Daniel Ríos photo from file. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country.
The lone tally came from the penalty spot as Nashville SC hit the road to down expansion club Birmingham Legion in the Magic City Wednesday evening.
Nashville winger Alan Winn won the penalty on a drive into the penalty area, where he was taken down from behind by Legion defender Femi Hollinger-Janzen. NSC leading scorer Daniel Ríos pounded home his eighth goal of the season – and second from a penalty kick – to provide the winning margin.
“I am not trying to get a PK: I want to score from the run of play,” Winn explained of his dribble into the area. “I tried to be as decisive as I can, and he just took me down. People can say it wasn’t a penalty, but he clearly took me down from behind. I always try to score from the run of play. It’s not as fun winning from a PK, but it is a goal nonetheless and we will take the three points.”
Nashville SC partisans will be happy to earn the win, but a creeping sense of unease about the offensive performance – for the second straight game, a team allowing more than a goal per game held the team to a lone tally – may be hard to shake after remembering last year’s mid-season swoon in the scoring department.
That’s not to say the team was entirely ineffective, with a couple early penetrations into the box that couldn’t quite find a shot on the end, and six total shots. Converting more of those opportunities to provide more scoring is hardly rocket science, and the team is acutely aware of how close they are (but also aware of the difference between “close” and “there”).
“There was a great attitude from the outset, some nice energy and I think we started
the brighter side,” head coach Gary Smith said. “When you don’t take advantage of those moments, it deflates the team. They have flashbacks too. They’re only human. And then the opposing side get themselves back into the game and feel better about themselves. They regroup, they feel as though there’s still plenty to play for having not gone behind and I thought they did a very good job of getting through that sticky period and making our lives very difficult.
“In fact, I thought their shape in the first half caused us problems. That tight diamond, they regained well, it was difficult for the lads to get any real traction in the game and our width and combination play out wide started to dissipate again as the half unfolded. Little bit of discussion at halftime, one or two little points, and I actually thought we came out and controlled the better periods. At a very important time, Alan gets himself on the wrong side of the defender with some neat footwork and obviously the rest we know.”
Nashville made some pregame tweaks of its own, with centerback Bradley Bourgeois in the starting lineup along with midfielder Bolu Akinyode and fullback Darnell King. All three have played major roles in the past, but have been relegated to mostly second position on the depth chart in their respective roles. Recent signing Derrick Jones also made his USL debut for the club, coming on as a second-half sub for Akinyode (he’d previously played in NSC’s US Open Cup win over South Georgia Tormenta FC 2).
The changes paid off, though, with a clean sheet and a victory to show for it.
“That’s what I came here to do, that’s my job,” Bourgeois said. “Every time I step on the field, I feel very comfortable. It’s nice to play, it’s nice to get out there and prove my worth. The clean sheet is nice.”
Earning that shutout on the road is never an easy task. Birmingham isn’t among the league’s top sides, standing 12th in the table, but they’ve played some of their best soccer when the competition has been the toughest. Legion FC remains the only team to beat Saint Louis FC, and split its regular-season contests with defending USL Cup champion Louisville City.
“All of the away games are difficult,” Smith said. “That goes without saying, it was a prerequisite before going on the road. The field played into a very lively and difficult affair. I honestly thought our fist half display was very scrappy. There were a lot of frustrations at halftime with everyone in the way that they had performed, and I did feel as though the second half showed better signs of controlling more periods and just managing the game slightly better.”
Things don’t get any easier for a side that just wrapped up its sixth game in 19 days. The Boys in Gold get only two days’ rest before heading to Indianapolis to take on fifth-place Indy Eleven in the notoriously difficult Lucas Oil Stadium. Saturday’s game kicks off at 7 p.m. Eastern, and the match could go a long way toward determining positions in the final standings.
- 45’+1 – Half time
- 46′ BHM Substitution – On 14 Daniel Johnson, off 96 Tyler turner
- 58′ BHM Yellow card – 11 JJ Williams (foul)
- 63′ NSH GOAL – 14 Daniel Ríos (right-footed penalty kick), penalty earned by 19 Alan Winn
- 64′ NSH Substitution – On 4 Derrick Jones, off 30 Bolu Akinyode
- 65′ BHM Substitution – On 16 Daigo Kobayashi, off 8 Joseph Holland
- 71′ NSH Substitution – On 23 Taylor Washington, off 19 Alan Winn
- 76′ BHM Substitution – On 27 Edward Opoku, off 9 Chandler Hoffman
- 83′ NSH Substitution – On 3 Ropapa Mensah, off 11 Kharlton Belmar
- 90’+6 Full time