In a long 34-match season, every match can be a learning experience.
Nashville SC will take plenty of lessons from its 2-2 draw against Atlanta United on Thursday evening, its 10th consecutive unbeaten result at home.
The Boys in Gold earned a valuable point in front of a season-high 22,913 fans. However, Head Coach Gary Smith says two conceded set piece goals cost the team a chance at all three points in a match they mostly controlled.
“We haven’t lost,” Smith said. “I’m absolutely delighted with the way the guys have gone about their business. We’ve shown some very good form here, we’ve shown great character here when we’ve gone a goal down, to a team that you would suspect would maintain possession in their stats – even missing bodies, they’ve got a very talented group still on the field … but let’s be honest tonight: take out the two set pieces, and it’s a dominant display.
Jalil Anibaba, who made his first start of the season on Thursday night, also scored his first goal with Nashville SC with a brilliant corner-kick header in the 14’ minute.
Now in his 11th year in Major League Soccer, Anibaba is familiar with the grind of a long season and says he knows not to get too high or too low and to continue to improve with each match.
“We’ve just got to keep working,” he said. “We’re in the summer stretch. You’ve got to keep working; we’ve got to stay together as a team. There are always aspects that we need to improve on, and there are always going to be aspects that we do well at. Obviously, there are things that we need to work on, but there are also things that we do very, very well. We’re still undefeated at home, we know very well what we’re good at; we know what we need to improve on.”
Smith says he’s satisfied with the team’s attacking prowess. Against Atlanta, the team scored multiple goals for the sixth time this season and generated 17 shots to Atlanta’s six.
“I’m extremely encouraged by our attacking play,” Smith said. “Hany [Mukhtar], Randall [Leal], and CJ [Sapong] were a constant threat tonight. They had some really nice opportunities. They didn’t always find the final effort at goal that was going to be instrumental, but still, the ability that they have has offered up some more freedom that’s given them the chance now to really express themselves. So, I’m comfortable with that.”
With the point in the bag, Nashville SC remained in fifth place in the Eastern Conference and sits three points above the playoff line. Overall, Smith says his disappointment in Thursday’s performance comes down to the expectations he has for his team in the standings, and the ambition he has for how the club should see itself in MLS.
“Everyone knows we’re going to be competitive. I don’t think there’s a team in the league that doesn’t expect us to be competitive. But if you set your standards at being a top-six team, challenging – we could have gone second [in the standings] tonight. That disappoints me. It disappoints me not in the display, but in the way we dealt with dead-ball situations. It’s a small area of the game, but it’s so valuable.”
Nashville SC is back in action on Saturday, July 17 when it faces Chicago Fire FC at 7:30 p.m. CT at Nissan Stadium. Tickets are available here.