NASHVILLE – “I need a moment.”
Those were Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith’s first words after taking a seat in his post-match press conference Tuesday night. Not even 10 minutes prior, Smith saw his team stun back-to-back league champions Louisville City FC with yet another last-minute goal that sent First Tennessee Park into absolute chaos.
“Amazing end to the game again,” said Smith as he reflected on the night. “It's happened a few times here, probably far more than I can remember anywhere else in my career. Incredible header obviously to not only win the game, but to grab the three points as well. For me, the overall picture of the game was always going to be about creating an environment that replicated a playoff game, and the players went about their business incredibly well.”
Heading into the match, the Boys in Gold knew what needed to be done in order to keep their end-of-season aspirations on track. The team got off to a quick start with a fifth-minute laser from Taylor Washington; however, Louisville City refused to go away quietly and tied the match at 1-1 in the 79’ minute. For some, a second-half equalizer could have been deflating, but for a team like Nashville SC who has a knack for late theatrics, the response from Louisville set up a scenario they’d conquered before.
“I felt as usual, we showed the sort of belief and fortitude that has been a bit of a constant in this group,” Smith continued. “Even when they equalized, which can be pretty deflating at that point, certain individuals looked a little bit fatigued, but they found another gear. Make no mistake, this was a good side that we could run into again, and we needed to show our credentials as well which I felt we did tonight.”
Tuesday night’s winner was Nashville’s third stoppage-time goal in its last four home matches, and for the second time in a row, defender Jimmy Ockford was the chosen one. With just two minutes remaining, defender Forrest Lasso sent in a clinical free kick that was destined for Ockford.
“I saw a perfect ball in,” Ockford recalled while speaking to media post-match. “My eyes were on it the whole time, and I had a good feeling that I was going to get something on it. I barely had to get anything on because it had so much pace. It felt good. Good contact. We know that we don’t give up. We give it everything we have until the final whistle and it shows.”
After collecting three points against Louisville, Nashville SC has the opportunity to clinch home-field advantage in the first round of playoffs with a win over North Carolina FC at Nissan Stadium this Saturday, Oct. 12. However, the team doesn’t want to stop there. Sights are set on the conference’s top spot which would require Nashville to overthrow Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC who are just one point ahead in the standings, and Smith says he has confidence in this group to make it happen.
“We've got to win them both,” said Smith. “I feel we can win them both. The players all feel after tonight they can win them both, and it means that Pittsburgh has got to win both their away games. A draw somewhere won't be good enough. It's no good now for them to go away to either Birmingham or Saint Louis, two very difficult places. Both teams have got good home records, proud fans that'll get after them. They'll get behind them; both of them searching for a playoff spot, so these games are not going to be easy for [Pittsburgh]. Whilst they're a very good side and very, very capable, there is a big, big difference between going somewhere and needing to win and going somewhere and just getting a point. So, we're confident, and I'm sure the side we put out at the weekend will replicate and reflect the fact that we intend to win both games."