BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – On a cool, occasionally windy day in what is apparently called “Magic City,” Nashville SC managed to score before halftime, and put the game away with two late goals to give USL Championship expansion side Birmingham Legion its first home loss against a team from its league.
Gary Smith continues to experiment with his personnel to find out what will ultimately be the first-choice XI, but the squad that he put out to begin the game probably wasn’t too far from it.
MLS signing Cameron Lancaster not only started the game, but scored the opening goal on an assist from Alan Winn, who gained the endline in the 31st minute, then cut the ball back to the top of the box for the Englishman to finish. Lancaster’s fellow future Nashville MLSer, Daniel Ríos, made his first unofficial appearance for the team, playing 34 second-half minutes.
The second-half scoring, however, was provided by familiar faces. Left back Taylor Washington sent an early cross into the box in the 60th minute, finding the header of striker Tucker Hume, who nodded back across goal into the lower corner. Hume got a helper of his own in the 86th, with quality on the ball allowing him to evade a slide-tackling defender, dribble to the doorstep of the goal, and send a pass across the open frame where a waiting Ropapa Mensah banged it into the top shelf from only a couple yards away.
The fan favorites, however, may have ultimately been a pair of trialists. Midfielder Vinnie Vermeer played extensively in the team’s first two friendlies, and had another strong turn in front of the fans Saturday afternoon. Fellow trialist Genki Miyachi made his public debut, with time spent at centerback, fullback, and midfield in his run-out during the second half. He also showed off his flexibility by doing the splits – to a roaring ovation – during his warm-up for the appearance.
The festive atmosphere in the Nashville supporters’ section (chanting for a trialist to prove he can do the splits is… not something you expect during a particularly competitive outing) was facilitated by a strong defensive performance. Starting keeper Connor Sparrow didn’t face a shot on goal in the first half, while veteran Matt Pickens had to deal with only a couple tricky bouncing efforts after the break.
Birmingham showed some signs of competitiveness – and it was a reasonably chippy game for a friendly, with each team taking one yellow card and neither probably could have complained if they’d been issued another one or two – but Nashville also proved that it’s taking its mantle seriously as a challenger for the USL Cup in its final season before moving along to Major League Soccer.
NSC tried a few different things tactically, switching between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 formation (and plenty of 5-3-2 later in the game with Miyachi as the middle centerback, though it’s pretty difficult to tell for sure from field level), the latter of which would obviously allow the staff to get both Lancaster and Ríos on the field at the same time – as they’re the team’s pure strikers (along with Hume) who can’t quite as naturally fit on the wing like Kharlton Belmar, Ropapa Mensah, and Alan Winn – though they didn’t hit the pitch together in the game.
There was a bit of high-pressing early in the game (before it became clear that Birmingham was going to have trouble advancing through the midfield regardless of whether NSC pressed them) against a team that seemed pretty dedicated to playing the ball out of the back, rather than banging goal kicks deep downfield. How much of that is testing things out only to see them disappear, versus a strategy that will persist into the regular season? There’s no way to know until we actually see it.
What we now have seen is a game featuring a comfortable NSC win, three goals against a fellow USL Championship side (something the Boys in Gold only pulled off five times last season), and a fun trip for supporters. That’s certainly something to hold onto until later this week, with a couple big events planned from the club, culminating in Friday’s friendly against New York City FC at First Tennessee Park.
Birmingham lineup information was not published by their club, nor was substitution information.
- 31′ NSH GOAL – 9 Cameron Lancaster (right-footed), assisted by 19 Alan Winn (pass from inside the penalty area)
- 38′ BHM Yellow card – Foul
- 45′ Half time
- 46′ NSH Substitutions
- On 18 Matt Pickens, off 24 Connor Sparrow
- On 21 Darnell King, off 27 Kosuke Kimura
- On 99 (trialist) Genki Miyachi, off 5 Liam Doyle
- On 22 Bradley Bourgeois, off 6 Ken Tribbett
- On 2 (c) Justin Davis, off 11 Kharlton Belmar
- On 99 (trialist) Vinnie Vermeer, off 30 Bolu Akinyode
- On 20 Matt LaGrassa, off 17 (c) Michael Reed
- On 7 Ramone Howell, off 19 Alan Winn
- On 12 Tucker Hume, off 9 Cameron Lancaster
- On 14 Daniel Ríos, off 10 Lebo Moloto
- 60′ NSH GOAL – 12 Tucker Hume (headed), assisted by 23 Taylor Washington (left-footed early cross)
- 63′ NSH Substitution – On 3 Ropapa Mensah, off 23 Taylor Washington
- 79′ NSH Substitutions
- On 4 Malcolm Stewart, off 14 Daniel Ríos
- On 19 Alan Winn, off 7 Ramone Howell
- 82′ NSH Yellow card – 2 Justin Davis (foul)
- 86′ NSH GOAL – 3 Ropapa Mensah (right footed), assisted by 12 Tucker Hume (pass inside the six-yard box)
- 90′ Full time