NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In Samuel Beckett’s 1955 play Waiting for Godot, two characters – Vladimir and Estragon – hang out, just waiting for a dude named Godot. Spoiler alert: Godot never arrives. It’s slightly absurdist, existentialist theater, prone to over-interpretation. Listen folks, I’m just here for the pun.
Nashville SC sitting around waiting in its version: midfielder Aníbal Godoy entered the game having played all but 13 minutes of the season to-date. And by any reckoning, he’d played pretty well. But what Nashville SC was waiting for was that electric moment to open up the offense. Godoy’s 53rd-minute blast may not have led to a breaking of the dam, and a rush of goals for Nashville, but it was enough to give NSC the 1-0 win and three points against fellow expansion club Inter Miami CF.
“It was a great moment for me, because it was for the team,” the Panamanian veteran said. “For me, if the team wins, it is actually more important for me. I don’t if I score or whatever the score is. I think for me it is more important this moment. I feel happy because we take the three points home, this is what we need, and this is what we need to continue on the next couple of games.”
A Nashville corner kick was cleared to the opposite sideline, with centerback Walker Zimmerman hustling to keep the play inbounds. His low cross was cut out by Miami defender Andrés Reyes, but it only made it as far as the top of the 18-yard box. Godoy took a couple steps, swung through with his weaker right foot, and won the game for the Boys in Gold.
“The goal comes out of a set piece situation, goes out at the back post,” head coach Gary Smith said. “He finds himself in a good position, he doesn’t get excited. When we needed it most, somebody has come out of nowhere, an individual that we probably least expected, and he’s shown some high, high quality. It’s a difficult finish on his unfavored foot – he’s naturally left-footed – but he’s shown wonderful quality, and that’s a deserved picture of the game.”
It was the culmination of a more offensive performance for Godoy, who attempted 25 of his 46 passes in the attacking half, completing 23 of those. With regular team captain – and Godoy’s typical midfield partner – Dax McCarty beginning the game on the bench after a grueling stretch of four same-day in-and-out road games in 15 days, the 30-year old took the armband and served as a mentor of sorts for MLS rookie Tah Brian Anunga. Whereas Godoy and McCarty serve as a true double-pivot, Anunga’s defense-first style allowed his mentor to get forward into the attack on a more consistent basis, rather than sharing those reponsibilities.
“You’re talking about a very, very intelligent and high-caliber individual,” Smith said of Godoy. “Anibal’s probably been more renowned for some of his defensive play and possessional play. And his record will tell us that he doesn’t score many goals, but honestly I think he’s an extremely capable individual. The one thing that Anibal is also an experienced player at, is seeing moments.”
“I like to play box to box, you know. for example, when you have one player like Brian, he’s a more holding player, he’s a more tactical player, I think I feel more more comfortable to play a little more higher, because I have support behind me. This is why for me, I don’t have a problem if I play play like holding midfielder or box-to-box: depends on the moment, depends what is the formation, what is the shape we have in the team. But I feel great if I play central midfielder or box-to-box.”
It’s something he’s comfortable with, and likely played a role in NSC’s having a majority of the possession for just the second time all year (their March 8 loss in Portland, in which they were unable to bust a bunker after the Timbers took an early lead, was the other). Godoy was able to run the midfield, and do it from a slightly more advanced position. Letting Designated Player Hany Mukhtar come off the bench while winger Randall Leal had the opportunity to work out of a slump by moving to the center of the pitch gave Nashville a needed spark, along with Godoy’s expanded role.
“I felt that we lost that [midfield] battle against Orlando. We needed a bit more energy in there, a change for Randall, bit of a change of perspective and focus. Gives us a different edge and he’s a different type of player to Hany, of course. And again, it gave Hany an opportunity to just give himself a bit of respite, come in, and inject something into the game. I’ve got to be honest, I thought he was a real catalyst for the group when he came on: earns the penalty, gives us an opportunity, and all-in-all, that area of the field was one that tonight, we certainly looked more accomplished in.”
Smith had nothing but praise for Anunga, who was a thorn in his side during Nashville SC’s tenure as a USL Championship squad.
“Look, first and foremost, let’s look at Brian Anunga. His very first start in MLS, his full debut. He plays 90 minutes – I thought he was absolutely outstanding in midfield. In fact, there were probably only one or two moments in the game that I might have put a question in his display. It was exactly what the team needed: more bite, more energy. The guys who’ve played in there were certainly needing a rest, and it enable me to rotate that a little bit more. To that degree, I’m so pleased for the lad – he’s an incredibly genuine person.”
“I played against Gary, and it wasn’t fun back then,” Anunga said. “I always looked forward to playing against Nashville because obviously as a player you always want to play against a good team. Gary was always up to the challenge and putting out a good team. Charleston back then, we always had a good team, so it was a good game and it was always a pleasure.”
Nashville wasn’t pleased with the game from whistle to whistle, though. A first-half goal from recent signing Alex Muyl was ruled out as he was deemed guilty – upon review – of a foul while rising for the header. A second-half penalty kick was earned by Mukhtar, but subsequently missed by the German. In a match that came down to the wire, another goal or two of cushion would have been nice to rely upon.
“I felt tonight there were occasions that [Muyl] showed both sides of his abilities,” Smith said. “He’s a really, really good team player when we haven’t got the ball. And you see that when the opportunity comes along, he’s in the goal-scoring zones, he’s in an area where he’s attacking the ball. I’m still yet to be convinced that it’s not a goal.
“I believe Hany was a penalty-taker for his last club,” he added. “There’s been numerous occasions where we’ve looked at penalty-takers in training – certainly in more enjoyable moments. But if you look at the way that Hany deals with dead-ball situations, I’d back Hany to score six or seven times out of 10 from the edge of the box, let alone the penalty spot. It’s disappointing. I thought he tried to be a little bit too aggressive with the effort, but nevertheless. We’ve seen it happen before, it’s disappointing for the team and for Hany, of course. But ultimately the result is most important.”
Fortunately, Godoy was able to provide the moment of magic – along with some impressive scrambling defensively late in the contest – to provide the win. He wasn’t some new arrival to the lineup, but rather a player who’d been there all along, just contributing in an unexpected way.
In Waiting for Godot, Beckett left plenty up to interpretation (and then spent a lot of the rest of his life complaining when people interpreted the play in ways he didn’t like). On both days of the duration of the plot, Vladimir and Estragon are visited by a character named Pozzo. He’s widely believed to secretly have been the otherwise-absent Godot all along. Perhaps the main characters didn’t know that the man they were waiting for had made himself available all along.
Likewise, Nashville SC wasn’t waiting for Godoy. He was here all along, just waiting to be revealed.
Nashville SC celebration photo Courtesy Nashville SC