Bradley Bourgeois photo from file. Ryan Lassan/For Club and Country
Almost no team goes through an entire soccer season undefeated, and that’s especially true in the parity-rich USL. Changing personnel over the course of the season with loans to or from Major League Soccer sides, periods of heavy fixture congestion (and therefore roster rotation), and budgets that tend to prevent major disparities in talent all mean even the best teams aren’t going to get a result each weekend. even last year’s FC Cincinnati – which added multiple MLS signings mid-season – lost a trio of times en route to a second-round playoff exit.
If they couldn’t do it, who can?
Still, the way in which Nashville SC lost Saturday evening against the Charleston Battery was disconcerting. The Boys in Gold conceded early, and were down 3-0 before a late penalty kick from Daniel Ríos provided a bit of consolation.
“I think it goes to highlight the competitive nature of this league,” said NSC head coach Gary Smith. “Lot of lessons to be learned tonight. We can now try and pick through what was a very disappointing night. You win silverware when you are consistent. They, I thought from the outset, looked sharper. With a slightly different shape they got the better of us through the first 15 minutes, and they scored from a terrific strike. From the midway point of the first period until they scored the second goal, we had a really good spell. We failed to be a serious threat to their goal.”
“We had our chances; we created some momentum,” explained midfielder Michael Reed, the team’s captain. “They did well at home. They put away goals. Hats off to them.”
While Nashville SC outshot the Battery 13-12, their accuracy wasn’t able to trouble Charleston keeper Joe Kuzminsky, with only three of those (including the penalty kick) on the frame of the goal.
Meanwhile, the defense was uncharacteristically poor. Nashville had conceded zero goals from the run of play on the young season (two from set piece situations), and gave up two – and another set piece, for good measure – to a Charleston team that hadn’t put up three goals in its previous five games. A minor shakeup on the backline saw Bradley Bourgeois step in for Ken Tribbett at centerback after Tribbett had played every meaningful minute to date. While the insertion of Bourgeois wasn’t likely the culprit – or at least not the only culprit – Smith is ready to say everyone should be fighting to hold onto a job after a poor performance front-to-back.
“I would expect as a player anyone that played today should be concerned about their place in the team,” he said. “There is no way a team of this caliber should be conceding three goals. I have to say I am bitterly disappointed with the way we conducted ourselves.
“I do have to look at those changes I made to the backline. I thought the two centerbacks struggled all evening against a young center forward, coupled with the fact they played a slightly different shape. That first goal was borne out of a slow start and getting to grips with the 3-4-3 they played which looked uncomfortable for the team. We were utterly embarrassed with the performance tonight defensively.”
The Battery’s first goal was a cracker from the left foot of winger Jarad van Schaik, swinging through a half-volley on a cross in the 14th minute. Rookie forward Arthur Bosua ran onto a throughball in the 64th and put it to the side of Matt Pickens to double the lead. van Schaik drilled a free kick bar-down (Bosua headed it home for good measure, but van Schaik was credited with the goal) in the 73rd to give Charleston a third – only the third time Nashville had ever given up three goals in a regular-season USL game, the other two both coming in 3-3 road draws last year – before Ríos provided the final margin with just minutes to go in the game.
While Nashville controlled possession for much of the game, they couldn’t find meaningful chances until that late tally from the spot.
“Honestly a team that goes in front as early as they did, suddenly their mindset changes a little bit,” Smith said of the Battery. “We had moments, the last 15-20 minutes of the first half. At that point you don’t get back into the game. They absorbed some good pressure. And then they found a way to get the second goal. We were untidy when we needed to be brighter and more creative. We weren’t anywhere near our best.”
The team will have to be closer to its best in short order. A trip to Pittsburgh looms this weekend. While the Riverhounds haven’t had their finest start to the season (they currently stand 11th in the table and 10th in the FCAC Eastern Conference power ratings), they’re a defensively stout team, and a Nashville team that had trouble creating meaningful chances will be wary of assuming that changes in Highmark Stadium.
“We can only prioritize one game at a time,” said Reed. “Away games are different than home games. Maybe we didn’t come out ready and that is what cost us.”
A chance for redemption in the Steel City beckons at 7:00 (local, 6:00 in Nashville) Saturday evening.