NASHVILLE – Nashville Soccer Club was, by all the metrics, one of the best defensive teams in the USL Championship last season. Third in the league in shutouts, second in fewest goals allowed, the defense was Nashville’s strength in 2018. This offseason it got stronger. Let’s dive into our 2019 Nashville SC Defensive Preview.
Position in Review
Defense was Nashville SC’s backbone last season. More MLS experience resided on Nashville’s backline than any other position group, and it showed early and often. In Nashville’s first home home preseason game, the NSC starters held eventual MLS Cup champion Atlanta United scoreless through the first half. Then, in the club’s first home regular season game, Nashville shut out the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, the eventual No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Over the course of the season, Nashville shut out USL regular season champions FC Cincinnati at Nissan Stadium, and USL Cup champions Louisville City on the road. Then, how can anyone forget the shutout in the U.S. Open Cup against the Colorado Rapids of MLS when the Nashville defense held Colorado without a shot on goal. Even in the USL Cup Playoffs, when Nashville went on the road against Cincinnati, the defense was strong, holding the league’s No. 1 seed to one goal in 120 minutes of play.
Back in Nashville in 2019 is the core of the successful 2018 defense including Davis, Doyle, Bourgeois, Washington and Kimura. Those five combined for 148 starts in the USL regular season and playoffs, showing good health throughout the season. That group also scored some of the most memorable goals for Nashville last season, including Davis’ late game-tying goal at home against Bethlehem Steel after Nashville had been down a man for most of the game, Washington’s game-winning goal against Atlanta United in the final 10 minutes, and Bourgeois’ playoff goal to send the game into penalties.
Offseason additions to that group will only serve to augment and improve upon that solid core. Ken Tribbett, signed from on-hiatus Penn FC, tied for the lead amongst USL Championship defenders last season, despite missing a third of the season through injury. Some might remember that he scored Penn’s only goal against Nashville when the clubs met at First Tennessee Park. Tribbett was the USL’s fan-voted Midseason Defensive Player of the Year, and likely would have been an All-League selection if not for his late season injury.
Darnell King was one of those USL All-League selections after a standout season with San Antonio FC last year. Because of Nashville’s lack of games against Western Conference teams, NSC fans never saw King last season, but he scored two goals and added five assists while starting 32 of SAFC’s 34 games. King’s aggressive play led to a team-high 69 interceptions and 127 clearances, and his five assists were the second-most on the club.
While Malcolm Stewart doesn’t come to Nashville SC with the same previous credentials as Tribbett or King, he does bring youth to the group. Stewart is just 22-years-old and is a former Jamaican youth national team player. At 6’2”, Stewart has the build of a prototypical central defender, and will be an asset throughout the season.
Gary Smith’s Thoughts on the Position
“It was a very good benchmark in the first year, second-best defense in the league I would like to think as the group develops, with the add bodies, depth and strength, in what we would class as the backline. That we are capable of achieving something very similar. We were very fortunate last year that we didn’t encounter too many injuries. I think that the abilities of the players prevented too many suspensions. With have a number of new additions, of course a couple that spring to mind as senior players are Darnell and Ken, those guys add to what was already a very good group. We are certainly in a good place.”
What to Watch For in Preseason
Both left and right fullback spots and central defense are loaded with talent for the 2019 Nashville SC squad. All three main positions will feature intriguing combinations of players. With many strong players returning, and more strength incoming, it will be interesting to see how Smith integrates his new talent into the fold with the existing pieces.
“There are combinations and relationships in the middle of the back four as a central pairing that do make a difference,” said Smith. “Is the relationship between Liam and Ken be one that we can lean on? Similar types of characters with similar mindsets. I think Bradley brings something very different with his athleticism and his speed. In those fullback areas, Kosuke has a had a great career, but he is not Peter Pan. We bring in a guy in Darnell, who is a very similar type of person, lots of energy and plenty of pace and enthusiasm and always looking to try and join attack. They are also very capable when tasked defensively. At the left back area, I don’t think there is a bundle to choose between those two. I think we have two of the best left-sided full back in the league [in Taylor and Justin], and I think it will be a really nice battle to watch them and to see whose form comes to the fore as we head towards that first game. As a head coach, the thing that you always want is choice. You want players that are fighting for positions, you want competition, you want to be in a place where you have to make tough choices.”