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Nashville SC is starting to look like a threat

So Nashville SC just took down USL Eastern Conference leading Charlotte Independence 2-0 Saturday night, and did so in pretty convincing fashion. Let’s talk about it.

Does it say more about how much we overestimated Charlotte? Despite their seven points in three games, all of them came from the comfort of their stadium. Plus, they had to come back against Atlanta United 2.

But does it also say that Nashville is actually pretty good as a team? Likely. This was by far their best outing as a club. The win gives them seven points on the year, and moves them up to fifth in the Eastern Conference standings.

Alan Winn, who had a preseason to remember, started his second game in a row. He was able to get on the scorer’s sheet in the 24th minute. Kosuke Kimura played a perfect long ball down the right side of the park. A Charlotte defender slipped, and Winn was able to collect the pass. He took a clever touch onto his left, and then buried the shot far post.

 

But Winn’s goal from this game was just the icing on the cake. Nashville thoroughly dominated this game from the opening whistle. The possession slightly favored the Boys in Gold (50.2-49.8), but that has become a common occurrence so far for this team where they can dictate the flow of the game.

What’s more impressive is how their offensive numbers have risen with each passing game. Somewhat gone are the questions about how this team struggled to put shots on target and the ability to pressure the opposing keeper. Against Charlotte, they had 12 shots, with four of them on target.

“The team was very bright. We pressed the Charlotte group very well,” said Nashville SC coach Gary Smith.

I thought we won the ball in some nice areas and certainly created some opportunities. The goal was a terrific effort from Alan Winn. The second period, I felt Charlotte slightly changed their dynamic of their group. They took a couple more chances. They had some joy once or twice playing out of the back and that started to affect how we defended. I certainly felt Charlotte edged the possession and maybe some of the more adventurous play in the second period, but, overall, I’m absolutely delighted with the way the players have attacked the game.”

And of course, this game wouldn’t be complete without Matt Pickens being Matt Pickens.

Pickens and his defensive front have now gone 296 minutes without conceding a goal. A feat that certainly highlights how tricky this unit is to unlock. They bullied what was at the time one of the USL’s top offenses. Charlotte’s biggest threat, Jorge Herrera, was limited to only a pair of shots. He also had the least amount of touches (38) and total passes (27) amongst Independence’s offensive players. It was clear Nashville wanted to isolate him away from the action, and that task was easily accomplished.

Ropapa Mensah put the game to rest in stoppage time. Matt Pickens delivered a ball deep down field that Mensah was able to corral. He cleverly put a touch on the ball that floated past the out-of-position keeper.

So can Nashville continue this run of play? We’ll see. Five of their next six matches are on the road. But if tonight was a good indication of what direction things are heading, I’m sure there will be plenty for Nashville supporters to bang their drums about.

“The next six games are pretty tough,” said Smith.

“Indy have started off very well. They’ve just won 1-0 today .There is no doubt about it,
the five away opponents, any away game in this league is very difficult. It presents so many dynamics and challenges. There isn’t an away game in the league that you’ve not got to prepare fully for and be majorly aware of what the home team is going to bring.”

 

Nashville SC Notebook: Reinforcements arrive as Nashville prepares to face top Eastern Conference team

Yes, last Saturday’s Nashville SC victory against Bethlehem Steel FC was historic, but there’s not much time to celebrate. Nashville now welcomes a Charlotte Independence team that has gotten off to a hot start (7 points in their first three games to lead the Eastern Conference).

“They are confident and have had a good start, seven points in three matches and top of the league,” said Nashville SC coach Gary Smith

“They show a lot of the same qualities they have shown in previous seasons. I see a typical Mike Jeffries coached team. They are based around intelligent and talented play and have a nice balance of youth and experience. They will want to utilize a few of their key players up top with the others supporting those players.”

This will be Charlotte’s first away game of the season, and it’s quite the daunting trip to make considering the atmosphere Nashville SC fans have created. But Charlotte brings with it some highly-credentialed players. The most notable are Jungsoo Lee, a player with experience for South Korea’s international team (five goals in 54 appearances), and Jorge Herrera, who has already scored four goals on six shots.

