Taking the field at IMG Academy in sunny Central Florida yesterday, Nashville SC knew that they had a tough task: Montreal Impact was just one result away from being in the MLS playoffs last year, boasts one of the league’s top attacking talents in midfielder Ignacio Piatti, and added Houston Dynamo’s productive striker Maxi Urruti in the offseason.
Piatti didn’t take the field for the Impact – and Urruti was mostly shut down – but it was the depth of Montreal’s squad that shone through. Both teams included trialists (or unsigned rookie draft picks, in Montreal’s case) in their starting lineups, but went with mostly top-side talent to begin the game. Each made nearly wholesale changes at halftime, and that’s when the momentum shifted from Nashville pressure (five corner kicks in the first half, including four that resulted in a shot) to Impact counter-attack.
“I think when you are looking at this time of year,” said NSC head coach Gary Smith, “you have certain players who are in a better physical position and individuals with more experience this time of year. I think in that second period the quality of the group just dropped off a little bit.”
It was one of the lone Impact holdovers who broke the seal in the 71st minute. Centerback Zakaria Diallo blasted a long-range chance that beat goalkeeper Connor Sparrow, and just a few minutes later in the 80th, midfielder Ken Krolicki fed Harry Novillo for a chested trap into a half-volley to provide the game’s final 2-nil line.
The setback wasn’t much to worry about for Nashville, though. This stage of the preseason is more about finding match fitness, building chemistry within the lineup, and testing the squad, rather than a hunt for results.
“The challenge is to be in a great position and to be in a good place physically and mentally, and to find those guys who are in tip top form for the first game of the season. One of the real benefits from today’s outing is that we came out of it with no problems, no physical issues.”
That’s not to say there weren’t positives from the game, or that the team didn’t want to put the ball into the back of the net, as well.
“When Kharlton went up front, he really was a different dynamic to the team. Suddenly we got a little bit going beyond. Another day it could have been all square but it wasn’t,” Smith said. “Kharlton [Belmar] had a one-on-one and then I have to say, I thought there was a penalty from where I was sitting.”
Centerback Liam Doyle also couldn’t quite connect with any of Michael Reed’s first-half corner kicks well enough to pull the ball on-frame and beat the keeper.
“To be fair, sometimes you don’t get one for a few games, and I think I headed four in one half,” Doyle said. “I was a bit far out on a couple of them but it was nice to get that connection, get the timing back. The keeper made a nice save on the first one, but hopefully we keep getting some chances like that.”
Nashville’s next chance to get those opportunities will come against a familiar opponent Saturday: reigning USL champion Louisville City beckons in the final game of the two-scrimmage stint in Bradenton. Nashville split the three-game season-series with the Boys in Purple with a win, loss, and draw last year, and lost 2-1 in the US Open Cup. Both teams have changed their composition significantly, including Nashville adding LCFC’s record-setting striker, Cameron Lancaster, who bagged 26 goals last year.
They are opponents that we know an awful lot about, although they have had plenty
of changes,” Smith said. “And it will be for us to get as much out of it as we can and move forward… we go into Saturday’s game with a little bit more under the bonnet and another day ticked off towards the start of the season.”
Neither Lancaster nor fellow MLS-bound signing Daniel Ríos made yesterday’s game, and if they see the pitch against Louisville, there’s a good chance the NSC scoring account for the 2019 preseason gets opened in game two.