Nashville struggled early in their nationally televised match against Tampa Bay. Head coach Gary Smith sent out a strong lineup, making only two changes to the side that beat Atlanta 2-0 last weekend.
The first half saw Nashville control the ball in Tampa's half, creating several dangerous chances and taking four shots. The best chance came from Darnell King, who rose well to meet Washington's cross, but put his unmarked header wide from point blank range. It was an inexcusable miss from that position.
Tampa Bay scored with their only shot of the first half. Fernandes played a free kick into the box, and Pickens didn't move to collect a ball that flashed across his goal. Guenzatti played it back across, and Tejada finished from close range to give the Rowdies a one goal lead.
Smith made an attacking change at the half, bringing on forward Cameron Lancaster for defender Darnell King, moving Belmar to the right wingback slot. He continued the aggressive substitutions, replacing Bolu Akinyode with Lebo Moloto in the 62nd minutes and Taylor Washington with Alan Winn in the 77th.
The changes saw Nashville push forward for an equalizer, but they couldn't create anything of real substance in the final third. Tampa Bay defended well and completely controlled the second half. Daniel Rios had a half chance in the 86th minute, when he got on the end of a Justin Davis cross, but his header was wide of the near post.
The match ended in a 1-0 defeat for Nashville, their third loss in as many nationally televised matches. At the end of the day, the performance from Nashville was just not good enough, especially in the final third. Defensively, Nashville limited Tampa Bay to a single decent chance, but their inability to create, despite a host of attacking substitutions and one of the better on-paper front lines in USL.
Nashville have lost three of their last four matches, and will look to right the ship on Saturday, taking on 17th placed Swope Park Rangers at home.
GARY SMITH (Head Coach)
His thoughts on the game: “There’s lots of emotions coming back and playing at home after such a long stretch away. I think one of the main ingredients that we’ve all spoken about as a group was being passionate about the game and attacking the game in the right fashion. I actually felt as though the opening exchanges, we looked quite bright, and I think the best opportunity in that opening 10-12 minutes was Kharlton Belmar’s header. In tight games against a team that have shown already that they’re going to be a pretty tough nut to crack, you’re never going to get too many sights on goal. So when you do, you’ve got to take advantage of it. I never felt as though there was any true threat on their goal in the first half until the set piece. We had another very nice opportunity that went under Kharlton’s Belmar foot just before the break. In all honesty, we have to make more of those. The goal changes, the dynamic and the dimensions of the game, they change at halftime to add a little bit more of an attacking look to the wide areas which of course continued throughout that second period. We dominated the ball for large degrees, it really wasn’t an easy task to break that group down, and it wasn’t helped by a little bit of frustration and edginess in some of the quality when we got into the final third of the field. Bitterly disappointing. I still thought there were moments when we should have gotten something out of the game. Looking at the stats with just two shots on goal, we’re certainly not being overly fortuitous at the moment when teams play against us.”
On miscommunications in the final third: “I think there’s a combination of reasons for that. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to the way they play. They’re tough to play against. Three center backs do a terrific job, and they’ve got some nice continuity now. Their field players put on really good screens. They recover quickly. If you don’t make things happen brightly and in transition, then there’s a different game in front of you. You’ve got to break that down. You’ve got to be brighter in the wide areas. So to your point, at some stage there’s got to be some creativity, and I think maybe what you’re seeing is some disguise in individuals play hoping that there’s a connection and they can break through those lines.”
On issues creating chances: "It's not easy. I've watched some top games, as we all have, and there's plenty of very good teams that find it incredibly difficult, when they go a goal down, to break down a good defensive unit. The key for us here has to be getting in front. Missed opportunities, missed moments, poor choices when we've got into encouraging positions, there just wasn't enough quality to ask enough questions of a good defense. On the night, I felt there were some individuals who will certainly go home and feel as though they were below par. There's no way I can tell when players step onto the field how their form is going to be. There's no lack of energy, there's no lack of determination, but there was a lack of sparkle, a lack of connection. You can see with Cameron [Lancaster] and Daniel [Ríos], they've had no football together. You've got to combine against a good three man back line, and there just wasn't that understanding."
