This will be both game story and column for the game – and therefore maybe a little bit longer than usual – since I was unable to write a gamer earlier.
NASHVILLE – Earning 13 out of 15 possible points in its past five games is nothing for Nashville SC to turn up its nose at, but Saturday’s end of a four-game winning streak – a 0-0 draw against Bethlehem Steel – is a disappointment nonetheless in a game where the Boys in Gold could have made it five in a row.
Bethlehem came out in a highly defensive 5-3-2 formation (evidently more than happy to come away with the draw on the road), and the Boys in Gold couldn’t find that moment of magic to break it down.
“A lot of possession, but really not enough creation or efforts on goal in the first half,” said Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith. “And I thought that changed in the second period: there were numerous opportunities to either make a difference and to get that one important goal and also others that we didn’t quite make the most of.”
The statistics bear all that out: Nashville SC had 69.2% possession to just 30.8% for the Steel, 19 shots to just four for Bethlehem – and an 8-3 advantage in shots on-target – an 11-0 advantage in shots taken within the opponents’ penalty area, and the Boys in Gold were only required to clear the ball 11 times compared to 29 for Bethlehem.
The negatives come out in the stats, as well. We’ve seen all-too often that opponents with a three- or five-man backline (effectively the same when Nashville is in an attacking posture, with three centerbacks and two fullbacks across the back) force Nashville to generate too many of its chances by crossing the ball. The Boys in Gold launched 31 crosses(!), connecting on just nine of them against the Steel. That in itself helps demonstrate the ineffectiveness of using the cross as a way to generate offense, and also serves as an indication that a packed-in defense is something that Nashville has a hard time breaking down.
Playing Ropapa Mensah on the wing in place of Alan Winn (who has twice made the USL’s Team of the Week bench in the past month) was a necessity to give Winn a bit of rest, but Mensah’s goal-scoring prowess couldn’t find twine on the night, and his distribution is still a work in progress as he converts from an out-and-out striker into a more versatile player. Winn came on at halftime in replacement of Mensah’s fellow winger Kharlton Belmar, but even a little more creation didn’t turn into production.
Other changes included playing centerback Ken Tribbett as a defensive midfielder in place of injured captain Michael Reed, and fullback Darnell King giving veteran Kosuke Kimura a breather on the right side.
“There was no lack of endeavor, but the vital moments of just being able to break
beyond someone or create half a yard to find a clearer sight of goal or break beyond an
opposing defender, certainly in the first half was lacking,” Smith said. “I thought Alan’s inclusion inspired a few who had been out there in that first period. Ropapa was brighter in the second half. He took more chances. It got us on the front foot. We needed a player or two, certainly on the front line.
“Daniel [Ríos] looked tired. He’s been incredible for us, it goes without saying, but he looked tired tonight and under pressure from three center backs, so that makes life ever
more difficult. I think in the end we’ll look back and say their change of shape certainly helped them, they’ll be well-pleased with that, and our lack of clinical edge, which has been good for us. I don’t want to get too down about the lack of finishing tonight because we’ve been terrific in this run of unbeaten games. But tonight, there were two or three minutes where we really should have converted.”
On the bright end of things, Nashville managed to keep a fifth consecutive clean sheet. With loan signings Jimmy Ockford and Forrest Lasso (the team’s captain in just his third appearance on loan from FC Cincinnati) in front of veteran goalkeeper Matt Pickens, the defense has returned to its elite form from a year ago.
“The continuity has been great,” Pickens said. “Guys like Jim and Forrest coming in and doing a job, it takes a little time to build most of the time, but I think these guys slotted in really well. We’re on a good run and these guys have a good mentality, and they’re taking on board everything, so hats off to them. We’ll try to keep the train rolling.”
“I think Forrest and I molded pretty quickly together coming from two separate teams,” Ockford added. “He’s a great player. It’s easy having him by my side, and I think we complement each other well. I think Darnell stepping in today as right back I think was a seamless transition for him filling in for Kosuke tonight. I think the chemistry is there, we’ve just got to keep the momentum going.”
There is something to be said for a more veteran team feeling the fatigue of a third game in eight days. Nashville SC took down Swope Park Rangers on the road a week before this one, and hosted Hartford Athletic in the midweek.
“I think if you look at the game the way it unfolded, they had a whole week to prepare for this,” Pickens said. “We had bang, bang, bang games, and we were the better team
tonight. We had our chances, could have won the game. I think it’s just a mentality thing that we got through, and I think we approached the game in the right way. At the end of the day, it’s a point and we’ll take it and move on. Playing these games are tricky once you play at home on a Wednesday and playing a team that’s rested for seven days, six days.”
Nashville will have a chance to rest before the next contest, traveling to Charlotte, N.C. to take on the Independence. While Charlotte has been struggling this season (currently 12th in the Eastern Conference standings and projected to finish in that position), they managed to play Nashville SC to a draw at First Tennessee Park in May, and Saturday’s game is nothing if not an indication that the Boys in Gold can play down to the opponent when it’s not their night.
The game kicks off at 7 p.m. EDT from Matthews Soccerplex, with Nashville SC looking to extend its unbeaten run (even if the win streak is no more), while Charlotte tries to win its first game since July 13.
- 45’+3 Half time
- HT NSH Substitution – On 19 Alan Winn, off 11 Kharlton Belmar
- HT BST Substitution – On 35 Faris Pemi Moumbagna, off 20 Michee Ngalina
- 71′ BST Substitution – On 59 Axel Picazo, off 39 Chavany Willis
- 89′ NSH Substitutions
- On 12 Tucker Hume, off 21 Darnell King
- On 20 Matt LaGrassa, off 30 Bolu Akinyode
- 90’+4 BST Yellow card – 45 James Chambers (foul)
- 90’+5 Full time