Nashville SC notebook: Boys in Gold looking for third-straight win

Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith says he’s never heard of St. Elmo’s Steakhouse in Indianapolis.

But while his culinary knowledge of the Hoosier state is lacking (not that there’s much of culinary scene there though, so it’s understandable), he has done his extensive research on his side’s next opposition, Indy Eleven.

“I am keeping an open mind as to what we will walk in to,” said Smith regarding how he’s preparing for the match.

“We will train on their match field on Friday and our staff will be looking forward to seeing what the field is like. Indoors, turf, those things all effect the game. We are keeping an open mind. What I do know is that Indy is a team in a similar position to us with a group of new players, and a new coach. They have a good strong core to that team, with McInerney and Pasher being dangerous.”

Opponent overview: Like Nashville, Indy Eleven is in its first season of the USL. Founded in 2013, the club has spent its first couple of years in the NASL. The Club finished second in the league in 2016, while also finishing first in average attendance in three of the four years. The high attendance has followed the Club to the USL, as it drew 17,000 fans to Lucas Oil Stadium in its first home game.

Indy’s defense has been the story of their season so far. Also like Nashville, it’s been tough for opposing teams to put any goals past them, allowing only one goal in three contests.

“We do see this match as more than likely being a tight one,” said Nashville SC goalkeeper Matt Pickens.

“Much of that has to do with being early in the season and also mirroring each other in that we are a new club playing together for only a couple of months and them having a new head coach with an overwhelming majority of new players. In that regard, I don’t envision the game being that stretched with the scoreline.”

Indy Eleven has beaten North Carolina FC and the Richmond Kickers this year, both by a score of 1-0. Its loss came against FC Cincinnati, also by the score of 1-0.

Other notes:

-Some Nashville SC players made some waves in the USL for their performances this week. Alan Winn was named to the USL team of the week. His goal against Charlotte was also named goal of the week. Pickens was nominated for USL save of the week.

-The Club is 300 season tickets away from breaking the inaugural season ticket record.

-For those streaming, the game will be on the ESPN+ streaming service as a part of the new USL streaming contract. Kickoff is slated for 11 a.m. Central, and the game can be watched locally on MyTV30.

Prediction: 1-0 Nashville Last week, I was wrong on my prediction and overestimated Charlotte. I think Nashville is starting to figure things out in the final third. Indy’s defense will be their toughest test thus far in the season, so I could also see this game ending as a 0-0 draw.

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 ends preseason with a bang, but now the real journey begins

Well that was fun, wasn’t it?

Nashville SC took a quick trip down I-24 and were able to handle business against Chattanooga FC, winning 3-1 and putting a bow on its preseason.

Here are the highlights from the Nashville goals.

It’s the perfect result for The Boys in Gold to cap off their inaugural preseason, even if the result means little to nothing.

“It’s always nice to get a win going into the regular season,” said midfielder Matt LaGrassa, who scored the first of Nashville SC’s three goals on the evening.

“You know, obviously we will be facing opponents coming up, that on paper will be better than Chattanooga. Hopefully, we can take the win and carry the momentum forward.”

There’s no denying that since the rainy afternoon at First Tennessee Park against Atlanta United, Nashville SC has improved drastically. The chemistry is starting to form, and Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith is figuring out who plays best in what position in his formation.

This latest match saw a mix of different players who have been deemed “first” and “second” teamers in the starting 11, with Tucker Hume and Ropapa Mensah as the two forwards. The combination seemed to pay dividends, as both are strong-bodied players that can outmuscle most defenders and win long balls in the air.

We also saw preseason wonderkid Alan Winn make the move to attacking center midfield, after seeing lots of time up top. That move might be a foreshadowing of who Smith really trusts in orchestrating the offense when the ball makes its way towards that part of the pitch.

But now its time to find out what we’ve all been waiting for. How will this team do in its first regular season campaign? There will be no better way to figuring out that question than with an opener against defending USL champions Louisville City FC.

