It’s very early in Nashville SC’s inaugural season. Underlying stats for the Boys in Gold are very positive: they dominated expected goals and GameFlow xPG, and each of those is more strongly correlated with future success than the goals scored in a given game.
For the second straight week, though, Nashville SC has to accept that as meager consolation after a result that nets zero points in the Western Conference table. An impressive volley from Portland Timbers’ Diego Valeri was enough to create the difference between the sides, and that ninth-minute strike saw the Timbers sit back and absorb pressure from the Boys in Gold. A couple near misses later, Nashville headed back to the Music City with zero points as an MLS side.
A bright future takes little of the sting off a disappointing present.
From our standpoint, and that’s really the only way that I can look at it, I’m absolutely delighted with the efforts of the players, the attitude of the players to come to such a difficult environment and to dictate a large portion of the game is I think a testament to the way that this team’s growing,” said head coach Gary Smith. “The disappointment and
frustration will always come out of not being able to add points to the board. And we’re now two weeks in, we conceded three efforts on our goal last week and I think only one effort today on target. That stat alone, if it continues surely has to reap dividends for our group.”
Nashville SC managed 14 shots, but only four of them on target, and none good enough to beat Timbers keeper Steve Clark. Meanwhile, Valeri’s strike was one of just three total shots for his side, and one of just two on Joe Willis’s frame.
“We’re not giving teams many chances – and they’re punishing us in the worst possible way – by conceding world-class goals left and right. [Atlanta United’s] Emerson Hyndman scored one, full-volley top-corner last week, Diego Valeri this week… I don’t remember in either game Joe Willis having too much to do and yet another week where we control most of the play from 18 to 18 and we just can’t find the equalizer.
“Not sharp enough in the attacking third to get it done so plenty of work to do. Plenty of positives that come out of the game of course, but we’re sitting here after two games on zero points feeling like we deserved a lot more.”
In aggregate, a Nashville team that has only conceded on top-notch strikes through two games probably won’t continue to give up goals. Opposition players aren’t going to have the level of consistency to find those top corners, or to take balls out of the air on the full swing and bury them. The defense is not something to worry about at this point in the season.
The offense, on the other hand, has some questions to answer. Nashville created over one expected goal against a Timbers team that was content to play in its own end for much of the contest. But the final piece – that magic that NSC has fallen victim to without a moment to benefit from it on the other end – was a question coming into the year, and with a single goal scored through two games, it remains unanswered.
“What I would say is, any coach or any team would be disappointed if they’re not creating chances,” Smith said. “The creation obviously leads to those moments that can make a difference in a game. We are creating chances, we are getting in good areas, we are mounting good pressure and we’re asking some serious questions of some real experienced teams here.”
Striker Dominique Badji was replaced in the 71st minute, with Daniel Ríos entering in his stead. A longer run-out than his brief cameo against Atlanta United in the opener gave Ríos the opportunity to make an impact on the game – including a patented shot on the half-turn that whistled just wide – and perhaps an audition for a larger role in future weeks.
While the striker position hasn’t been the primary issue, Rios’s 21 goals in USL play last year are an important bullet point on the résumé for a player looking to crack the starting lineup of a team that needs to find the back of the net.
“Well with my situation coming from the bench, I was going to try to change the progress of the game, bring more intensity, of course, score goals or opportunities so that’s how I felt when I went inside,” he said. “We tried for the last 15-20 minutes. We were close but close is not enough, we need to complete our chances.”
A stated goal for Nashville SC in the preseason was to look like a competitive MLS side. It’s something that some recent expansion teams have been unable to pull off. It’s fair to say that the Boys in Gold have been not only that, but perhaps even the better side in each of their first two matches (both against sides that are three-year playoffs streaks). However, as promising as the process is, that needs to turn to results, or “FC Cincinnati 2.0” is going to loom as a possibility on the final table.
The bright side is that result typically tends to follow process. Hopefully, it’s not too far behind.
Hany Mukhtar photo via USA Today Sports Images/Nashville SC
Quotes provided by Nashville SC media relations.