Ryan Lassan Photography/For Club and Country
NASHVILLE – It’s easy to forget – in the wake of a somewhat disappointing draw against Ottawa Fury Saturday evening – that a performance with serious drawbacks can be considered an impressive one nonetheless. The Fury have given up three goals just two times, including Saturday’s 3-3 result in First Tennessee Park. The other? Nashville’s trip to Bytown back in April.
Indeed, having only given up multiple goals just one other time (a trip to Pittsburgh, where the Riverhounds are rounding into an elite offense themselves), the Fury field an elite defense, and Nashville has easily the two best outputs against Ottawa this season.
The Boys in Gold on defense… check back later.
“I know there’s been a huge emphasis within our work to be more productive going forward,” said Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith. “I’m delighted, of course, with the goals. Sometimes when you shift too far one way – which I believe we have – we’re now looking at the game in a very different light.
“I do honestly think that there are mindsets and moments in the game that I think definitely individuals when they look back at the way the game unfolded, will believe that they should have done better. The final goal is more than preventable – certainly in that midfield area. It’s all part of each challenge that is presented here. There were lots and lots of good things tonight, certainly the goals against were not.”
Nashville took an early lead, and when it conceded two straight, was able to respond with a pair of its own. That the scoring came from three different players – forwards Daniel Ríos and Ropapa Mensah, and then Cameron Lancaster (who had subbed on for Mensah) – speaks to the diversity of options Smith has at his disposal.
But Ottawa managed to find a game-tying goal in the 81st minute, and all three of the Fury tallies will come with varying degrees of disappointment (thanks to their avoidability). They got on the board shortly before the half-time whistle on a free kick, in the 50th on a sublime run and strike from winger Christiano François, and the game-tying goal came on a very soft moment defending by Nashville against attacking midfielder Wal Fall – and probably a moment that goalkeeper Matt Pickens would like to have back, as well.
“Goal three, late on in the game, especially after coming back from being 2-1 down, you know, it’s far too soft,” Smith said. “Where the goal is – the strike is – from, and the lack of pressure on the ball, and just the general feel about seeing the game out. I know the players are better than that. There’s going to be some serious disappointments when they look at the footage again, because we should have won the game. We got ourselves in a good enough spot to win it.”
“I saw him chop, and then score an unbelievable goal,” Nashville striker Cameron Lancaster said of the tally by Fall. “To be fair, they’ve had three unbelievable goals, and there’s not really too much that we could have done about it. Which is disappointing in itself, but that’s football.”
The defensive effort dampened what should have been an exciting offensive match – the third straight with at least three goals for by Nashville – and a performance by the strikers that gives them confidence going forward. For the third straight appearance after missing several games with injury, Lancaster found the back of the net. For the first time in those three, though, his team did not come away with all the points. It had looked for all the world like he’d have a game winner for the second-straight week after his 71st-minute tally gave Nashville the lead back, but it was not to be.
“It’s nice to get on a run again, and get back playing,” he said. “Yeah, I’m glad I can score today, and help the team try and win – which we didn’t do tonight, which was very disappointing.”
An otherwise-dominant game from Nashville pops off the page: 19 shots for, 17 of them coming inside the penalty area (only four of Ottawa’s 15 – and none of the goals – came inside the box), a 52-48% advantage in possession against a team whose gameplan is consistently built around dominating the ball, and a field that was heavily tilted in favor of the Boys in Gold.
All that is for naught if the numbers of goals scored is level at the end of the night, and NSC will go back to the drawing board to shore things up defensively.
“But against a side that normally out-possess most teams in the league, they pass the ball more than anyone else in the league: we’ve edged possession, we’ve built some terrific pressure, we’ve created some wonderful opportunities,” Smith said. “In the end, it’s been the one thing that I think we’ve been fantastic at in the past, and up until now, that has let us down, and that’s our defending, not our attacking.”
Nashville’s defense won’t get much of a rest with high-scoring New York Red Bulls II coming to town Wednesday, and a trip to similarly-potent North Carolina FC beckoning on the weekend. Whether Smith’s team is able to lock things down in their own end of the field – or has to rely on simply bucketing enough goals to outscore the opposition – there’s both an opportunity and a danger in playing two top-half teams in the USL’s Eastern Conference Table.
Winning both would see Nashville become, at worst, second in the USL’s table (albeit with more games played than some opponents) by this time next week. Being unable to shut down the opposition offenses, however, would make that a tough task.