Love to forget to take more than one relevant photo. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country
CARY, N.C. – Nashville SC threw the gameplan out early against North Carolina FC, with head coach Gary Smith realizing that the 3-4-1-2 that has been successful in the past month-plus of the season wouldn’t be able to get the job done against North Carolina FC. The hosts dominated the run of play through the opening salvos of the game, and found a goal in the 30th, with Ben Speas slotting home a pass across the face of goal.
Smith wasn’t stubborn, subbing out veteran wingback Kosuke Kimura and replacing him with offense-minded winger Alan Winn (making his first regular-season appearance since the tactical shift May 25 in Indianapolis). The Boys in Gold were far more comfortable through the midfield with the shift to a 4-4-2 formation.
North Carolina didn’t pressure immediately when Nashville possessed the ball out of the back, but when NCFC made first defensive contact, they leapt into full dedication to that cause, mudding up the middle of the pitch and making sure Nashville was never comfortable. Through much of the first half, the only offense came on the counter, and although that did include a couple solid chances for high-flying strike duo Cameron Lancaster and Daniel Ríos, only one resulted in a shot, and Ríos’s attempt was saved by keeper Alex Tambakis.
All that is to say the 39th-minute swap was the right move. With more than a half of play to go in the contest, a Nashville team that has established itself as one of the most potent in the entire USL East would surely be able to find a goal, right?
Alas, even a far smoother performance over the remaining time on the clock wasn’t enough. Nashville swung the possession battle back in its own favor, ultimately taking a 51.5-48.5% advantage. After just two shots in the opening 39 minutes, they launched 14 over the remainder of the game, including nine from inside the box and four on-target.
What they couldn’t do, though, was put the ball in the back of the net, and North Carolina FC took the 1-0 victory. Falling on the road to a team that’s been in the playoff positions since the season began is hardly something to be ashamed of. The fashion in which it happened – a total inability to find the back of the net – is going to be particularly frustrating because it hasn’t been characteristic of this team since early in the year.
Lancaster’s streak of scoring in each of his last six appearances was snapped, as was an eight-game unbeaten run in the regular season (10 overall, including a win and a draw in the US Open Cup). With the loss, Nashville finishes the weekend in fifth position on the table, one spot behind the North Carolina FC team that dealt them that defeat. A win would have seen NSC climb to third.
The next opportunity to make a statement comes Saturday, with the Boys in Gold staying on the road – but not traveling nearly as far. They travel just up I-65 to Louisville City FC for a 7:00 p.m. EDT kickoff (6 in Nashville) against the back-to-back defending champs. While LCFC hasn’t been up to its recent historical standard so far in 2019, the expectation – not just the hope – is that they’ll return to form soon.
It’s up to Nashville to make sure that takes another week to happen.
- 30′ NC GOAL – 10 Ben Speas (right foot), assisted by 33 Aarón Guillén
- 39′ NSH Substitution – On 19 Alan Winn, off 27 Kosuke Kimura
- 45’+2 Half time.
- 49′ NC Substitution – On 22 Caleb Duvernay, off 23 Alexander Comsia (injury)
- 70′ NSH Substitution – On 11 Kharlton Belmar, off 10 Lebo Moloto
- 77′ NSH Substitution – On 3 Ropapa Mensah, off 9 Cameron Lancaster
- 80′ NC Substitution – On 6 Austin Da Luz, off 12 Austin Panchot
- 90’+5 Full time