NASHVILLE – It took Nashville SC 10 games of existence in Major League Soccer to reach the six goals scored mark. The Boys in Gold matched that total over the course of two games within a week.
Their 3-0 win over FC Dallas (on the heels of a 3-1 victory away to Houston Dynamo last week) was one of the most comprehensive victories in franchise history – the first multi-goal game in franchise history to also boast a shutout for keeper Joe Willis. With goals from Designated Players Randall Leal and Jhonder Cádiz, along with former USL player Daniel Ríos, the result had a certain Latin flair, as well.
“It was important for each one of us to score tonight,” Leal said. “Obviously, us Hispanic players, the technical staff gave us trust in us, and obviously when they brought us here, we wanted to bring that Latin flavor in order to elevate the level of the team.”
“I share Randall’s feelings: I am happy for the three of us Latin players for scoring tonight,” added Ríos. “But I think that the important detail right now is to be focused on Friday. Not only that, but the playoffs. We need to have those two elements in mind as we continue to move forward.”
Along with the Venezuelan Cádiz, Leal (a Costa Rican full International) and Ríos (of Mexico, and a former Youth International for his home country) staked their claims not just to the scoresheet, but to the counterargument that head coach Gary Smith is over-concerned with defense – at the expense of his offense – or incapable of setting talented players free to create for themselves. It’s perhaps been an unfair narrative all along, but if NSC is able to keep up its recent scoring rate, won’t be long for this world.
“There’s a number of things that were obviously very, very pleasing tonight,” Smith said. “We’ve got fans in the ground for the second time in this restart schedule. Yes, we’re on national television, and obviously we’re desperately keen to hit the back of the net as many times as possible, having been a little bit barren in spells throughout this period. It’s a real nice picture of what we’re about. It was an exciting game: Dallas came here and showed some of the qualities that we knew they had, and a we rode our luck a little bit as well, and they may well be sitting in there thinking, ‘if only we’d scored.’ There was a terrific opportunity from a cross before we got our second. And they’ll also be disappointed that the first two goals were deflections.
“From our standpoint, we’ve put the goal under pressure; we’ve asked questions. Daniel Ríos had a great opportunity from a cross and the goalkeeper made a terrific save. There were other opportunities that we might have just squeezed a goal out of. So to score three is terrific – fortuitously for the first couple, but nonetheless, delighted that we’re hitting the back of the net as much as we are at the moment.”
Ríos’s goal was one of the most impressive individual efforts of the season. A Leal throughball put him one-on-one with Dallas defender Reto Ziegler, and a pair of cutbacks left Ziegler on the turf, and Ríos with an open lane to hit far post against Jimmy Maurer – who had denied Ríos just minutes earlier on a wide-open header.
“To be honest, I thought I wouldn’t have another chance,” Ríos said. “I just was living in the moment, I saw the clock, and it was like eight minutes left. I had a second opportunity, and I feel so happy and feliz, además [more happy!] – happy for scoring a goal.”
“I think that we’re seeing and have seen over the last month with Daniel that he’s settled in to his world,” Smith added. “With all of the difficulties and the upheaval of the way this season’s gone – I think he’s settled in to MLS, he’s confidence now in his pals and his teammates, and one thing that we can guarantee of Daniel is if he gets a sight of goal, he invariably hits the target. Doesn’t always score, but he’s a very, very good finisher. In fact, I’d go as far to say he’s as good as anyone in the club.”
Leal opened the scoring with a long-range strike that took a deflection on the way past Maurer, and Cádiz shot from even farther out in the second half, with a defender again providing the assistance necessary to put it past the keeper. Nashville won’t frown upon a little bit of good fortune – lord knows the club is due for it in a 2020 season that’s been star-crossed, to say the least – when it comes to putting a big result in the books.
The defensive effort was, as always, a stout one. Against a Dallas side that was playing catchup for almost the entire contest, Smith’s squad was content to concede possession as long as FCD was unable to turn that into legitimate scoring chances. Dallas managed to put only two of its 11 shot attempts on-target, and while six of those shots came from inside the Nashville penalty area, only one (a header from a corner kick that was blocked before challenging the net) was in the first half. During the competitive portions of the game, Nashville’s defense dominated as much or more as the offense.
“I think sometimes those stats can be misleading,” Smith said of the possession margin. “You’ve got a Dallas side that maintained the ball quite well in their half of the field. We defended slightly deeper. If you tell me that their stats in our half of the field, and entry passes, and those type of more tangible and aggressive stats are against us, then of course I’ll be disappointed in that. However, the mentality of the group – you have to remember – changes when you go two or three goals up. Whether you like it or not, it is an internal ‘we must protect this lead,’ rather than ‘let’s go and score another goal,’ and you do become more of a counter-attacking group than necessarily a front-foot creative group.”
Nashville will have a quick turnaround to see the pitch again: the club hosts New England Revolution Friday from Nissan Stadium. A victory would move the Boys in Gold into an enviable position – eight points clear of the current cutoff for the playoffs, with just four games to play.
Jhonder Cádiz header photo by Sierra Swenson courtesy Nashville SC/Major League Soccer