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: Tell the world they’re coming home

At long last, Nashville SC is returning home to First Tennessee Park after an extensive road trip.

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The Boys in Gold are back home this Mother’s Day to take on a familiar foe in Louisville City FC. Last time these two met, it was Nashville’s first ever game in the USL regular season, losing to the defending champs 2-0.

But things are different now. Nashville has a bit of experience under its belt through the trials and tribulations experienced through this three-game road stint.

The opponent: Louisville City has been on an absolute tear in this early season. Before its first loss of the season last week against Indy Eleven, the defending USL champions had won five of their first six games. The only blemish during that stretch was a 1-1 draw against Atlanta United 2. They’re currently one point behind Eastern Conference leaders FC Cincinnati, and boost one of the top goal scorers in the league so far in Cameron Lancaster (four goals).

What does Nashville need to do? Continuous pressure on goal would be a great way for Nashville to come away with points and possibly hand Louisville its second-consecutive loss. Ropapa Mensah’s goal last week against New York Red Bulls II came because the forwards made the Red Bulls defense make a mistake from the pressure exerted on them. If Nashville is relentless in pursuing the ball while Louisville tries to prepare an attack from the back line, good things can and will happen.

Here’s an obvious one, but Matt Pickens must continue to do Matt Pickens things. He’s currently tied with four other goalkeepers for the second most shutouts this season with four, and has been one of the reasons Nashville has picked up points in five of its last six contests. He’ll once again need to be at his best between the posts in order to ward off this effective Louisville offense which has recorded 115 shots so far.

Prediction: 1-1 Draw

Nashville is a different team since the first meeting about two months ago, and the home atmosphere has already shown how it can be a factor for visiting teams. However, Louisville will still have a sour taste in its mouth from dropping its first game of the season. I expect a competitive back-and-forth between these two, with both sides just missing out on collecting all three points.

Other notes

El Nashico: Nashville’s first local derby will take place this Wednesday at Vanderbilt Stadium when Nashville SC faces NPSL side Inter Nashville. Inter beat Charlotte Eagles 6-1 in its first round matchup, and now the game is drawing plenty of attention from Middle Tennessee soccer fanatics.

Turn up, the radio: Nashville SC and Nashville’s ESPN radio affiliate The Game have announced a partnership, where 94.9 will have an English broadcast for at least 20 games. The first broadcast will be this Sunday, and will include a pre and postgame match. The announcement was made Thursday morning during 102.5 The Game’s morning show, Morning Drive.

“We are thrilled to announce our partnership with Nashville SC,” said Cromwell Radio market manager Jana Hampton in a press release.

“As a locally owned radio group, we are focused on serving the community where we live and work and we strive to give listeners Nashville’s Best Sports Talk
each day. Aligning with Nashville SC helps us deliver on those objectives. It’s a great fit.”

Roadies bringing the noise at special event: The Roadies support group will be bringing the noise for two days in a row this weekend. In addition to their normal march and support to First Tennessee Park Saturday, the group will also be out and about Saturday to support Soccer for the Nations. Soccer for the Nations is a support group that gives refugee children a chance to come together and play the beautiful game.

Additional information can be found on the group’s Facebook page event here.

Old problems emerge for Nashville SC in Penn FC draw, but there’s time to fix

Although last night was the first time Nashville SC has ever faced off against Penn FC (formerly Harrisburg Islanders), the Boys in Gold still ran into a familiar foe: themselves.

A 0-0 draw Tuesday night in Pennsylvania does reward a point to both sides, and put Nashville in seventh place in the USL Eastern Conference, but the other two dropped points could have just as easily been Nashville’s to take home.

The most notable chances came from forward Robin Shroot, who started his first match since March 24 against Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Shroot put in a strong effort to get himself in front of goal. The execution was just a little off.

So now Nashville has only scored two goals in four away matches. A somewhat troubling statistic considering the club is still in the middle of a tough stretch of road games in this early season (three of the next four contests are away from First Tennessee Park).

The shots were there, with eight in total. However, only three of those were on target to test Penn FC goalkeeper Sean Lewis.

“The first half was competitive, but there were numerous mistakes from both teams. We had two or three chances that we didn’t convert,” said Nashville SC coach Gary Smith.

“The second period we kept the ball and developed pressure better than we did in the first half. The amount of clear sights of goal we had as an away team. We were by far the better group. You don’t score, you can’t win. In front of goal, we fell short.”

There were some positives to pick up from this contest. Matt Pickens recorded his fourth shutout in six games, which leads all goalkeepers in the USL. Pickens finished the game with a pair of saves to preserve the goose egg.

So what needs to be done to fix the on-and-off offensive woes?

One easy fix is getting Alan Winn back into the starting lineup, who didn’t see any action during the match. Perhaps it was just because the club wanted to give Winn a chance to rest after three consecutive starts, but the long layoff upcoming for the club would have been a good opportunity for Winn to recharge his batteries, if they needed to be recharged at all. Nashville has scored at least one goal each time Winn has made an appearance in the starting lineup this season.

But the only real solution is getting plenty of reps in training in the coming days. Although it’s tough to replicate game-like scenarios in practice, getting down some shots on goal and working on the buildup to put goal scorers in the opportune position can only be beneficial.

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“We keep working in training,” said Smith.

“I can just keep trying to work our team into good areas and get good chances. I can give them new ideas, but they need to finish our chances. I am frustrated we haven’t scored. We can be encouraged by the chances, but I am disappointed to come away with just one point.”

Nashville SC will get an extended break beore its next match, as it travels up north to face New York Red Bulls II May 6.

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 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.

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.