NASHVILLE - All it takes is a spark.
Nashville Soccer Club, riding a three-match unbeaten run, came into Saturday night’s match with Atlanta United FC seeking a boost on offense. The Boys in Gold had not scored more than one goal in a match yet in Major League Soccer and were yet to earn a result against their Southern neighbors.
Starting with forward Dominique Badji’s first-minute goal, Nashville’s offense turned on the jets in a 4-2 win over Atlanta. It was an offensive performance that Head Coach Gary Smith had been looking for all season long.
To get it in a rivalry match at home to close out Phase One of the Major League Soccer regular season was the icing on the cake.
“In a difficult rivalry game as we know this one is, we’ve fallen short on a couple of occasions this season to this group,” Smith said. “I felt that our guys showed a tremendous amount of passion and pride tonight. We achieved something tonight that we haven’t done all season, and that’s get on the scoresheet on multiple occasions. I felt there were some displays tonight that really offered different dimensions, not just for individuals, but for the group. All in all, it was a fantastic result. We stay unbeaten here at Nissan Stadium, and that’s something of course we want to try and reinforce.”
Four different players scored for Nashville in this match. Badji got it started in the first minute with a header, then midfielder Hany Mukhtar put Nashville back in the lead in the 28’ minute. Midfielder Dax McCarty scored in the 36’ minute to extend the lead, and forward Abu Danladi put the icing on the cake with a solo goal in the 57’ minute. For each scorer, it was his first goal with Nashville SC.
McCarty, who typically plays in a more central/defensive midfield role, was involved in each of the four goals. He scored one, and assisted on three by forcing a turnover in one of them. While he says he was happy to make an offensive contribution, he’s even happier for his attack-minded teammates who are starting to click in the offensive third of the pitch.
“I certainly am extremely happy that [Dominique], Abu and Hany all got their first goals for our club because I am going to score one or two goals a season,” McCarty said. “It’s not going to happen often, that’s not my job. But when our attacking players score goals, when they get confidence, our team is going to become really dangerous. The more important thing tonight is that those three guys scored, got on the score sheet, and now I think you’re just going to see them take off and have an attacking platform to where we are going to be really dangerous.”
For Mukhtar, it’s his second-straight home match contributing to a goal after assisting on midfielder Randall Leal’s goal in a 1-1 draw vs. Orlando City SC on Sept. 2. His goal came as the result of a strong link-up with McCarty and Badji off of a turnover. Nashville’s first Designated Player played a starring role for his former club Brøndby IF in Denmark. He says he knows he’s capable of even more in Music City, and although he hasn’t scored each night, all he wants to do is help the team win.
“Of course, my expectations when I came here, I was a very, very important player for my old team for the last three and a half years,” Mukhtar said. “It’s always difficult to come to a new team; different characters, different players. So you need to adapt your way of playing and learn about your teammates more and more because in the end if you know more about your teammates, you can get better on the pitch. It will take time, but I try to do my best every day and work hard. My job is to help the team.”
With four straight positive results in a row, Nashville SC moves on to Phase Two next weekend with a matchup against Columbus Crew SC. For the first time in the club’s MLS history, it finds itself in a playoff position. Given all that has happened to the club during a topsy-turvy inaugural season in 2020, this kind of stretch can be an important springboard into something special as the season rolls on.
“I don’t think we are by any means a finished product, but when you’re an expansion team and you can put together four good positive results in a row, that’s just going to continue to help the team grow and help the confidence grow,” McCarty said. “I am really proud of our group. We have been through the ringer literally and figuratively in terms of crazy stuff happening to us this year. It has been a frustrating stop-start season but now that we have a little bit of a platform and momentum on our side hopefully we can continue the good momentum in Phase Two.”