Nashville SC hands Louisville its second-straight loss

Nashville SC sent a message to the USL on Mother’s Day that nothing comes easy at First Tennessee Park.

The Boys in Gold improved their home record to 2-0-1 with an impressive 2- 0 win against Louisville City FC. It’s Louisville second-straight loss after going unbeaten in its first six games.

It was Lebo Moloto who got Nashville SC on the board first in the 39th minute. Ropapa Mensah collected a long ball and beat a defender on the edge of the left side of the 18. He passed a low ball on the ground that both Matt LaGrassa and Moloto had their eye on, but it was Moloto who got the first-time shot off that beat the Louisville keeper. It’s LaGrassa’s first goal this season.

The second half started very chippy for both sides. Bradley Bourgeois made a run into the box that resulted in a collision with Greg Ranjitsingh as he was leaping up to collect a cross. Ranjitsingh’s back smacked up against the post from the collision, resulting in Bourgeois to receive a yellow card.

Bourgeois was one of three Nashville SC players to receive a booking this match. Liam Doyle and Taylor Washington were also marked down in the referee’s handbook.

As the match progressed, Nashville decided to lay back and absorb pressure, continuing to attack at times when needed.

Lebo Moloto turned in a brace and put the game on ice when he headed in Michael Reed’s cross from the left side of the box in the 84th minute. It’s the first time this season that a Nashville SC player has scored twice in a single game.

Quotes:

Nashville SC coach Gary Smith:

“For the first today, I think you’ve seen, against one of the top sides and under very difficult conditions, some character in this group. We saw this as a bit of a benchmark.  We’ve endured one or two difficulties. We have certainly not been at our best, but I do believe we’ll continue to improve. But, we might have just created a serious rivalry. They’re a top-side, and I’m absolutely delighted that we beat them.”

Lebo Moloto:

“I feel like I think we’ve come a long way. Had a couple of conversation with Michael Reed this week and one of the things that he said was ‘hey, we’re not a new team anymore.’ So, I think everyone’s realized that we’re not a new team. We’re a team that’s here to challenge for the number one spot, you know? I think we’ve come a long way from that first game to where we are today.”

Other notes:

-Matt Pickens finishes the game with his fifth shutout of the season, tying him with two other players in the USL for the most so far this season.

-The official attendance was announced as 8,610.

-Nashville’s defense was able to bottle up Louisville well in the first half, holding them to only one shot on target in the first half, and four the entire game.

-The win puts Nashville in eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings, with 12 points on the year.

Nashville SC now turns it’s attention to the local Nashville derby, where it’ll face Inter Nashville in the U.S. Open Cup Wednesday at Vanderbilt Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.

Nashville SC notebook: Looking at the positives in a loss

Nashville SC’s two-game winning streak, and three game streak of collecting points, was snapped Saturday against Indy Eleven, losing 2-1 at Lucas Oil Stadium. But despite the loss, there’s a lot of positives Nashville and its fans can take from this game.

“You’ve got to look at the positives. We built momentum when we were two goals down. To get a goal at the end of the first half, it was a positive thing going into the second half, we just didn’t put away the second chance or third chance,” said Nashville SC midfielder and captain Michael Reed.

A tale of two halves: Soony Saad had a brace for Indy in the first 34 minutes that ultimately helped Indy Eleven pull out the victory, but Nashville could have just as easily tied the game in the second half after Ropapa Mensah’s goal right before the break.

Nashville had more total shots, headed shots, and shots inside the box during the second half. Perhaps a lot of that had to do with Indy deciding to sit back and absorb pressure, but it’s still reassuring that Nashville will press the issue in an aggressive manner and get good opportunities when down.

“No doubt about it they were better than us in the first period. It’s sometimes difficult to
evaluate why,” said Nashville SC coach Gary Smith.

“There were numerous occasions where the ball was lost to cheaply. I think the players found the surface more challenging to contend with than they expected and it took some time to adapt. And then you throw into that mix the very good strike for [Indy’s] second goal…We actually finished in great fashion. Scored, hit the woodwork, looked bright. We
probably didn’t want the half to end. We looked on the front foot, back in the game, and the whistle blows.”

Positive midfield possession: The Nashville midfield came out of this game looking fairly sharp as far as possession and passing accuracy goes. Both Michael Reed (90.5) and Bolu Akinyode (85) completed over 80 percent of their passes. A good sign for those who play around them that both are able to make the right connections and put teammates in the final third to make an impact on goal. Although Lebo Moloto played more as a forward than he did as a midfielder, it’s worth noting that he also completed 88 percent of his passes as well.

It’s starting to look like the Akinyode-Reed combination is the one that will take Nashville to the next level and keep them in the hunt for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. Both know how to distribute the ball to the forwards and control the middle of the park to disrupt opposition plays.

Quick Penn preview: Nashville now turns its attention to a trip to Harrisburg, Pa. to face Penn FC. Formerly the Harrisburg Islanders, the club was been rebranded during the offseason. They finished 11th in the Eastern Conference last season, with current Nashville SC goalscorer Ropapa Mensah leading the way in team goals scored with seven.

Penn FC currently sits in 14th place in the Eastern Conference through three games, losing the first game of the season with Charleston Battery 1-0. They tied their next two games against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (0-0) and Atlanta United 2 (1-1).

Roadies Walk Hard: With no game this weekend, The Nashville Roadies are hosting a Walk for Wishes Event Saturday at Bicentennial Mall State Park benefiting the Make-A-Wish Foundation. This family-friendly event will see the Roadies singing and marching with a bunch of Wish Kids from around the area. There will also be opportunities to donate to Make-A-Wish. More details can be found here.

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.

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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 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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