When Nashville SC needed a boost late in the first half of its match on Sunday night, it turned to 22,421 of its closest friends in the stands for help.
With a near full capacity crowd at Nissan Stadium, the Boys in Gold rode a wave of momentum to earn a 1-0 win over Austin FC thanks to a Randall Leal goal in the 35’ minute. Head Coach Gary Smith said the crowd helped the team push forward when it mattered most.
“It was lovely to see so many people back in the stadium,” Smith said. “The atmosphere was terrific, and I do believe that in vital moments it did make a difference to keep them on their toes, keep our momentum going and to work us through to that victory.”
Leal got on the end of a pinpoint Jhonder Cádiz cross and knocked the ball into the bottom right corner of the net, sending Nissan Stadium into a frenzy. The goal helped solidify what was a strong first half for Nashville and gave the 12th man in the stands a chance to swing control of the match.
“It was good, with the fans, the atmosphere, everything,” Leal said. “The goal came in a good moment and then after that we tried to keep control of the game.”
After the goal, the Boys in Gold got to work on the defensive end to hold on for their fourth straight clean sheet and the win. One week after holding Real Salt Lake without a shot on target in a road draw, Nashville limited Austin FC to just one shot on target all night: a high-arching Daniel Pereira shot in the 47’ minute from outside the box that goalkeeper Joe Willis tapped over the crossbar.
All in all, Nashville SC has not allowed a goal in 407 minutes of play.
Even while holding down the fort defensively, Nashville still found opportunities to add a second goal, including a Dominique Badji breakaway chance in the 82nd minute that required a nifty save from Austin FC keeper Brad Stuver. Through the early part of the season, Nashville has been one of the best teams in the league at steering its shots on frame, boasting a 39.6% shot accuracy rate, good for third-best in the league.
Willis said the team went into the late stages of the half with a plan and executed on it perfectly.
“We’re very good at defending as a unit,” Willis said. “We stay compact and we don’t let easy opportunities in. So, we’re happy to let their center backs play with the ball at half field if it means we have everyone behind the ball and we’re in an organized shape. So I wouldn’t say it was us taking our foot off the gas by any means, but more a tactical decision to protect the lead we had, and if we had opportunities to catch them off the break, then to try and find that second one.”
With the win, Nashville extended its unbeaten run to six matches and held its spot as one of three remaining unbeaten teams in Major League Soccer this season. According to Smith, the Boys in Gold still have their best soccer ahead of them.
“The guys carried out the plan very, very well,” Smith said. “We won the ball in some terrifically good positions and we should have really taken more advantage of that. I am certainly not going to be critical of the efforts and the way that the guys carried out the plan and went about their business. I have nothing but positive words to say about the group. We continue to develop and grow. There are multiple facets in any game, and we slowly but surely are getting better and better at them.”
Nashville SC plays one more match before the international break on the road this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT when it takes on Atlanta United FC.