NASHVILLE – On April 14, Nashville SC suffered its second loss of the season on the road against Indy Eleven. At the time, it made Nashville 2-2-1 with seven points, and it seemed the expansion club might be a middle of the pack team in its inaugural season in the USL. What no one expected was that the next time Indy and Nashville would play in late June, Nashville would still have just two losses.
It’s now been 73 days since Nashville’s last USL loss. In that span, Nashville has a record of 4-0-4, has climbed to 4th in the Eastern Standings, and hasn’t trailed at all in the 720 minutes of game action. In the same stretch, Indy is 3-3-3 and hung tough in the East, sitting in 7th place, two points behind Nashville. Two wins against the bottom of table, Atlanta United 2 and Toronto FC II have helped matters lately for Indy, however.
Indy has struggled with a few injuries lately, and will be without a couple of players on Tuesday night, Reiner Ferreira and Tyler Pasher. While Ferreira was not in the 18 against Nashville in April, Pasher started and had a significant impact on that game from his midfield position. He took two shots, completed 13 passes and won his only aerial dual. Indy’s talisman, Soony Saad is healthy and will presumably start against Nashville. He scored both goals for Indy in the earlier meeting this season, including a 30+ yard bending free kick.
The matchup will also feature two of the better goaltenders in the Eastern Conference. Nashville’s Matt Pickens stats speak for themselves, but Owain Fon Williams for Indy has been stout in net. He is 5th in the East with 30 total saves, and has six shutouts this season, one fewer than Pickens’ conference-leading seven.
The 11-game unbeaten streak may have ended, but an Eastern-Conference best eight-game unbeaten streak in USL play is still intact. Nashville has been nothing short of dominant over the last two months, allowing just four goals in those eight games, and never more than one in any of the eight. At home, that defense is even better, allowing only one goal in five home games. It’s not too early to say that First Tennessee Park is a fortress.
Head coach Gary Smith has been creative and prescient in his squad rotation though a very busy and difficult May and June schedule. One of his best moves has been bringing star forward Ropapa Mensah off the bench in a “super sub” type role. With the addition of Brandon Allen in a starting forward role, it allows Smith to use Mensah as a dynamic, impact player off the bench to immediately change the game. It happened in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup against the Colorado Rapids when Mensah scored on his first touch of the game. It happened again last Saturday when Mensah scored on the final touch of the game after coming off the bench in the second half.
Head coach Gary Smith on the unbeaten streak:
“It’s amazing, isn’t it? When you can look back at chunks of time rather than just a moment, the body of work and the way you have developed can be so different. I am very pleased the group has evolved into what we consider to be a smoothly functioning group with some extremely exciting elements to it. We’ve got guys like Lebo [Moloto] who have been very productive and exciting. We can point to the fact that our backline and goalkeeper, that group, have been very consistent and difficult to break down. We have added a couple of new bodies as well and that transition has been smooth. If we can continue on that road, we would all be very pleased.”
How to Watch
Tickets are still available on NashvilleSC.com/tickets. It will be the first nationally televised USL game of the season, as Nashville SC will serve as the backdrop for the broadcast on ESPNews. Radio broadcasts can be heard on ESPN 94.9 Game 2 and El Jefe 96.7. Online, the game will be available on ESPN3.
Watching the East
Results in the USL couldn’t have fallen better for Nashville SC last week, as every Eastern Conference game involving a team in the top-8 ended in a draw. With Louisville City FC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC earning just a point on Saturday, Nashville SC is a win on Tuesday night away from being alone in second place.