Photo by Kelsi Steele, USL
BRADENTON, Fla. (February 23, 2018) – Two friendlies, two encouraging performances, two results. That’s what Nashville SC will take away from its games against Chicago Fire and Ottawa Fury down at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
While neither were wins, Nashville SC will have plenty of positive takeaways from a 0-0 draw against Chicago and a 1-1 draw against Ottawa. The “Senior 11,” as head coach Gary Smith called his more experienced squad, still has yet to allow a goal in the preseason. On the flip side, the younger 11 have looked very lively and created numerous scoring chances, finally potting a penalty kick goal against Ottawa.
“The real focus of these preseason games is that we improve game by game,” said Smith. “That improvement has shown, but we have to continue to move towards being more creative. I am extremely pleased with how the guys are working, the amount of information they are taking on board and how they are applying that. Some of the performances and quality of play is very, very good for a team that has just been together one month.”
NASHVILLE SC 0, CHICAGO FIRE 0
Against Chicago, Nashville started the more experienced 11 that closely resembled the opening 11 for the club’s inaugural friendly against Atlanta United. That group played close to 60 minutes against Chicago and generated numerous quality chances on the Fire net.
Forward Robin Shroot generated numerous chances in the opening half, dispossessing the Chicago keeper twice, but the finishing touch from Nashville SC was lacking. In the second 45 minutes, reserves Martim Galvao and Alan Winn continued to generate good looks.
In the second half, Chicago brought in its stars, Nemanja Nikolic and Bastian Schweinsteiger, however Nashville’s defense and keepers were able to stymie the MLS side. Nashville SC keeper CJ Cochran made two spectacular saves in the second half, one to his left and one just below the crossbar, that thwarted Chicago’s two prime scoring opportunities.
The best chance for Nashville to get on the scoresheet came off the foot of Winn who found himself alone in front of the left side of the net. A shot was blasted too high, however; and Nashville SC would have to settle for the draw. The 0-0 scoreline marked the first result, and first shutout, in club history.
“The most difficult thing in any game of soccer is to score. Otherwise it would be 15 to 14. We are having some struggles building that repoire in the final third. It’s hard to be inspirational and then at the end to choose the right finish and be clinical.”
NASHVILLE SC 1, OTTAWA FURY 1
In the second game at IMG Academy, Nashville SC got a taste of USL competition for the first time in the preseason against Ottawa Fury. The Fury played many of the top returners from its squad last season, while Smith gave the start to Nashville’s less experienced players.
Nashville immediately took its first lead of the season when Tucker Hume, playing a pass from Galvao, was pulled down in the box, resulting in a penalty. Just as the clock ticked over to the third minute, Winn coolly slotted the penalty in the bottom left corner to put Nashville up 1-0.
“It was a little nerve-wracking obviously,” said Winn. “I just had a mindset that no matter where I shoot it, I need to shoot it hard enough to get it past the keeper.”
For Winn, the penalty kick was a favor returned. Him and Hume, his former University of North Carolina teammate and roommate, had plenty of instances in college where Winn was the one fouled in the box and Hume scored the PK, but never the other way around until now. The two have shown an expected instant chemistry on the field, resulting in a few first half chances for Nashville SC against Ottawa.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Ottawa to knot the game at 1-1 as they used a counter attack to get in behind the Nashville defense.
The senior group was subbed on for the final 30 minutes, but couldn’t find the back of the net despite controlling much of the possession.
“Fact is at the moment, there is a lack of sharpness around the penalty area,” said Smith. “However, the way the group is looking, the energy, the way they are pressing, and their shape has absolutely dominated these last two games.”
The week in Florida has not only been a chance for the team to get more game action under its belt, but the players have had the opportunity to bond away from home. For Smith, the improvement and bonding has been what is most important.
“Overall, I am so pleased,” said Smith. “It’s been a great trip so far, very worthwhile. We are moving in a tremendous direction, and we are looking forward to our next match.”