On how two set piece goals have cost them points at home: "Not just points, full points. Of course [it's concerning]. Hugely. I look at these stats here, and coaches will look at these, and of course we can manufacture these statistics however you want. It looks good that you've had nice possession and been in the final third a lot and entry passes and crosses, but the only stat that's important is [goals]. We'll be encouraged with certain things that went on, but to your point, at home, we've got to do more. There's no doubt about it. We have to do more. That's on the shoulders of everyone. Attacking players to find a moment to step forward and make a difference. And for defenders in those fleeting moments, and they are fleeting, no one's going to tell me tonight that Tampa have been laying siege to our goal. They've been the stronger side throughout, they've won the game, they've added another three points to the table.
There's lots of work that needs to be done with the group in the final third when we run into occasions like this. And unfortunately, with whatever team you have, that takes a long time. Because you're now looking at the final points, final moments, the goal scoring opportunities, and that's not easy. If it was easy, games would be 5 or 6-4. What I do believe is far more important to us is taking advantage early on of a good start. Being able to manage moments better. Whether it's a free kick that doesn't need to be conceded, it's dealing with a moment. Knowing that there won't be many. We just need to deal with this moment and get back on track again."
On Ríos and Lancaster playing together: "I thought it was tough. They were suffocated by a good defense. Maybe the service wasn't as good as it should have been. It's not as easy as saying, 'We'll take Kharlton Belmar who scored 15 goals here, we'll take Cameron who scored 26, we'll take Daniel and lets add that to here.' What you hope is that with three individuals that have shown that they can score goals, over the course of a season you'll see a decent return. Cameron scored 26 goals over the course of a season for Louisville, but let's not forget he'd been with that group for three years or more. You build relationships and understanding. At the moment, this is Cameron's first 45 minutes that he's had for us. I've got him on the field because I know his record's great, and that's where he wants to be. He's had a difficult time, he's picked up two or three niggling injuries. He's got to be working for the next 4-8 weeks, to get himself back to sharpness, to get himself back into the group and feeling like he belongs up top again. I wasn't expecting many chances either way, and it worked out that way. I thought we had the best moments in more exciting areas, but we didn't make enough of them."
BOLU AKINYODE (Midfielder)
On chance creation from midfield: “I think today I struggled to get on the ball. I usually get on the ball a little bit more and help us start attacks and I don’t think that was the case for me individually. I think they played the same system as us and I think it was stagnant. I don’t think there was much in the game other than their set piece chance and our half chance in the first half. I don’t think the game was really played in the midfield. It was more by pass and over the top. I think I certainly could have done more to help the team and help us get on the ball, but I didn’t today and that’s the game sometimes.”
On Smith's post-match team talk: “It’s about moments for him. He looks at the game and he thought we started off alright and got a couple of chances, but we didn’t really make the most of it and they got one off a set piece and bury that and the whole complexion of the game changed. Goals change games at the end of the day. They score and they sit back and don’t have to do much and that’s the game right there. It’s not like they shredded us open and created a lot of chances and it’s not like we shredded them open. It was the one moment and unfortunately that’s football sometimes.”
On how Tampa defended and closed passing lanes: “It was nothing we haven’t seen before. I think we weren’t great with the ball today as a group which made it easier for them in a sense. When it looked like we were stringing a couple passes together, something goes astray, and it just wasn’t clean enough. Sometimes in the final third we lost stuff, but again that’s the game. You’re going to have games like that.”
On how set pieces can change games: “Take a look at last week, we score two set piece goals, so I think that’s the game sometimes. We can sit here and talk about different moments in this game particularly, but as the season goes on you see that different things are going to happen and similar themes. Sometimes it will work out in our favor and sometimes it won’t work out in our favor. I’m not saying we were great tonight, but it’s tough. We give up a set piece chance and they score off that and then they sit back away from home and walk away with three points.”
BRADLEY BOURGEOIS (Defender)
On Tampa Bay's goal: “On the first look at it, it seemed to be headed to the back post, but it was the second ball we struggled with. I wouldn’t say it’s something we have struggled with this year, but it is still something that stings a bit from last year, especially giving up goals in key moments. I thought we started off bright and had some purpose going forward but switching on is all about individual moments and battles. Unfortunately, we were on the losing half of that.”
On moving on from the loss: “It’s gone. Its already done. There is nothing we can do about it. Get food, get sleep, it’s just another day.”