NASHVILLE – Last time Nashville SC played New York Red Bulls II, they went into the half with a 2-1 lead before the contest was abandoned due to weather. Wednesday evening, the game was finished, and the scoreline went in the opposite direction. The visiting Baby Bulls scored late in the first half and then midway through the second for the win.
Nashville started on the front foot, dominating possession and taking the lead in the 10th minute on a header from midfielder Ken Tribbett. Corner kick service from the USL’s No. 2 assist-man, Lebo Moloto, found Tribbett’s head and then the back of the net.
“We had about five corners I think early in the game,” Tribbett said. “We started really bright. Lebo had a great ball – out swinger – and I was able to beat my defender. I guess I didn’t really have a defender. They were more of a zone. We should have taken more advantage, I think, of the corners, but we were happy to get one early. We started bright.”
That goal was the culmination of a strong period for Nashville to begin the game against the league-leading New York Red Bulls II. However, the strength of the side faded as the first half wore on, and by the time Jared Stroud found himself alone on the back post to equalize just seconds before the half ended, NYRBII had deserved drawing level.
A strong run by fullback Kyle Duncan got the ball into a dangerous position, and while his cross may not have found its intended target, Stroud was waiting to even it up.
“Duncan got himself in a good position on the wrong side of Kharlton [Belmar], and with one touch – and an aggressive touch – the ball that he played wasn’t around the back line with a back four that was recovering,” NSC head coach Gary Smith said. “It was shallow cross that really missed everybody that ended up in that defensive group. With the pace that he played it at, it was just a matter of the guy at the far post directing it on goal.”
With the teams even at the break, there was no risk of a weather delay this time, with a perfect evening bringing 7,002 home fans to First Tennessee Park.
They got to see a similar display to the beginning of the second half as they’d seen in the first. Nashville SC was comfortable, if not controlling the game through the early stages. However, they were unable to find that go-ahead goal, and the game was permanently altered in the 65th minute by a shocking display of referee mismanagement.
A run-of-the-mill contested header saw slight contact between Nashville SC centerback Forrest Lasso and Red Bulls II striker Sebastian Elney. The linesman – standing just feet away – didn’t signal the call. However, center official Jon Freemon sprinted across the field to issue Lasso his second yellow card in just five minutes, and the resulting red card, as well.
“I didn’t see the replay actually. Everyone tells me that it was very harsh,” Smith said. “I’ll pick my words very carefully here: I think we’ve seen a naïve decision. I’m not saying it wasn’t a foul, I’m not saying it wasn’t obstruction, but there’s a very big difference between giving somebody a second yellow card and ejecting him from the game. Was there real malice? Was there an edge to what he did? Like I said, I haven’t seen it, so I’m not going to get too deep into that. But it strikes me as a maybe a little bit of a naïve decision. And it affected the game, no two ways about it.”
NYRBII took the lead against an emotionally drained Nashville SC team with a set-piece goal from Duncan in the 71st minute, and with the man advantage, was able to hold off a potential comeback from the Boys in Gold. A stoppage-time header from Nashville substitute Ropapa Mensah provided one last chance for the hosts, but it whistled high.
“We came from a goal down ourselves in that [canceled] game and went in 2-1 up, and the elements were against us,” Smith lamented. “Tonight, it was one person and not the elements. Sometimes there’s not a lot you can do about that. I say that tongue-in-cheek. They’re a good side, and I’m very respectful – so are we all – of what they achieve.
The loss drops Nashville SC to fourth in the league table, though the teams immediately surrounding them have played fewer games (No. 3 Tampa Bay Rowdies are one point ahead with one game in-hand, while No. 5 Indy Eleven is two points behind with a stunning four games in-hand).
After losing for the first time in more than a month, Nashville will try to get back on the right side of the ledger in just two days’ time, and they’ll have to do it without Lasso. Former centerback Tribbett – whose shift to midfield may get a brief pause, especially given the return of central midfielder Matt LaGrassa – could be back in his familiar role.
“We will see,” the veteran said. “I’ll do whatever I need to do for the team.”
Charleston Battery heads to First Tennessee Park at 7 p.m. Saturday evening, and Nashville will try to take down a team they’ve never beaten. They’ll try to avenge their 3-1 regular-season loss from earlier this season – bar-none the worst result of the year on the scoreboard – and a US Open Cup match that saw a 1-1 draw end in Charleston’s favor on penalty kicks.
(lowlight conveniently not included)