NASHVILLE - Nashville SC’s victory over D.C. United on Wednesday night could be described in three words: next man up.
Two players who had started almost every match for Nashville SC in its inaugural Major League Soccer Season, Dan Lovitz and Hany Mukhtar, were both out of the lineup. Another regular starter, Randall Leal, was used as a substitute in his first match back from injury.
Unfortunately, forward Dominique Badji also had to exit the match after around 20 minutes due to injury. That meant a lineup devoid of three regular starters and awaiting the entrance of a fourth had to battle for a win.
And battle they did.
Forward Daniel Rios made his third MLS start and scored his first MLS goal. Defender Taylor Washington played his first full 90 minutes in Major League Soccer in place of Lovitz and had his left flank locked down en route to a clean sheet. Midfielder Derrick Jones bossed the midfield, making strong runs through defenders and drawing both fouls that led to D.C. United’s first-half red card.
All three players contributed and got the job done to keep Nashville SC unbeaten at home since the season restarted in August. Smith says he was proud to see Rios find the back of the net and lauded him for playing his role to perfection.
“I felt Daniel’s link play, his intelligent movement, his constant energy in the game, caused the center backs some real difficulties,” Smith said. “The goal comes from him being alert, alive, and ultimately listening to what his role is when we are planning with the set pieces. I watched a lot of dead balls that brought some real good air individuals that lined up that near post and it’s not easy to deliver a ball immediately into the back post. It is not easy, and doesn’t always come off, but tonight it has. He has listened to what his role is, and he has fulfilled it to the team.”
Jones took full advantage of his second MLS start for Nashville SC, helping guide the team’s offense forward with moves, hold-up play and distribution to the wings. He helped contribute to Nashville’s 61.1% dominance in possession and 88% passing accuracy.
Smith sang Jones’ praises after the win.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, this was Derrick Jones’ best performance since he’s been here,” Smith said. “He looked buoyant; he looked really up for the occasion. Derrick has got so much quality, so many physical attributes, and there were many times when the expectations on his shoulders were very high, and I do feel as though he’s let himself down on a couple of occasions. He hasn’t been able to show that. Tonight, he did everything that could be asked of him and more. He covered a tremendous amount of ground, he was a wonderful team player, his strength and ability to protect the ball while also being a nice positive addition to the group given that we were missing guys. There was a weight on his shoulders tonight, and he rose to the occasion. I’m really pleased. He’s starting to show all of the qualities we all believe he has.”
As for Washington, he says he was happy to get his first MLS start, but even happier to earn a big win.
“It’s phenomenal because we won,” Washington said. “Being able to get a win today is not just great because I started, it’s great for the team. It’s great momentum because we needed three points. Daniel [Rios] did what Daniel does: scores goals, gets over the guy, and puts the header in. It’s just great momentum for us going forward.”
Now, Nashville SC faces yet another test at home against the Houston Dynamo this Saturday. It will be Nashville’s last match at Nissan Stadium before a limited capacity of fans are allowed to return to watch the Boys in Gold. Smith says he hopes his team can continue to roll at its home ground.
“There is no easy game here,” Smith said. “I think the guys have done a wonderful job of setting up a tempo without any fans and that momentum they can bring. I do believe they are growing in confidence game by game, and there is no doubt in my mind Houston is extremely effective with some wonderful frontline players. We have shown here that we are very, very, capable, and I’m sure they will know they have got a tough task on their end.”