Nashville’s new signing:

Nashville SC made a splash earlier this week by signing Canadian international David Edgar. Edgar has spent some time in the Premier League, with stints at Newcastle United and Swansea City. In addition, he also has 42 appearances to his name as a member of the Canadian National team.

Edgar has been sidelined for a while now thanks to an injury. With London Woodberry sidelined for the forseeable future, it makes sense for the club to bring in an experienced defender that can already help bolster a unit that has gone 204 match minutes without conceding a goal.

“I don’t think you can ever bypass an individual like David, and his experience with his caliber at such a high level,” said Smith.

“His name came up as a free agent, and it was a matter of whether or not we can get a deal done.”

We’ll see how soon Edgar is slotted into the starting 11. Right now, the regular back line has been incredibly effective against opposition. It’s going to be hard to keep such an experienced player off the field for too long, though.

Other misc. items:

-Nashville SC has announced that the Club is less than 400 season tickets sold from breaking a USL inaugural season record. Tickets can be purchased on the Club’s website.

-The game will be back on MyTV30, with kickoff time slated for 7:30. John Freeman and Braden Gall will call the game. The game can also be streamed at nashvillesc.com

-The USL will cease streaming its games on YouTube as a result of its new broadcasting partnership with ESPN+. This partnership will start next weekend. Full replays of matches can be found on the USL’s YouTube channel and Match Center seven days after they’re completed. More information can be found here.

Prediction: 2-1 Charlotte. Last week, I was wrong. I said Nashville SC would lose, but they were able to come away with a victory thanks in part to the early penalty. I also thought that this was the game where Nashville would pick up its first three points. The results might be reversed. Charlotte are brimming with confidence and playing really well through its first three games. The home crowd at First Tennessee will be beneficial, but I think Independence keeps on rolling after their hot start to the season.

Nashville SC looking for first win in trip to Bethlehem

It’s somewhat fitting that Nashville SC is traveling to a town called Bethlehem on Easter Weekend. However, don’t look too far into this coincidence, as the only Easter Egg that Nashville is hunting for this Saturday is the one that contains three points.

These won’t be an easy three points to gather, however. Their opponent, Bethlehem Steel FC, is an affiliate with MLS side Philadelphia Union. What makes this occasion a tricky fixture is that the Union can move players up and down from their main roster to the Steel, meaning its tough to prepare for any individual player and system.

The Steel are 1-1-0 so far this season, winning their opener 4-1 against the Richmond Kickers before falling 2-0 to the Tampa Bay Rowdies last week.

“I think we’re into the season now, as it were, and as you have rightly said, there’s no real way of knowing who will be a part of the Bethlehem group, but what I would suspect is that in a system that has developed some very decent players, their mindset is also different from the two teams we have played against, that stand alone,” said Nashville SC coach Gary Smith.

“You’ve got what will be classed as a development group, there’s some very good players,  and those young players are trying to adapt to a system and style of play that can take them to the next level to the MLS group. For that sake alone, we probably likely to see whoever plays in that group, a style of play that will reflect the first team and will give those young players a chance to step from one group to the next. There’s a common theme and a common aim in the group, although of course we have some players that have dropped down from the first team, you can expect maybe a bit more pace, bit more strength and in some cases a bit more experience. But in terms of preparing for Bethlehem, there’s going to be some trends in the group that stay the
same.”

Nashville SC are still looking for that elusive first goal of the regular season, and it hasn’t been an easy one to come by considering the stout defenses it has faced since the start of the campaign. So far, The Boys in Gold have only attempted 10 total shots, including four on target. Lebo Moloto has accounted for eight total shots, tied in the USL for the most.

Nashville has shown promise in the buildup, with an average possession of 51 percent in two games. It’s just that the play in the final third hasn’t delivered just yet, as it’s only completing 57 percent of its passes in the opponents half of the field.

“I think the chemistry and the fluidity going forward, through the midfield as well, is still coming along,” said Nashville SC midfielder Matt LaGrassa.

“I think that’s one of those things that takes time, getting people on the same pages, knowing people’s strengths and utilizing those strengths. That’s what we are working towards. Having been on an expansion club, I know that takes time. I believe it will come. I know it will.”

Prediction: 2-1 I do believe that this is the game Nashville SC breaks through and scores its first USL goal of the regular season. However, this won’t be the game Nashville SC breaks through and gets its first three points of the season.