Of course, one match at the beginning of the year won’t determine everything, as Smith points out. The term, “baptism by fire,” certainly does come into play for the upcoming match.

“If we are going to have a test, a bit of a benchmark, then there is none better than Louisville,” said Smith.

“The season can’t be won or lost next weekend. We have fared well in the games leading up to next weekend. I see no reason why the group I have in that locker room will not turn up and perform. Everybody will be frothing at the mouth waiting for it, and it’s been a long time coming.”

 

 

Nashville SC Notebook: The Preseason Train Rolls On

The #DriveToNissan movement for Nashville SC continues to pick up steam as we inch closer and closer to the inaugural Nashville SC USL season opener at Nissan Stadium against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

The drive saw pit stops in the Sunshine State, with a couple of preseason games in Bradenton and Orlando. Nashville grabbed two draws at the IMG Academy, with a 0-0 result against MLS side Chicago Fire and a 1-1 final against fellow USL side Ottawa Fury. Nashville also played against MLS side Orlando City SC behind closed doors.

So what can we gather from the trip to Florida? The most noteworthy is the forward combination the team is looking for.

It looks like Nashville SC is still trying to find the right combination up top in Gary Smith’s 3-5-2 (or 5-3-2, depeding on how you want to categorize the outside wingers who have roles both on offense and defense). Michael Cox and Robin Shroot got the starting nod against Chicago, with Ropapa Mensah and Tucker Hume coming in for relief in the second half. Hume lined up with fellow UNC alum Alan Winn to start against Ottawa, with Cox and Mensah getting second half action.

Each forward brings their own strength to the table. Winn is quick, Shroot presses the defenses well, Cox can hold the ball up well in traffic, Mensah is a solid finisher and a bit of a fox in the box, while Hume is a large target for long balls and crosses. Mensah, Cox, and Winn have all bagged goals this preseason so far, and the others have certainly caused the defenses they’ve faced some problems.

So what’s the best combination? It’s hard to say. The sample size for all five has been enough through practice and preseason games, but we won’t really know what works until we get to the games that actually count, where there’s added pressure to perform and put goals in the back of the net in order to collect points.

Other than that, it seems like the 3-5-2 formation will cause some trouble against fellow USL sides. The personel know how to effectively pass from the back and around the middle of the park in order to keep the defense off balance.

Kickoff times for all of Nashville SC games have also been released.

Nashville SC has also been pegged as a 75/1 favorite to win the USL championship, according to the William Hill US sports book.

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The Boys in Gold will play a scrimmage at Lipscomb University Thursday at 4 p.m. against the Bison. Those interested can purchase tickets here. The club will then travel up to Ohio to face FC Cincinnati.

Nashville SC has a goalie problem, and that’s a good thing

Nashville SC and MLS side Chicago Fire played to a 0-0 draw yesterday at IMG Academy in Bradeton, Fla. The result marked the first clean sheet in team history for The Boys in Gold, who at times looked like the superior side against a team who made the MLS playoffs last season.

It appears that Nashville SC has a problem, but it’s a good problem at that. Both goalkeepers, Matt Pickens and CJ Cochran, appear to be more than capable of starting a full 90-minute match and being able to tend the net. Pickens we knew was capable, due to his past history in MLS with a championship side. Cochran, however, was a bit of an unknown commodity, having only 19 league appearances prior to coming to the Music City.

The former Oklahoma City Energy net tender came in during the second half, much like against Atlanta United, and pulled off some spectacular saves.

So now Nashville SC has a similar situation much like a fellow professional team in the community, the Nashville Predators. Both teams have two goalkeepers, one a savy veteran (Pekka Rinne, Matt Pickens) and the other a young upstart (Juuse Saros, CJ Cochran), who can tend the net on any given night in relief of the other. No doubt that head coach Gary Smith will probably take the same approach towards his goalkeepers as the Predators and Peter Laviolette have done towards Saros and Rinne.

Some other observations from Nashville SC vs. Chicago Fire.

