Nashville SC gave up two early goals in a preseason friendly against Chicago Fire Thursday afternoon. They managed to pull one back before halftime, but the Fire answered with a Robert Berić penalty kick almost immediately as the second frame begun. The result, it’s fair to say, was less-than ideal.
However, there were also steps forward for the expansion franchise. The offense found some connections, including the first goal of preseason, and the ability to trouble the opposing defense made some strides.
“We’ve looked heavily on getting in behind back lines, using some the pace and creative nature of some of the players we have,” said head coach Gary Smith. “I have to be honest: after a bit of a slow and sloppy start, we got into a very nice gear and not only scored a goal, but I felt as though we were certainly in a position to be on level terms at the break.”
The first unofficial goal in Nashville SC’s history as an MLS franchise came from the right boot of Costa Rica winger Randall Leal. The 23-year old missed Nashville’s first friendly – a scoreless draw against Swedish side IF Elfsborg – while on international duty with his country. He didn’t miss a beat returning to Nashville SC.
Breaking through Chicago’s back line, he received a pass from attacking midfielder Hany Mukhtar, and tucked it into the far post.
“Randall’s shown already what an immense talent he is, I have to say,” Smith opined. “I’ve been incredibly impressed with his individual quality and ability to take players on and to be creative. I think the biggest challenge that Randall will have is adapting to a new environment, new teammates, a brand new league, and those challenges that come with it.”
“I’m very happy, but it’s only the first game,” Leal said. “I think we see what he have to do to come together as a group. The most important thing is we played a good game, but we made some errors, and with work we can correct them.”
Those errors led to a lopsided result in the Fire’s favor. The Windy City Boys got off to a quick 2-0 start with a rebounded tally from CJ Sapong and an Elliot Collier strike that deflected of the knee of Nashville’s Dave Romney into the back of his own net. Nashville was able to get ahold of the run of play – including Leal’s goal to draw within 2-1 – but mass substitutions at the half and Berić’s penalty kick slammed the door on the comeback. Preseason friendlies are ultimately about improving, rather than earning results, but it certainly would have been nice to get into the win column for the first time – official contest or friendly – as an MLS club.
The second-half substitutions saw a few players join Leal in making their first appearance for the club in a friendly. Striker Daniel Ríos was among the 11 changes going into the second frame after the striker missed last week’s friendly with Elfsborg due to a hip injury. Winger David Accam – who was kept out of last week’s friendly with a hamstring injury – and centerback Miguel Nazarit entered as substitutions during the second half. Nazarit joined camp late after a visa delay, but playing time for all three means that only one member of the roster – midfielder Jimmy Medranda, who was limited with injury for Sporting Kansas City throughout the 2019 season – has yet to touch the pitch in a preseason match.
While Smith admits that the game’s starters (seen here) of the friendly are part of a “group one” versus a “group two” for the time being, both units managed to show signs that the build toward the regular season is going well.
“I thought both groups showed that they’re in a decent place physically,” he said. “There are very much signs of connections throughout the group, and there’s still plenty to work on. The lessons that we take out of these games will certainly serve us well when we go into the work towards the next game.”
Nashville SC next takes on Louisville City FC Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. Eastern in Tampa. The friendly match pits Nashville against an LCFC team that became very familiar when the organizations played together in USL over the past two years. Former Nashville striker Cameron Lancaster returned yesterday to the club from which he initially joined Nashville SC. However thrilling the game turns out to be, the storylines may just be able to write themselves.