Kickoff for Saturday’s game is slated for 1 p.m. CT. You can stream the game below.

 

Nashville SC notebook: MLS coming in 2019? Not Quite

Yesterday seemed like it was going to be a normal start to the week.

Until this tweet from SportsBusiness Journal’s Ian Thomas got sent out.

9wgmd

Thomas’ tweet came as a result of the joint North American 2026 World Cup bid packet, where it stated on page 97, that “(Nashville) was recently awarded the 24th expansion team in Major League Soccer (MLS), Nashville SC, which will start playing in the league in 2019.”

This raised the eyebrows of fans and those who cover the team alike. Nashville SC told 615 Formation it had nothing to announce regarding this.

However, the wording in the packet turned out to be a mistake. The United Bid Committee reached out to multiple outlets, including our friends at Music City Soccer and The Nashville Business Journal, stating, “The United Bid Committee’s section on Nashville in the World Cup bid submission inaccurately states the first season for the new Nashville MLS expansion club. MLS has confirmed the new Nashville expansion team will not begin playing in the league in 2019 and a start date has not been finalized.”

Now, the last couple of words of this statement do leave open the possibility of Nashville SC playing in MLS in 2019, as “a start date has not been finalized” leaves the door open in case both Nashville SC and the MLS believe the club is ready to make the leap.

Like many, I’m of the belief that Nashville SC should wait until 2020 to begin play. By then, the team will have two seasons of professional soccer under its belt, the new stadium at the fairgrounds will have been built, and a steady fan base will have been established to help draw interest.

But enough of that, let’s get into some more fun stuff.

What to make of the 0-0 draw: There’s a lot to digest from Nashville’s draw with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The most notable is that the attacking third is still lacking some edge, despite the strong possession play throughout most of the match. Nashville SC coach Gary Smith does think the goals will start to fall soon as this team begins to build a rapport.

“Scoring a goal in general is the toughest part,” said Smith.

“We have extremely talented players who play in that final third, but to get them on the same page, and feel and feed off of each other in vital moments is going to take a little bit of time. What you’re seeing is a group that has come together very quickly. They’ve got a good concept of how we want to play. As a group, however, we’ve got a point on the board, and a clean sheet. We take a step forward in that respect, and we have plenty of work in that front line.”

We’ll see if Smith decides to make another shift in the forward line in the next game in order to create some spark.

Some of the most notable performances include:

Matt Pickens: Pickens once again put in a stellar performance, finishing the game with a pair of saves and recording the club’s first clean sheet in the USL. His best save came on a shot right outside the 18 that was going to Picken’s right post. The goalie was able to stretch out and prevent the Riverhounds from putting a goal on the board.

Lebo Moloto: Moloto was easily the most efficient player on the offensive side for Nashville. Although his passing accuracy was down from the last match, he still recorded three shots, including this acrobatic one which might have been an early contender for goal of the season.

The fans: Yes, the fans. In case you haven’t heard, Nashville’s home opener drew a crowd of 18,922 at Nissan Stadium. While that mark might have not broken the USL inaugural home opener record, it  was recognized as the highest attended soccer match on U.S. soul over the weekend. While Nashville SC as a team continues to develop, this is a great sign that the interest in professional soccer here is growing fast.

Roadies announce event for a great cause: The Roadies, Nashville SC’s oldest support group, have announced their Blue Out: Roadie Rally event. The event will take place at Pastime April 7 before Nashville SC’s home match against Charlotte Independence. The group will be teaming up with Autism Tennessee and selling blue T-shirts in order to raise autism awareness.

All shirt purchases and 3% of all food and drink sales at Pastime that afternoon will be donated to Autism Tennessee. Those interested can purchase shirts here.

What’s next?: Nashville SC will travel to Bethlehem, Pa. this weekend to take on Bethlehem Steel. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. CT.

Nashville SC hosts inaugural home opener, draws with Pittsburgh

Nashville SC made its first home stand in the United Soccer League one to remember Saturday at Nissan Stadium with a 0-0 draw against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

The Club came up just short of breaking the inaugural season home opener attendance record set by Sacramento Republic in 2014 with a crowd of 20,231. Nashville SC vs. Pittsburgh drew a crowd of 18,922.

