NASHVILLE - An undisrupted five-match home unbeaten streak keeps the Boys in Gold in playoff position heading into Week 14 of the regular season.
The club’s final match in September resulted in a 1-1 draw at Nissan Stadium Saturday afternoon against the Houston Dynamo. Forward Daniel Ríos energized a scoreless match when he found the bottom right corner of the goal in the 49’ minute with the help of midfielder Derrick Jones. The Boys in Gold managed to keep the visitors off the board until Dynamo forward Maynor Figueroa willed the ball over Nashville’s goalline during a corner-kick scramble in the 89’ minute.
With the draw, Nashville SC earned an admirable four out of six possible points in Week 13 thanks to a 1-0 victory over D.C. United on Wednesday. Head Coach Gary Smith expressed his discontent with Houston’s late equalizer, but says he’s pleased with the week’s outcome, all things considered.
“Initially of course, bitterly disappointed to concede so late, and leave ourselves in a position with just one point and not all three,” Smith said. “But I think at the end of a very long week, with a lot of things that went on in this game let alone throughout the last two games, I think maybe a draw was a reasonably fair result. I’m delighted with the efforts that the guys have given again.”
Nashville’s breakthrough in the 49’ minute speaks volumes to the team’s depth and development. The up-top chemistry between Ríos and Jones has been a year in the making, with both players making the jump to Nashville’s MLS side from the club’s USL Championship roster. Smith says that the center midfielder’s physical qualities and attacking ability is what he hoped would make the second-half difference.
“There was a bit of discussion at halftime just more so around how we were going to be more effective,” Smith said. “There were some decent passages of play where there were one or two moments that we’ve spoken about, and we were pulled back, but how are we going to make that breakthrough? I honestly felt given Derrick [Jones]’ performance in the week that somebody in the middle there who was physically capable of asking more questions may well give us a boost. Derrick’s immediate impact was to roll the center-back or draw him into a challenge, be strong enough to ride it and of course make the perfect decision to slide Daniel [Ríos] in. I’m extremely pleased obviously for Daniel again other than the injury. He’s two in two now. The whole process was something that we were lacking in the first period of the game. So really, really pleased with that.”
Leading scorer Ríos came off the field with an injury in the 59’ minute, causing an unavoidable question to surface after the match — what’s the status of Nashville’s attacking arsenal? Smith says the group could see the boost it needs in the coming weeks as new designated player signing Jhonder Cádiz gets closer to his arrival in Music City.
“[Jhonder] Cádiz has gone through all of the paperwork process, and I would be encouraged to see him here next week,” Smith continued. “What day, I don’t know yet, but I think we’re close to that. We may as well see him on the ground at some point in the week. Given the current climate and circumstances, he has to serve a quarantine period as have a lot of guys who have obviously joined the league. We hope that once that quarantine period is done, we can have him as part of the group. It’ll be a much needed shot in the arm I believe for everyone.”
On the defensive end of the field, the Boys in Gold on the backline remain one of the strongest units in the East. The team’s 14 goals allowed is the fifth fewest in the conference out of 14 teams. Goalkeeper Joe Willis put up a seven-save showing on Saturday, tying his career high. While the week’s defensive performance was praiseworthy, conceding in the 89’ minute to Houston inevitably stings. Center-back Walker Zimmerman says his competitiveness is what will keep him working towards post-season play.
“I’m competitive, I want to be out there every minute,” Zimmerman said after the match when asked about playing every minute this season for Nashville. “I want to play every minute, I want to play every game and try and help this team win, find ourselves in the playoffs and make a run for an MLS Cup because that’s what it’s all about.”