Forward combination missing: The only thing missing from yesterday’s result were the goals. The defense and midfield for Nashville seemed to have found their chemistry. The combination passing from those parts of the field were crisp and had purpose, and it showed yesterday. Nashville SC appears to still be looking for the right combination of players up top. Robin Shroot had two great chances in the first half, but they were mostly due to a couple of errors from Fire keeper Stefan Cleveland. I do think the goals will come sooner rather than later, mostly in part that the next talking point will start seeing some more action.

WINNing: Alan Winn once again continues to make a statement each time he takes the pitch. Winn had a couple of opportunities in the second half to put Nashville ahead, including a sitter, but he was unable to covert. It’s obvious how much of a difference maker the former University of North Carolina Tarheel is. Don’t be surprised if he makes his way into a starting role later this season, or is one of the first to come off the bench when Nashville SC needs a spark.

What’s next?: Nashville SC will play tomorrow afternoon against fellow USL side Ottowa Fury. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. C.T. No doubt that Nashville SC is heading into this match with loads of confidence after Wednesday’s showing.

Nashville SC Notebook: Postmatch Reactions, Venue Changes, and What’s Next?

It’s been two days since Nashville SC’s inaugural match against Atlanta United, and there’s a lot to digest from the soccer schmorgesborg from those who decided to indulge by either experiencing the match first hand or by watching it.

In case you missed the match, here’s a quick recap of how things went down.

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Just kidding. Here’s a bit of a more accurate glimpse courtesy of Nashville SC”s Twitter page.

Nashville lost to Atlanta United 3-1, but the losing effort saw lots of positives from the Boys in Gold, most notably Ropapa Mensah’s goal in the second half for Nashville SC’s first goal in club history.

Mensah did not start the match, but came on as a sub in the second half. I expect his role to increase as he becomes more acclimated with the club. His clinical finishing ability and skill on the ball is easily noticable in practice.

Who else stood really stood out in the match for Nashville? There were a couple:

Matt Pickens: Pickens only recorded one save in the game, but it was a big one he took off the chest in the late stages of the first half, and it helped preserve a clean sheet in the first half. His verbal ability to keep the back line organized was also key, and he handled most crosses in traffic reasonably well.

Lebo Moloto: The South African native was a catalyst in the middle of the park. He never backed down from any of the challenges Atlanta United posed, and connected on a bevy of passes to help set up his teammates on the offensive end of the pitch.

Alan Winn: The former Tarheel delivered the assist to Mensah on a low cross after collecting Tucker Hume’s flick on. Winn could be a vital piece to this roster moving forward. He has speed for days, and is no stranger to playing under the big lights after playing all four years at the University of North Carolina where he racked up plenty of accolades.

CHANGE IN VENUE?

During Nashville SC’s match broadcast, a brief promo flashed across the screen. It appeared to indicate that Nashville SC will host its first USL match March 24 against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds inside Nissan Stadium.

The club officially released a statement confirming this news Monday afternoon. It makes sense, considering that 104.5 The Zone will be holding its annual Sportsfest inside First Tennessee Park, the same day as The Club’s first game. The radio station already clarified that it had nothing to do with Nashville SC making the move to Nissan Stadium, but it does bring up an interesting topic of discussion.

There could be nights in the coming schedule where both the Sounds and Nashville SC have a home game. This could mean that it won’t be the only time this year that Nissan Stadium is the home venue for Nashville SC. Some have griped that spreading out the fans in a large venue like Nissan Stadium will hinder the experience, but this is unfortunately one of the cons of having to share a stadium with a team who plays at the same of year. Tickets for the match will be available Feb. 20, with kickoff time slated for 5 p.m.

What’s next for Nashville SC?

The club now has a week of training to work on a couple of tactical changes before traveling down to Bradenton, Fla., to the IMG Academy to play two more preseason games, Chicago Fire Feb. 21 and Ottowa Fury FC Feb. 23, before wrapping up the trip to the Sunshine State with a Feb. 25 match against Orlando City SC.

Here’s how Nashville SC lined up against Atlanta United. There could be a personnel change or two in the next match, but it could remain put.

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