The announcement was made in the 60th minute of the game. Fans were eager to share their experience of this historical event on social media.

 

Nashville elected to make two changes to the starting lineup from last week. Tucker Hume replaced Michael Cox, and Bradley Bourgeois took the place of London Woodberry, who was out with an injury.

The Boys in Gold dominated nearly every analytical statistic in the first half, but were unable to really get anything going on goal as far as shots with only recorded on target. Their best chance came from Lebo Moloto in the 40th minute, but it went right at the keeper.

Pittsburgh came out the aggressor in the second half, however, with four shots and two on target. Matt Pickens was up to the task, recording two saves and his first clean sheet of the regular season. He was awarded man of the match.

There were a couple of bookings in the second half. Lebo Moloto received a yellow for a tough foul that was played as an advantage for Pittsburgh, while Ropapa Mensah was booked for accidentally running into the goalie.

Moloto almost had an early contender for goal of the season in the 78th minute.

Althought Nashville SC had a couple of late chances to test the Pittsburgh defense, nothing came of them.

Nashville SC will travel to Bethlehem, Pa. March 31 to play against Bethlehem Steel. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. CT.

History awaits at Nissan Stadium, so what does Nashville SC need to do to pick up points?

At long last, Nashville SC is mere hours away from hosting its inaugural USL season opener. The event was in such high demand, it had to be moved to a bigger venue. Now, Nissan Stadium prepares to host a match between the home town Boys in Gold and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

The opponent: The Riverhounds are led by new coach Bob Lilley. Lilley previously coached at the Rochester Rhinos in two previous stints (2009-2011, 2014-2017) before making his way down to West Pennsylvania. Prior to his arrival, the Riverhounds went 8-12-12 last season. However, the Riverhounds have somewhat reshaped with the arrival of Lilley and are an opponent that should not be underestimated.

“I honestly don’t think you can look at records from last year. Pittsburgh didn’t have the best of seasons and there’s a lot of changes there,” said Nashville SC coach Gary Smith.

“New coach, six or seven players brought over from Rochester with him that will understand his style and appreciate what the coach wants out of the team.” “They’re a side that’s starting their season. This is their first game, bye-weekend last weekend, and any team that come in a brand new season has aspirations of doing well. In the first game, if you’re not going to get a group of players that are going to give everything, they’re going to chase, shut down, they’re going to fight for every ball and they’re going to want to stay in the game. They’re going to, as much as possible, walk away from it with something.”

So what does Nashville SC need to do in order to pick up its first points of the season? Here are a couple of things.

1.  Know the terrain:

Nissan Stadium is easily going to be one of the best fields both teams will play on all season. Having practiced on the field already, Nashville SC will have an advantage in that department in knowing how fast the ball will travel on the pitch. The pitch is also very wide, which also benefits the style of play Nashville SC wants to execute in getting the wing players involved in the offense.

“The pitch is massive. I think that suits our style well,” said defender/winger Taylor Washington.

Speaking of wing play…..

2. Keep Kosuke Kimura involved: 

Kimura was Nashville’s most effective player on offense during last week’s game against Louisville. He was able to execute 10 long passes, second behind goalkeeper Matt Pickens, with most of those long passes being crosses. He also kept Louisville defenders on edge with his footwork and quickness. With such a wide pitch to work with in this home opener, it would be wise to get Kimura as many touches as possible so he can help create opportunities with his crosses.

3. Great wall of Pickens: 

Despite giving up two goals in his Nashville SC regular season debut, Matt Pickens had a strong game. He commanded the backfield well, was strong at reading the crosses, and knew exactly when to stand his ground. He’ll once again need to be a wall between the posts, and a general in the backfield.

4. Forwards need heavy pressure:

The forward conundrum for Nashville SC seems to have carried over from the preseason to last week’s game against Louisville. Smith revealed that he could do some tinkering with the forward line for this game, but did not go into details. Whoever lines up at the top will need to pressure Pittsburgh’s backline and force them to make bad passes out of the backfield, thus leading to Nashville possessions and possible shots on goal.

