures – and we knew if we could get
through this round that we’d be in the draw for two weeks time – knowing that we’ve got two extremely tough away league games with Charleston and Pittsburgh waiting for us. Two in-form sides, not going to be easy.
“But I think you’ve seen tonight that there are a number of guys that I still class as first-choice players… As you can imagine, some sore limbs, a few lumps and bumps, we won’t have long to turn around and we’ll be on a flight Friday morning and trying to compete again in a very tough fixture in Charleston.”
The Open Cup run lives on, and the team will gladly take the added difficulty of a packed schedule when it comes to their quest to make the USL playoffs, as well.
Nashville SC earned a pretty unfavorable pot when it came to the fourth round of the US Open Cup (draw to be announced at 10 a.m.). They’ll be drawn against one of three Western Conference MLS sides: Colorado Rapids, Real Salt Lake, or Sporting Kansas City.
Meanwhile, Charleston Battery was drawn into the Southeast region, which includes MLS sides Orlando City and Atlanta United – which would have been more exciting (if more difficult) competition for the Boys in Gold. Louisville City FC was shipped to the Northeast to share a pot with New England Revolution, New York Red Bulls, and New York City FC.
Two of Nashville’s potential fourth-round opponents have strong connections to the club: Head coach Gary Smith, keeper Matt Pickens, and defender Kosuke Kimura led Colorado Rapids to the 2008 MLS Cup championship, while Technical Director Mike Jacobs joined NSC after helping build the current iteration of Sporting Kansas City as assistant Technical Director.