Nashville SC came up short in their first and only home match of their preseason schedule, falling 2-0 against Major League Soccer side New York City FC. On a cold, rainy night reminiscent of last year's home opener versus Atlanta United, the Boys In Gold were unable to provide a performance that excited the announced crowd of 5,384 (it felt like significantly less than that). While the fans were out of their seats for the majority of the match, it was in response to the weather rather than the play on the pitch. However, despite the result, Nashville SC held their own against the favored side and showed a couple glimpses of promising play.
Nashville started the match in the same 4-2-3-1 system they've used for most of the preseason, and coach Gary Smith sent out what looked pretty close to a first-choice eleven. Liam Doyle and Ken Tribbett partnered each other at center back, while last year's USL golden boot winner Cameron Lancaster got the nod up front.
The opening few minutes were fairly even; both teams seemed to be getting a feel for the game, and Nashville had some good attacking moves around New York's box, despite not creating any clear cut chances. The first real chance of the game came when NY forward Jonathan Lewis was played through on goal and had a fantastic 1v1 opportunity against Nashville 'keeper Matt Pickens. Pickens was quick off his line, though, and Lewis sliced his shot wide - it went out for a throw in.
Four minutes later, New York got the breakthrough as Nashville winger Kharlton Belmar handled the ball after a corner took a nasty bounce in the box. NY midfielder Maxi Moralez burried the penalty comfortably.
The game calmed down significantly after that, until New York's Alexandru Mitriță curled an unstoppable shot into the top corner. The Romanian designated player (recently signed for a cool $8.5 million) beat Liam Doyle with the help of a fortunate deflection and ripped an absolute rocket across Pickens' goal to the far post. It was a world class strike, and few goalkeepers on the planet would have stopped it.
The second half was a pretty quiet affair, with mass substitutions from both sides hampering the flow of the match. Striker Daniel Ríos replaced Akinyode at the half, after the midfielder picked up a yellow card in the 36th minute. Nashville made seven changes after 61 minutes, including midfielder Vinnie Vermeer, who was announced as Nashville's latest signing earlier that day. Vermeer pulled a shot just wide of the post in the 74th, and Ropapa Mensah and Tucker Hume both saw attempts go off target as Nashville couldn't get a goal back before full time.
While fans would have liked to see a goal or two, it was encouraging to see how well Nashville's defense performed against a quality attacking team. Doyle and Tribbett were solid together and cut out chances before they really developed. While NSC gave up two goals, one came from a penalty and one was a world class strike; they didn't allow any clear cut chances.
Gary Smith has two more opportunities to get the attack in gear, with games against Lipscomb University and Indy Eleven on the slate next week. Those who followed the team will hope he can facilitate a more cohesive offense than last season, when Nashville was solid defensively but wasted countless opportunities in the final third. With the investments made in attacking players, this side has no excuse not to improve significantly.
“All of the guys physically were in good shape," said Smith in the club's press release. "No problems there. There was a lot of work that both groups got through, and of course the first group played a longer period. I’ve got no question marks on where the guys are at from an athletic standpoint. I’m pleased with where they’re at from a structural standpoint. Tonight has showed us against a very good team that if you squander the ball too cheaply, you get punished.”