NASHVILLE – When the final whistle blew on Nashville SC’s 0-0 draw against Bethlehem Steel FC on Saturday night, the Boys in Gold finished a run of 270 minutes of intense and grueling soccer in seven days.
While there was some squad rotation throughout the week, particularly in the wake of a season-ending injury to captain Michael Reed on Wednesday night, most players on the pitch on Saturday night had played most, if not all, of those 270 minutes. Meanwhile, Bethlehem had not seen any action since the previous Friday.
According to Head Coach Gary Smith, the players’ tired legs might have made the difference between a cagey scoreless draw and a gutsy win.
“Guys like Kenny Tribbett, although he played 80-odd minutes the other night, has not had a lot of soccer; Darnell King, I thought did a terrific job out wide; Ropapa [Mensah], who didn’t start obviously on Wednesday,” Smith said. “But the core of the group has been very efficient. We’ve kept our goal intact now for five games on the spin, again, not to be underappreciated. But it does, and there can be certain times where you look at there and say one or two of the guys are just lacking a little bit of sharpness. There was no lack of endeavor, but the vital moments of just being able to break beyond someone or create half a yard to find a clearer sight of goal or break beyond an opposing defender, certainly in the first half was lacking.
“As I said, I thought Alan [Winn]’s inclusion inspired a few who had been out there in that first period. Ropapa was brighter in the second half. He took more chances. It got us on the front foot. We needed a player or two, certainly on the front line. Daniel [Ríos] looked tired. He’s been incredible for us, it goes without saying, but he looked tired tonight and under pressure from three center backs, so that makes life ever more difficult. I think in the end we’ll look back and say their change of shape certainly helped them, they’ll be well-pleased with that, and our lack of clinical edge, which has been good for us. I don’t want to get too down about the lack of finishing tonight because we’ve been terrific in this run of unbeaten games. But tonight, there were two or three minutes where we really should have converted.”
Even though the fatigue could have played a role in the outcome of the match, the players are not making any excuses. They felt the disappointment of not earning all three points from the match, especially in a tight race atop the Eastern Conference.
“I think nobody was tired,” Goalkeeper Matt Pickens said. “I think if you look at the game the way it unfolded, they had a whole week to prepare for this. We had bang, bang, bang games, and we were the better team tonight. We had our chances, could have won the game. I think it’s just a mentality thing that we got through, and I think we approached the game in the right way. At the end of the day, it’s a point and we’ll take it and move on. Playing these games are tricky once you play at home on a Wednesday and playing a team that’s rested for seven days, six days.”
With the point in hand, Nashville SC remains in third place in the Eastern Conference riding a five-match unbeaten streak and five-match clean sheet streak. Despite the disappointment of not being able to take all three points on the night, Smith feels confident in where is team is, and where it’s headed in the coming weeks.
“We had enough to win it, and we didn’t get our job done,” Smith said. “Simple as that. I’m not going to get overly uptight about it. I’ll be frustrated and disappointed tonight, but 13 points out of the last 15, five clean sheets, a side that looks very assertive, very assured, and in a good groove means that as we get a week now to recover, we’ll have [Matt] LaGrassa and [Cameron] Lancaster back fit for next weekend, which helps immensely. Derrick Jones is another week closer to being available. And next week is going to be, I would think, quite a pivotal week. We’ve got a tough away game in Charlotte, never easy there. And then, of course, the top two, and those games I think will have a big bearing on what, where and how we can finish in the conference standings.”
Nashville SC hits the road this weekend to take on Charlotte Independence before returning home to face New York Red Bulls II next Wednesday night, presented by Budweiser. Tickets are available for that match for just $5.