NASHVILLE – Nashville SC is not yet established enough to earn wins playing anything less than an outstanding match for 90 minutes. The Boys in Gold only managed to make it 89 of them Saturday afternoon, and gave up a late equalizer to draw Houston Dynamo in Nissan Stadium.
Daniel Ríos scored a goal for Nashville early in the first half, taking a square pass on a 2-on-1 breakaway with midfielder Derrick Jones, and calmly slotting home. However, Maynor Figueroa answered for the Dynamo with a header on the second phase of a corner kick – one of eight set piece opportunities from the corner for Houston in the game’s closing minutes.
“Bitterly disappointed to concede so late and leave ourselves in a position with just a point and not all three,” said Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith. “However, I think at the end of a very long week, with a lot of things that went on even in this game, let alone throughout the last two games, I think maybe a draw was a reasonably fair result, and I’m delighted with the efforts that the guys have given again. But sometimes these afternoon games create a different dynamic, and there were a number of mistakes. We weren’t quite as clean and as crisp as I’ve seen us in the last couple of games.”
Centerback Walker Zimmerman, who has been an every-minute contributor for one of the top defenses in Major League Soccer to date, felt Houston’s pressure building. When the dam finally broke, though, he was disappointed all the same.
“I think we found ourselves in a few games now where we’re dropping a little deep and we’re absorbing a lot of opportunities,” Zimmerman said. “That is going to be natural sometimes late in a game when you are protecting a lead. So we knew that we were defending a little deeper, they were taking more ground, but at no point do I think anyone thought that we were going to let up a goal. We were trying to communicate, stay sharp mentally, and those are moments where you’re trying to just chat to everyone, make sure everyone’s engaged and know their jobs.”
A matter of fatigue in a compressed segment of the Major League Soccer schedule, the loss of personnel – Ríos left the field injured after scoring, and that’s even more damaging given that he was the only healthy striker to begin with – played a role in Nashville loss. Certainly, though, the Dynamo (who flew to the Music City the evening before the game, the first known instance of day-before travel since the league resumed play after the coronavirus pandemic) were affected with the same inability to get rested and healthy.
For Nashville SC, though, the depth and experience simply aren’t there to hold off a talented attack like the Dynamo for an entire contest, particularly with Tab Ramos’s side chasing a goal.
That made it all the more disappointing that not one, but two goal-scoring opportunities – a penalty earned by Randall Leal, and Ríos actually putting the ball past Houston keeper Marko Marić and into the net – were ruled out by offside calls in the first half. Neither went to a full video review, despite both being as close as can be.
“I’ve only seen the camera angle on the jumbo screen out in the field, and I’ve got to say: when the ball’s played, we’re talking about extremely fine lines,” Smith said. “I can only assume that whoever’s in the VAR position has got a better angle and has made the right choice. I mean, I’m bitterly disappointed having seen it on the jumbo screen: we’re talking about such a fine line.”
Nashville SC will hope to get some players back for the next game: Ríos’s injury is hopefully not a serious one, while Abu Danladi was specifically mentioned by Smith as being close to a return.
The Boys in Gold will have to earn a manner of vindication for the dropped victory this weekend. A trip to Foxboro, Mass. to take on the New England Revolution beckons Saturday evening. With NSC holding static at No. 9 in the Eastern Conference table, giving themselves some cushion in pursuit of a playoff bid is a major priority.
Daniel Ríos photo courtesy Nashville SC/Major League Soccer