MURFREESBORO, TN - Nashville SC had plenty of chances to win their Third Round US Open Cup match against Charleston Battery, but failure to finish those chances saw their Cup run end.
Head coach Gary Smith sent out arguably Nashville's strongest lineup, bringing back Daniel Ríos, Kharlton Belmar and Alan Winn to the starting XI.
Nashville started brightly, as has become typical this season. They dominated the opening 20 minutes, but it was Charleston who opened the scoring. In the 24th minute, forward Nicque Daley picked up the ball near the midfield circle and drove into the box, blowing by Ken Tribbett and finishing to the far post.
Nashville responded well after the goal, dominating the match both in terms of possession and chances. Daniel Ríos and Lebo Moloto saw good chances go missing either side of the break, and Kharlton Belmar missed a header from close range with 30 minutes to go.
Nashville ran into some bad luck with injuries, as both Derrick Jones and Daniel Ríos were forced off. Ropapa Mensah, brought on in place of Ríos, brought an instant spark to the match, setting up Belmar for the equalizer just four minutes after he entered. Mensah toed the offside line and got behind the defense, playing a beautiful cross just across the six-yard-box for Belmar to tap home.
Nashville had plenty of chances to win the match, with substitute Michael Reed's shot from close range blocked by a defender before it could get into the empty net. Alan Winn thought he had won the match in the 90th minute, with his header flashing just wide of the far post following a gorgeous cross from Taylor Washington.
Charlotte almost won the match outright, as Ziko Lewis hit the crossbar with the last meaningful kick of the match. However, the match remained deadlocked at 1-1 after 90 minutes, forcing 30 minutes of extra time.
In extra time, Nashville continued to dominate, coming close through Tucker Hume on multiple occasions. But Charleston hung on and kept them from scoring a winner, despite Nashville having more quality and quantity of chances. After a scoreless 30 minutes of extra time, penalty kicks would decide the result.
Unfortunately for Nashville, their poor finishing carried over to the shootout. Liam Doyle and Matt LaGrassa saw their efforts saved, and Lebo Moloto hit the bar. Charleston Battery advance to the Fourth Round and a potential Major League Soccer opponent after winning 3-0 in penalty kicks.
For Nashville, it's a worrying continuation of trends. While they had started the season off well in terms of chance conversion, they're now struggling to finish, underperforming on their xG in their last four matches.
More worrying is the fact that they have never won a match when conceding first. Since their debut last season, they've lost 19 and drawn two when conceding first in all competitions. In order for Nashville SC to compete for trophies in any competition, that has to change.
GARY SMITH (Head Coach)
Opening Statement: “Well it unfolded and turned out almost exactly how I thought it would. They came with a very resolute back line, and three guys that are capable of causing us some problems on the counterattack. For large portions of the game, it wasn’t a threat at all. We controlled pretty much the entirety of proceedings, and can only blame ourselves for not winning the game. A multitude of opportunities, some rank, awful finishing. A goal that they score out of…I don’t know how many sights of goal, but very few. Very disappointed, very frustrated, and in fact very upset that we’ve not been able to deal with this in 90 minutes and move on to the next round.”
On his frustration level with the lack of finishing chances: “There’s no way of ever telling why somebody misplaces a shot or doesn’t tap one in, or heads a ball three goals wide when they should head it on target, or misses a target when they’re six or seven yards out. You name it, there were a multitude of missed opportunities from all angles and from a lot of people, but obviously there were more than one or two opportunities that fell to one or two individuals. There’s nothing I can do on the line other than burst a vessel in my neck or head screaming at what might’ve been. I thought our play in the second period after a bit of, I wouldn’t say slow but we got lulled into that slower pace of game, there was a change of tempo, we looked brighter, sharper, created an opportunity immediately. All in all, I thought we dominated proceedings and opportunities in that second half. We shouldn’t be talking about anything else other than a win. And now I’m having to discuss my frustrations and disappointment in going out, when really and truly that game should have been wrapped up. We should all have been able to go home with 20 minutes to go and not worry about what was going to happen in the last 20 minutes.”
On the mood in the locker room after the loss: “Sullen. Dejected. Disappointed, and rightly so. The penalties are one thing, to not score a penalty is something concerning as well. However, it should have never got to that point. The guys put themselves in a difficult place and when you get to that point, I’ve seen it numerous times where a team in a Cup competition have hung in there somehow, someway, so credit to them for that. They’ve hung in there, and they’ve managed to scramble through by the grace of penalties. That’s all part of the game. You’ve got to finish teams off, and if you don’t, then you run the risk of what happened, which is we continued our anemic look in front of goal in the penalties.”