5. Feed off the crowd: 

There’s no doubt that the atmosphere at Nissan Stadium will be electric come Saturday, and Nashville SC must feed off that. Depending on what happens in MLS this weekend, there’s a chance this game being the biggest soccer crowd in the United States over the weekend. The possibility of breaking Sacramento Republic’s attendance mark of 20,231 for the USL unaugural home opener record is still in play, with over 18,000 tickets sold so far according to the club.

“The atmosphere will play a huge part with us on the field. We have over 17,000 people coming, and I’m excited for the boys to put on a good show for (the fans),” said Washington.

“It’s not everyday you get to play at Nissan Stadium in front of 17,000 fans. Even playing in front of 10,000 at First Tennessee is a great opportunity, but there is something special when your cleats hit that metal here.”

Prediction: 1-1. The home field advantage and atmosphere will have a lot to do with how well Nashville plays and controls the tempo of the game. However, I still think this team is trying to figure out what works best as far as the combination of forwards go, thus hindering them from picking up all three points.

Nashville SC notebook: Putting the Louisville City loss behind, with a chance at history this weekend

Nashville SC’s opening weekend in the United Soccer League could have been better, but it also could have been worse.

A 2-0 loss to defending champions Louisville City FC on less than ideal pitch conditions is a tough pill to swallow, but it’s not the end of the world.

Luke Spencer scored in 56th minute on a header, and Niall McCabe doubled the tally in the 66th minute off a deflected save from Matt Pickens trying to stop a low cross. The team will be looking over the tape of the game later, and assess what needs to be done.

“The conclusion is a really simplistic one,” said Nashville SC coach Gary Smith, who breifly spoke with the media Monday morning.

“I though we competed for large portions of the game very well. The big difference we can imagine, is that Louisville are a very good side. They’ve managed that field, and have won a championship, and are very comfortable in the way they play there. I think, at vital moments, they were able to make it count.”

A couple of takeaways from Saturday’s game:

-Matt Picken was awesome. The experienced goalie knew exactly when to come out for crosses and when to hold his ground when those dangerous balls were played into the area. To the surprise of no one, he’s going to be  a big reason why Nashville SC are competitive in games.

-The forward play from Nashville SC has to be able to test the opposing keeper. Now, a lot of this might have to do with the tight dimensions of Louisville’s pitch, but there weren’t a lot of really creative chances from the front line. For my money, Kosuke Kimura was the best player on offense for Nashville. He made the Louisville defenders on the flank fairly uncomfortable at times with his quickness and ability to play lurking crosses. Other than him, Nashville was fairly limited on offense, only recording two shots on target.

-With such a good preseason under his belt, It really surprised me when Alan Winn was not chosen to come off the bench in order to try and get something going on the offensive side. His speed and energy off the bench might have caused panic in Louisville’s defense in a game where Nashville was already lacking any explosive play.

Looking forward to Pittsburgh: The Riverhounds will now come to town to face Nashville SC in Music City’s home opener at Nissan Stadium. Despite only two seasons with an above .500 record in the past decade in various USL leagues, Pittsburgh is not a team Nashville SC cannot overlook.

“(There’s been) a lot of changes on the staff, as they have began to piece together their roster for this year,” said Smith.

Pittsburgh’s current coach, Bob Lilley, is beginning his first season with the Riverhounds after spending the past couple of years with the Rochester Rhinos in two different stints (2009-2011, 2014-2017). The Riverhounds did not play in a USL match during the opening weekend, but scrimmaged Villanova instead. They lost that scrimmage 1-0.

Nashville inching close to possible record USL crowd: Of course, the big news leading up to this week is if Nashville SC will break the USL’s inaugural home opener attendance record at 20,231. According to the club, around 16,000 tickets have already been sold for the match, which will take place at Nissan Stadium.

“There’s already a wonderful basis and foundational level for tickets sold. I’m sure this week, leading into the game, it’s going to switch a lot of the local fan base and supporters within the city towards the event,” said Smith.

“There’s a fabulous chance that we’re not only going to have a great crowd, but we’re going to be close to that number. Nevertheless, even if it doesn’t, I’m sure we’ll have tremendous support. For a side that’s going to be playing their first game at home, we’re going to need that.”

You can purchase tickets to Nashville SC’s home opener here.