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NASHVILLE – A resounding win (indeed the biggest winning margin in club history) felt pretty good for Nashville SC Saturday night. The group knocked off Atlanta United 2 by a 3-0 scoreline, with three different goal-scorers finding the back of the twine. For a side coming off just one win in their past four games across all competitions, it was a welcome change.
“I felt from start to finish, we had the right attitude, attacked the game from the outset, which was very much a point that was put across in the days between a defeat here to Indy on Tuesday and today,” head coach Gary Smith said after the game. “I just felt we’d come away from what we were about and what we’ve created. Those opening exchanges showed again that they dynamic of the group, purposeful play, energy, spirited, not just individuals, but spirited teamwork found some reward against a talented young side.”
Atlanta United 2 hardly provided the stiffest competition: in contrast to their parent club, the Baby Five Stripes are struggling as much as almost anyone in the USL’s Eastern Conference (Toronto FC II, another MLS reserve team, is in a category of its own as the worst fully professional team in North America, and by an extremely wide margin). While they boast some talented young prospects – who were able to put together a few exciting moments – breakdowns in the team’s shape happened on the regular, and Nashville probably could have added another goal or two.
Nashville put just four shots on target, scoring on three of them, but had ten key passes in the contest. That was just the semifinal product on a performance that saw them possess in midfield and comfortably counter time and again when Atlanta United 2 turned the ball over.
The return of winger Alan Winn to the starting lineup was a breath of fresh air for a Nashville team that has struggled to consistently produce in the final third over the past few weeks. He helped open the scoring in the 19th minute by sliding a pass across the face of goal for striker Brandon Allen to easily slot home. He score one of his own shortly before halftime, taking a long feed from Lebo Moloto and cutting to his right foot for the solid finish.
“It was off a free kick and I headed the ball off the top of the box and I tried to get another header out and Brandon stepped up and it deflected off him to Lebo and I was there off the counter,” he said, before adding with a chuckle. “It was a tight space and my left foot is not as good as my right, saw an opening and took the shot.”
Smith was impressed with the youngster’s game – which saw Winn named Man of the Match by fan vote.
“Alan was terrific, he was very positive, involved in an awful lot of creation and of course got an assist and a goal,” he said. “I’m not sure I could have asked for much more of a performance.”
His assist was a thing of beauty as well – and showed just how much success he had working down the right flank. The goal-scorer says that it was important to knock that one in and set the tone.
“I think in every game getting the first goal is important. Obviously in the last two games we haven’t managed to get the first goal and fortunately tonight we were able to get the first one and get the three points.”
With the win, Nashville rises to third in the USL East, eight points behind conference leader FC Cincinnati, with two games in hand on the best team in the division. That sets up a blockbuster match next weekend at Nissan Stadium, where the Boys in Gold will be hosting FCC with plenty on the line. A Nashville win could bring the team within five points of first place (still with the two games in hand) before getting into an easier stretch of the schedule. A loss would give their rival a chance to run away with the lead for the conference title.
The two MLS-bound sides (FCC will join in 2019, Nashville in 2020) have proven to be among the top teams in their conference, and settling the pecking order at the top would go a long way toward telling the story of the 2018 season.