When the dust settled on a wild Wednesday night in Major League Soccer, Nashville SC emerged with a strong cushion above the playoff line in the standings and several contenders nipping at their feet.
After a 1-1 draw with Orlando City SC on Wednesday, Nashville sits in second place in the Eastern Conference with 32 points, one point above the next three squads: New York City FC, Philadelphia Union and Orlando. Eight points separate Nashville from Columbus Crew and Atlanta United FC, the last squad below the Audi MLS Cup Playoff cutoff.
Head Coach Gary Smith says he understands how valuable every point can be, particularly against playoff rivals like Orlando.
“There's a lot of good to come out of this and we're in a good position,” Smith said. “There's still a lot of work to be done, but this conference is one of the most competitive I can remember. It's amazing. When you look around at the results, the only team that you can almost rubber stamp for a victory and keep plowing on is [first-place] New England [Revolution]. Anyone else, there's a fine line between the teams.”
CJ Sapong put the Boys in Gold in front in the first half thanks to a phenomenal give-and-go with Hany Mukhtar off a turnover. The striker found the pass from Mukhtar, turned at the top of the box and ripped a shot to the low corner. The strike was Sapong’s team-leading ninth goal of the season.
Fellow forward Daniel Ríos also made his second consecutive appearance, while new Designated Player signing Aké Loba came off the bench late in the match as well. Smith says he wants to keep his striker group hungry and competitive, even while Sapong is on his run of form.
“We have a number of forwards, a real complement of players and riches up front now,” Smith said. “I felt that the opportunity was there for Daniel and for Abu [Danladi] to be putting more pressure on the guys that had been playing. CJ is our standout forward. The guys I have just spoken about have shown tremendous attitudes and they look sharp. It's really a decision from my end to try and keep that frontline inspired and on their toes. I don't want anyone resting on their laurels. For the guys that have not been included, it's not because I don't think that they have enough quality. But what certainly happens to any individual is form dips and peaks, and I want to keep that competition in the group.”
Despite conceding from a set piece in the second half, Smith says he’s happy to walk away from a two-match homestand with four out of a possible six points.
“Huge disappointment to concede from a set piece, which ultimately ends up being the goal that denies us victory,” Smith said. “Were there other chances? Yes, but what we now know is that if we'd have defended well from their [set pieces], we would have won the game. So, there’s frustration, but happy in a very, very tight game to stay unbeaten and to get four out of the last six points at home against two very good teams.”
Nashville SC has the weekend off before taking on Atlanta United FC on the road next Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT.