Nashville SC earned a draw in Mercedes Benz Stadium earlier this season, but the Boys in Gold headed to Atlanta this afternoon never having earned a victory at the home of the Five Stripes in the short history of the rivalry. No more. Daniel Ríos put the visitors ahead in the first half, and the player who replaced him in the lineup, Randall Leal, added the stoppage-time exclamation point to give the visitors a 2-0 win.
It looked like Atlanta United may have the opportunity to stake an early lead in just the seventh minute. Nashville defender Alistair Johnston pulled down George Bello and was initially whistled for a penalty. Upon video review, however, the infraction was adjudged to be outside the box, and the free kick from Ezequiel Barco was punched away by keeper Joe Willis.
Late in the half, Nashville more-than gained a foothold in the game. The Boys in Gold generated a chance a minute late: a headed attempt from Hany Mukhtar in the 43rd – aided by a Taylor Washington cross – drew a diving save from Guzan. Immediately thereafter, Daniel Ríos had an attempt blocked from close range, and then sent a strike from distance just wide late in the first half.
Ríos’s consistent knocks on the door would find an open door in the second minute of stoppage time. A well-worked possession found him on the end of a Dan Lovitz throughball, and he made no mistake to finish to the near post with his first touch.
Nashville continued to control the game after the half, but the tide turned to Atlanta in the final 15 minutes, with a massive possession edge. Despite that, the Five Stripes were able to find only three more shots. When a lefty curler from midfielder Luiz Araújo was blocked out for a corner (a less-impressive way to stop the Brazilian than a fingertip save from Willis 20 minutes earlier), and a headed attempt from Josef Martinez – one of the league’s most dangerous goal-scorers – whistled wide of the post despite having caught the keeper flat-footed. The Five Stripes controlled 61.1% of second-half possession, but NSC execute the bend-don’t-break gameplan to perfection.
From there, it was Leal’s chance to finally hit one of his signature long-range shots… albeit in a very different way than you’d typically expect. With Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan pushed very high as his team sought an equalizer, Leal got on the end of a quick punt from Willis, and rolled one into an empty net from the sideline.
With its first road win of 2021, Nashville moves to 8-2-11 on the season, and level on points – 35 – with second-place Orlando City SC in the East. The Lions boast the wins tiebreaker, though the pair split their only matchup thus far this season just over a week ago in Nissan Stadium. Nashville will have two more cracks at OCSC in the final 13 games of the regular season.
First, though, the Boys in Gold welcome New York City FC – currently fifth in the East, but with two-plus games in-hand on the teams ahead – this Friday evening. NSC has never met the Pigeons in MLS play, but with a win in the sides’ first meeting at this level, could set up for a strong kick to close the season en route to a lofty standing in the Eastern Conference table – and on to the playoffs.
- 26′ NSH Yellow card – 2 Dan Lovitz (foul)
- 37′ ATL Yellow card – 8 Ezequiel Barcop (dissent)
- 45′ NSH GOAL – 14 Daniel Ríos (right foot, first touch), assisted by 2 Dan Lovitz (left-footed throughball)
- 45’+2 Half time
- 59′ NSH Substitution – On 8 Randall Leal, off 14 Daniel Ríos
- 61′ ATL Yellow card – 13 Amar Sejdić (professional foul)
- 68′ ATL Substitutions:
- On 9 Mattheus Rossetto, off 6 Alan Franco
- On 16 Erik Lopez, off 13 Amar Sejdić
- 74′ NSH Yellow card – 27 Tah Brian Anunga (foul)
- 80′ NSH Substitution – On 72 Aké Loba, off 17 CJ Sapong
- 84′ ATL Substitutions:
- On 22 Jürgen Damm, off 11 Brooks Lennon
- On 2 Rónald Hernandez, off 19 Luiz Araújo
- 89′ NSH Substitution – On 19 Alex Muyl, off 10 Hany Mukhtar
- 90’+ 5 NSH GOAL – 8 Randall Leal (right-footed, long-range, rolled), assisted by 1 Joe Willis (left-footed punt)
- 90’+6 NSH Yellow card – 8 Randall Leal (excessive celebration – goin’ topless)
- 90’+6 Full time.