Nashville SC and Louisville City FC are old friends. Or grim rivals. Whatever.
Either way, they’re definitely not strangers. While the clubs didn’t play during NSC’s inaugural MLS season, they split three regular-season games (1-1-1) in 2018 while LCFC bounced Nashville from the US Open Cup as USL teams in 2018. Each took a 2-1 win in Nashville’s final season before the move to Major League Soccer. The rivalry, such as it is, had been as close as possible.
Today, the Boys in Gold showed that a first-division version of the club doesn’t intend to remain bothered by Purple. In a preseason friendly match, Nashville scored three goals in the first 30 minutes en route to a 4-0 victory at the team’s Currey Ingram Academy training ground in Brentwood.
“First and foremost, it’s great to get up and running again,” said Nashville head coach Gary Smith. “We’ve had this preseason pushed back a little bit, so to be back on the field and competing again is wonderful; I know the guys were really looking forward to it. We always felt and knew that this was going to be a very competitive game against two teams that have got quite a bit of history dating back obviously to the USL days. And you know, it was that. But I thought we put our best foot forward: very good attitude, some really decent displays given our first outing, and I couldn’t be happier that we’ve gotten through some nice work, we’ve had no problems, and we can look back at a decent result.”
Hany Mukhtar was the man of the match, providing set-piece service to starting striker CJ Sapong for an assist and later adding a penalty-kick goal and a counter-attack tally, courtesy of an assist from midfielder Aníbal Godoy. The game was broken up into three 30-minute segments, and the second period saw an unsigned trialist finish an assist from winger Luke Haakenson to close out the scoring. Taking the field for the third segment mostly with practice players, Nashville was unable to put another exclamation point on the result, but the statement was made nonetheless.
Playing a team that had dominated MLS competition a week earlier – Louisville traveled up the Ohio River and sacked the town in a 3-0 victory against FC Cincinnati – Nashville showed that it isn’t interested in being trifled with in 2021.
More importantly, Smith’s side showed a much more offensively-oriented style than it seemed capable of early last year. Fine-tuning the attack from an early stage of preseason could see NSC race out of the gate – rather than the inaugural season’s crescendo in the second half of the season. At the very least, Smith is hoping that the next phase of preseason, at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., can prove that today was no fluke.
“I’d certainly like to think that if it’s the luck of the draw, then that luck continues, Tim,” Smith said, with a coronavirus-protocol mask the only thing obscuring what was surely a grin. “What I will say is that the group that started played with an energy and a tempo that I don’t think we saw last year. And that’s understandable: the guys didn’t know one another, there was a lot of work that maybe went on that was maybe more negative than we’ve had this year, because I felt the core and foundation of the group needed to be strong.
“And if you remember rightly, because I do, we played against the Norwegian group [Sweden’s IF Elfsbørg], and you know, it was more like a defensive training session than it was anything else. And that served us well, but we’ve taken some very positive strides, and throughout what was an incredible season for many different reasons, I think the guys have come back not only with real energy and passion, but also a sense of appreciation for what was achieved last year, and maybe what we missed out on, as well.
“Going out against Columbus I’m sure left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth, and guys put in a lot of work in this offseason. There was a core of our players that were probably working for a good month or more before we started, and I think you saw that today. There was a real nice feel about it and a great attitude.”
Nashville was slightly short-handed Saturday – strikers Jhonder Cádiz and Daniel Ríos were rested for precautionary reasons with minor injuries, while winger Randall Leal is participating with Costa Rica’s contingent to the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Mexico – and will be so in a different way in Bradenton. Godoy and defender Alistair Johnston will head out on international duty with Panama and Canada, respectively. The Canucks host Bermuda in Orlando, while Los Canaleros take on Barbados in the Dominican Republic, both in Thursday World Cup Qualifying matches. Johnston will be at the same facility as Nashville for his team’s second match – at IMG Academy against Curaçao – while Godoy will stay in the Dominican to play Dominica, both of those contests happening Sunday.
Nashville will next play New York Red Bulls from IMG Wednesday afternoon, with the game kicking off at 2 p.m. CDT. The teams did not play in 2020, but there’s some familiarity on Nashville’s roster: both midfielder Dax McCarty and winger Alex Muyl are former Red Bulls.
Footage Courtesy Nashville SC