The I-40 Derby took a while to get going, but once it did it was something special. A string of bad weather caused a 78 minute delay before the match finally kicked off.
Nashville started a strong lineup, with only two changes from their 3-0 win in Ottawa. Darnell King saw his first action of the year, and Matt Pickens came in for Connor Sparrow.
The first half was entirely dominated by Nashville. Rios came close to opening the scoring after 15 minutes, but his chip went just wide of the far post.
Nashville outshot Memphis 12-1 and had by far the better of the chances, including five shots from Rios and a well-taken header from Tucker Hume that nearly found the back of the net. Despite coming close multiple times, though, the two sides were level at the half.
Nashville slowed down a bit in the second half, but still controlled the vast majority of the game and had their fair share of chances. It took until the 78th minute for the dam to break. Substitute Ropapa Mensah played a great ball through to Matt LaGrassa, who set himself up with a solid first touch before burying his shot at the far post.
Three minutes later, Nashville got a second. Ropapa Mensah got on the end of a Justin Davis corner kick, heading at Caldwell from inside the six yard box. The Memphis keeper spilled the shot, and Ropapa had an easy tap in from point blank range.
The goal and assist from the Ghanaian super-sub would be enough to see Nashville secure all three points on a cold, rainy night in Nashville. The win propels Nashville to third in the Eastern Conference, with 10 points from 5 games, and a +6 goal difference.
Nashville will now go on a three-game road stretch, traveling to take on 9th place Charleston Battery on April 20th.
Head Coach Gary Smith
Thoughts on the match: “I honestly thought that maybe the opportunities had passed. First off, we dominated efforts on goal and sights on goal. Some really good interchanges of play, not always as creative as I would have liked in that final third with final cross, final pass, but I thought all in all, we had some very good opportunities. It looked like they just made the game a little bit untidier in the second period and as I said, maybe we missed our chance but perseverance of the group was great and the changes that came into the game I thought made a difference. All in all, I thought we thoroughly deserved the two-nil victory.”
On the lightning delay: “It’s really difficult for both teams. You go and prepare yourselves, everything’s built up towards a particular kickoff time and then it’s delayed. It’s bad enough to go back out and prepare, in a brief ten minute window, but to have that pulled from underneath your feet as well, it’s just tough mentally. There’s no way around it. You’ve got to somehow stay focused, stay engaged. I actually thought we started very brightly and credit to the players. They took all of it in their stride; they’re very professional.”
On Nashville's attack: “The front two started great. I had no issues with the way we built out our chances and created. You’re always looking for that real clear sight at goal or maybe a little bit of fortune. Both forwards and wide players, the fullbacks were active. The midfield players were getting very high up the field. We regained in good areas and we kept some good pressure on their backline in that first period. You don’t always get what you deserve, and we didn’t. On those days, you’ve got to stay focused and strong and believe that that moment will come."
On making an appearance in every Nashville game for the calendar year: “It’s always great when your coach trusts you. I think that is what every player looks for. I’ve obviously played multiple positions which has helped keep me on the field. I didn’t know it was a full calendar year. Time flies. It feels good.”
On his goal: “I thought [Ropapa Mensah] did really well to hold it up. I think sometimes the longer you hold onto the ball like that, the more attention it draws to him. It created a pocket of space. He saw me and played a great ball. I had an idea with the touch, and it ended up being kind of perfect. The keeper comes out, and I am able to finish it.”
On breaking down a tough Memphis defense: “I think we’ve had our struggles in the past scoring goals against organized defenses. To get that break through against a team that was pretty organized tonight, it was a big relief for a lot of guys. We created plenty of chances, but none had gone in at that point. Finally the moment came.”
On the lightning delay: “I actually beat [Matt LaGrassa] in soccer tennis. Me and Daniel [Ríos] played him and Michael Reed to keep our legs moving.”
On waiting to get his first minutes with Nashville: “You know, you want your time to come. When it does you have to perform. I can’t really explain the feeling. You want to support your teammates. I became a part of a great group and it doesn’t matter who is on the field. Yeah, I want to be on the field. But, I want to motivate the guys who are on the field to win games, because at the end of the day that is what we are here for – to win a championship.”
On when he knew he would start in this match: “Throughout the week we were doing some trainings, and we were shuffling a couple of things around and moving myself into the lineup. Everybody has been gelling well. I have been making connections with the guys since the beginning. Tonight it kind of showed, those connections I have been making.”
On Nashville's defense against Memphis: “First of all credit to Matty [Pickens] for making that big time save. It really kept us in the game. Overall, I thought we were really composed and defensively, yeah, there were some slips and falls that we had to cover each other for, but that is what we are there for – to stay tight as a unit. I think we did well tonight. We need to keep moving forward with the shutouts that we have had and move off of that.”