The Boys in Gold may have started their scoring with a little luck against Atlanta United 2 – Will Vint curled an attempted backpass into his own net in the fourth minute – but Nashville SC managed to add another, and then held of the Baby Five Stripes on a waterlogged field after a lengthy weather delay. The 2-0 win left a little to be desired, but a positive result is certainly welcomed.
NSC could have opened up an even bigger lead early, with Daniel Ríos’s attempt chip sailing wide just seconds into the game, and the star striker having two more attempts inside the box before the weather delay began, with one going wide and the other saved by Atlanta keeper Brendan Moore. Fellow forward Kharlton Belmar – repurposed for the second week in a row after starting the year primarily on the wing – had a chance of his own.
“It could have been three or four goals in the first 15 minutes with two 1-on-1’s with the keeper for Daniel and Kharlton,” Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith said. “In the end, our start proved to be the difference. We had chances throughout the match that we didn’t take advantage of.”
There’s certainly a question to be raised – again – about whether the finishing touch needs to be better. A Nashville SC team that couldn’t capitalize on scoring opportunities last year added Ríos, Belmar, and Cameron Lancaster (who was not in the squad Saturday) to address those issues. Things have gone much better in 2019, but there’s still been a sense of leaving goals on the pitch, at times.
“I have seen [Ríos] many times in training and otherwise finish those off,” Smith said. “I am a bit shocked that he didn’t. I think the field played into the way the game went. It started off at a blistering pace. The field was firm underneath but very wet on top. We were able to take advantage of that early on.”
There was no doubt or hesitation on Nashville’s second goal. A clearing header from the Atlanta box went only as far as midfielder Matt LaGrassa just outside the penalty area.
LaGrassa took a settling touch with his dominant right foot, then hammered the ball with his left. He found the bottom corner, and Nashville had its winning margin.
“I just had the ball pop up to me, and I struck it cleanly,” LaGrassa said. “Sometimes, they just come off that way. Obviously I am happy to get the goal.”
“Matt was in the right place at the right time and the finish was wonderful on that surface,” Smith added. “Not easy to catch it sweetly on the half volley. I don’t think the
keeper could have done anything about it. At that point it seemed like every time we went on their end we scored a goal. Of course the game settled down and both sides got into more of a groove.”
That groove was interrupted in the 34th minute, with a lightning delay that would last over an hour. By the time the teams returned to the field, Fifth Third Bank Stadium’s turf was waterlogged, and both teams had trouble moving the ball to teammates. Instead, it seemed intent on coming to a dead stop in a variety of puddles (both visible and lurking beneath the blades of grass).
That made it easier for Nashville SC to lock down defensively and see out the clean-sheet victory. That didn’t necessarily feel like a guarantee after the typically stout defense surrendered two late tallies for a draw against Pittsburgh Riverhounds the previous weekend, but the Boys in Gold returned to their defensive form. Aside from a stoppage time save by Connor Sparrow (after Atlanta had gone down to 10 men on a red card), there were few legitimate threats on the Nashville goal.
“The five goals in the last two games might be unjust for our defense with how good they were,” midfielder Michael Reed said. “To get a shutout, you saw Connor make a huge save, you saw Kosuke [Kimura] get hit in the [sensitive male anatomy] to block a shot, you see Lebo [Moloto] flying around, the willingness from our attackers is what it takes to get a win, to get us in the finals, that is what I think we are trying to build.”
“I think we have a good defensive side,” added LaGrassa. “When we are a disciplined group, we are able to keep the ball out of the net, and we did that tonight. Obviously, a lot to be proud of, but still some things to work on. Even just now I’ve been debating with the guys about certain plays. We will take a look at the film and get better.”
The tests don’t stop there – and in fact get more frequent in short order. NSC has a quick turnaround to a Wednesday home game against Tampa Bay Rowdies, and will have midweek-weekend schedules for at least the next three weeks, and perhaps four if their US Open Cup run makes it through its first contest. The Rowdies are one of just two undefeated USL Championship sides (the Western Conference’s Frenso FC is the other), with a 4-0-5 record in their first nine games. They’ve been locked-in defensive, only allowing four goals in those contests, and a Nashville SC team that misses its opportunities will probably not see the positive result that it was able to achieve in Kennesaw.
For one evening, though, even an imperfect Nashville SC team was able to put together a strong enough performance to earn the win, and that should give the team confidence going forward.