On potential injuries to Derrick Jones and Daniel Ríos: “Disappointed that the pair of them had to come off. Derrick looks like he’s rolled his ankle, so I don’t know how serious that will be. I think Daniel got a knee to his quad and had a dead leg which slowed him up considerably. That in and of itself obviously affects some of the things that we do. I still didn’t think that the team skipped too much of a beat. There were still plenty of moments, and I’m not even talking about the times we got in down the line, I’d like to know how many crosses we had for that fact. But the amount of crosses that were not accurate, that nevertheless we got into some exceptionally good positions in the second half, and they must be sitting in the locker room thinking one of them in there must’ve found a four-leaf shamrock in there. I cannot believe it. I can’t believe that we’re standing here saying that we’re not in the competition.”
On playing Open Cup matches at MTSU: “It’s been great. I enjoyed it other than, of course, the obvious. They’ve looked after us, the field has been in immaculate condition, I think it’s suited the way we’ve played, there’s been some great soccer from our team. The one area that has eluded us is in front of goal and that has nothing to do with the field. That’s just rank, bad finishing and quality.”
On if he thought the tide was turning after Kharlton Belmar’s goal: “For sure. I felt it was just a case of finding that one goal. Even beyond that, in the remainder of the second period there were still chances. Without looking at some of the moments again, I still can’t believe that in particular moments we did not convert. I just don’t know how people miss the target or failed to read a scenario. A header that goes back across the goal looked like for everything that it should be blown in. I still don’t know why, I don’t know if it was at the back post, I’ll have to have another look. The chances just came and went, and it gave them an incentive. There were one or two little scary moments at the end, but it should never have been in doubt. That’s the most disappointing aspect of the night. The guys have played very well, they’ve committed themselves to the game, it looked like they were going to win it, and unfortunately, they’ve not done enough in front of goal to do that. I’m just speechless as to why.”
MATT LAGRASSA (Midfielder)
On the frustration with not finishing more chances: “I think the feeling when you have that much possession, that much of the ball in their half, it’s always coming. I think we kept believing, and I think we were creating chances. I think the frustration comes from the fact that we had a pretty good idea of what they were going to do when they came in here, and at the end of the day they got the result they wanted.”
On the missed penalties: “You’ve got to convert. It’s too much pressure to put on Connor [Sparrow]. I think all three of us that missed will be disappointed. I know I am. I think for me, there’s more disappointment in that we couldn’t make more of our chances earlier in the game. Anytime you leave it to penalties, you’re not really giving yourself the best chance to know you’re going to get the result. The penalties are for sure disappointing as well."
On Charleston’s goal in regulation: “I think we were trying when we had established possession to get a midfielder into a more advanced area. We knew that would leave us maybe a little bit more vulnerable to a counterattack at times, and ultimately the kid did really well with his opportunity. He’s quick, he took a good first touch I think around one of our centerbacks and finishes. If you look down the line, I think their total chance creation is not something that we should be concerned about, but it’s really a matter of being balanced in possession to prevent those types of attacks."
On what changed in the midfield when Derrick Jones left with an injury: “I think we’re still getting to know Derrick. It’s obvious he’s got a unique skill set and body type and that. You never want to see somebody come off injured, especially a guy that’s just got here. I think it affects the group emotionally and then I think Reed came in and did fine, did well to impact the game as a substitute. There wasn’t a dropoff or anything, it was just different personnel.”
On if he’d rather have the loss linger during the break or just forget it during the break: “I think this month has been exhausting for all of us. Obviously we want to stay in the Cup, there’s no doubt about that. We all wanted to win tonight. Eight games in the span of four weeks is a lot. I know my legs are tired, and I think a lot of the other guys too. It’s been a long month for us even though we’ve been able to rotate the squad. I think the weekend away from the league will probably be good for us to some extent. We’ll be back at it.”
KHARLTON BELMAR (Winger)
On the frustration of scoring one goal after getting so many chances: “I think it’s very frustrating. I think with the quality we have in the group, we can only be disappointed in ourselves in not putting those chances away when we had them. That cost us the game. We do better there in front of goal and we put this game away in the 70’ minute and the game is done. Disappointed.”
On scoring despite the loss: “You always want to get on the score sheet, but at the end of the day, we didn’t get the result. It doesn’t really mean too much. It’s leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.”
On Gary Smith’s message to the players following the game: “Just reiterating the fact that we weren’t able to convert in front of goal. I think everyone saw it. We need to do better in front of goal. We controlled the whole thing except for a couple of slips in the back. We had the whole game controlled. We put those chances away and the game is done pretty early on.”
On how to fix the finishing issue: “We’ve just got to keep going. It’s those things after training working on those things every day. You can only hope that next time in front of goal, we’ll put them away. You’ve just got to keep practicing, keep plugging away and eventually they’ll fall our way.”
On what the weekend break will mean for the team recovery-wise: “It’s been a long month. I think it’s very good that we’ll get the chance to just regroup and kind of put this behind us and the rest of the month behind us in general and just get ready for another stretch of games. Eyes on next weekend against Bethlehem. We’re going to be ready for that one. That’s the next objective.”