NASHVILLE – Twelve minutes into Nashville SC’s season, the Boys in Gold found themselves down 2-0 without having taken a single shot.
By the time the night ended, the score was level, and the shot totals were completely lopsided. Nashville took a club-record 32 shots, 13 of which were on target, compared to five shots and three on target for FC Cincinnati. That shot disparity helped Nashville claw back and earn a 2-2 draw on Saturday night at Nissan Stadium.
After a stop-and-start preseason, that kind of fight from his players was more than enough to give Head Coach Gary Smith hope moving forward.
“Look, we all want to open the season with a victory,” Smith said. “We’re at home; it’s a nice way to get yourselves going. But as I’ve said at the very start of this interview, there’s lots of things that we needed to find out about ourselves in this opening game. … The guys showed an incredibly good attitude to overcome such a difficult start, and to be perfectly honest, I think the two goals were very well-crafted. We had an absolute hatful of opportunities to have gone on and won the game.”
Nashville SC responded quickly after going down by two goals, scoring in the 20’ minute thanks to some remarkable build-up that culminated in a Randall Leal feed for a Jhonder Cádiz tap-in at the far post. The Nashville pressure mounted from there, and in the 64’ minute, Leal made that pressure count with a world-class lofted shot into the top left corner of the net. Leal’s goal was seen around the world on social media, and his performance earned him MLS Team of the Week honors, presented by Audi.
The Boys in Gold had multiple chances to take the lead, including a Dave Romney header that hit the crossbar in the 70’ minute and back-to-back chances by CJ Sapong and Handwalla Bwana that were ultimately saved by FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tytoń five minutes later.
“I should have definitely roofed it to the top, 100%,” Bwana said of his chance in the 75’ minute. “But at that moment, I think I chased back somebody, and I was too far from where I needed to be. If I was a lot closer to CJ, it would have been a tap-in for me. But I was defending all the way, so I was trying to get back, trying to get to the goal-side, about the same time, and I feel like I definitely should have roofed it to the top. But you have to give the credit to the keeper, too. What a game he had and what a save he had. It’s unfortunate but that’s part of the game. Sometimes the little things are the hardest part. At the same time, we have to learn and move on and hopefully we’re doing better the next game.”
By the time the final whistle blew, Nashville was the team reflecting on missed opportunities, while FC Cincinnati held on for dear life just to earn one point.
It’s a testament to a team that battled hard after a nightmare start, and a team that will take that momentum into the other 33 regular season matches remaining in 2021.
“The opening fixture of any season can throw up some very strange results and some very strange performances,” Smith said. “I think we can safely say we got caught cold; there can be some reasons for that. The bottom line is Cincinnati started better than us and took full advantage of it. What I will say is, beyond that opening 10 or 12 minutes, we were not only the better team, but absolutely dominated every facet of the game. In the end, I thought we did a fantastic job of not only recovering, but really getting ourselves in a position where we should have won it. So plenty of credit for the group, lots of lessons learned as always, and we move on to next week knowing we have got a fantastic performance under our belt.”