It was a real “look like FC Cincinnati, play like FC Cincinnati” first 55 minutes for the Boys in
Gold Blue and Orange. In the league-special Parley jerseys – Nashville’s a bright blue with orange as Atlanta wore white with light blue accents – Nashville SC didn’t look like itself aesthetically, and didn’t play like itself between the white lines, either. Of course, a comparison to FCC is harsh for any Major League Soccer team, particularly in front of 40,748 fans in Atlanta United’s first full-capacity game of the year. It’s even more harsh when this NSC team salvaged a 2-2 draw from the proceedings.
This Five Stripes team looks to be closer to the club’s 2017-19 form than the weak unit that finished 12th in the East last year, and Nashville SC found that out the hard way as a number of factors combined for a rough start. The slow ramp-up harkened back to the first two games of the season (in each of which Nashville SC faced 2-0 deficits before halftime).
Atlanta winger Marcelino Moreno latched onto a ball over the top from centerback Miles Robinson, and managed to find a shooting window through the legs of Nashville’s Dave Romney. Indeed, Romney’s defending served primarily to screen goalkeeper Joe Willis from getting sight of the ball until it was too late, and he could do nothing to prevent Atlanta from taking the lead. The sixth-minute shock to the system didn’t immediately wake Nashville SC up, but the Boys in Gold grew into the game later in the first half, with a number of chances including an Alex Muyl toe-poke that went just wide, and a Jhonder Cádiz bicycle kick attempt that was notable more for its audaciousness than its threat on Atlanta’s goal (of which there was very little , unless said goal was twice as tall as the usual).
Nashville came out of the break playing a solid bit of ball, as well. Then, Atlanta got a strike out of a transition moment. Moreno played left wingback George Bello (a US Youth International) through to NSC’s endline, and his cross found Erik Lopez running on. The Paraguayan’s right-footed flick got to the ball before Nashville keeper Joe Willis could come out to it, and Atlanta looked to be cruising.
Indeed, the hosts were cruising, until Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar decided to take over. The first Designated Player in club history couldn’t find much of an impact at his natural No. 10 position, but when Nashville began to make subs and switched to a 4-4-2, he was twice able to lose a marker in the box and beat Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan. His 80th- and 83rd-minute goals salvaged a point for Nashville SC, and kept the team undefeated. He first slotted a loose ball in the box past Guzan’s far post after a Dan Lovitz pass, and then kept it to the near post after a deflection from defender Miles Robinson gave him the ball alone in the Atlanta penalty area.
Even in one of the toughest places to play – and against a squad that looks like one of the East’s best – Nashville’s grit and never-say-die attitude saved the day. Naturally, the Boys in Gold would prefer not to stare down two-goal deficits. But we’ve seen three times in just seven games that it’s a tool in the back pocket, and this time was against the stiffest competition yet.
The team will have a chance to lick its wounds for a couple weeks, with an international break on the horizon and no matches until a June 18 trip to New York Red Bulls. The motivational speeches from the coaching staff may have a slightly different tone than it seemed like they were in-store for around the 79th minute or so.
But a Nashville team still putting up a zero in the loss column will hope to ride the wave of momentum to bigger and better things over the next several weeks.
- 6′ ATL GOAL – 10 Marcelino Moreno (right foot), assisted by 12 Miles Robinson (longball over the top)
- 41′ ATL Yellow card – 10 Marcelino Moreno (simulation)
- 45’+2 Half time
- 51′ ATL GOAL – 16 Erik Lopez (right-footed, first touch), assisted by 21 George Bello (cross from endline after throughball from 10 Marcelino Moreno)
- 57′ NSH Yellow card – 6 Dax McCarty (foul)
- 58′ ATL Substitution – On 8 Ezequiel Barco, off 23 Jake Mulraney
- 61′ NSH Substitution – On 17 CJ Sapong, off 19 Alex Muyl
- 69′ ATL Substitution – On 14 Franco Ibarra, off 10 Marcelino Moreno
- 71′ NSH Substitution – On 9 Dom Badji, off 99 Jhonder Cádiz
- 77′ NSH Substitutions:
- On 22 Matt LaGrassa, off 20 Aníbal Godoy
- On 26 Luke Haakenson, off 8 Randall Leal
- 80′ NSH GOAL – 10 Hany Mukhtar (left foot, to far post from inside box), assisted by 2 Dan Lovitz (ground cross)
- 83′ NSH GOAL – 10 Hany Mukhtar (right foot, inside near post), assisted by 9 Dom Badji (deflection inside box)
- 90’+2 NSH Yellow card – 26 Luke Haakenson (time wasting)
- 90’+4 Full time