FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A scoreless draw felt more like a win for Nashville SC on Saturday night after the Boys in Gold shut down the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium.
The expansion side has been dealt several unlucky hands this season, and Head Coach Gary Smith made Saturday’s misfortunes look routine. A laundry list of injured players could have easily been detrimental for a developing team, but the circumstances didn’t hold Nashville SC back from earning one of its most valiant and resilient results of the season.
“It doesn't sound a lot, but I tell you when you’re coming back from these tough venues and taking a long journey, that point feels like the Crown Jewels when you’re taking it back home,” said Smith. “I’m absolutely delighted. I’m sure it wasn’t the greatest of spectacles necessarily with the ball, but with so many difficulties to deal with throughout this week and with opportunities to play certain players and the amount of forward going players that we have missing, there was a big shift in our shape.
“There was a shift in some of the perspectives within that group and it was a big ask today against a confident side that has been in good form, on a very difficult surface. We wanted to make the game as difficult as possible and play with some real passion. I think the character of the group shined through tonight, and I’m absolutely delighted with a road point and a clean sheet.”
Veteran goalkeeper Joe Willis headlined Nashville’s shutout performance. The 32-year-old surpassed his career best in clean sheets in a single season, clinching his sixth in 2020 on Saturday. After the match, Willis praised the 10 players in front of him who put their bodies on the line to keep the Revolution at bay.
“It’s amazing to see,” said Willis. “I think it kind of personifies the group. You have guys that are making sacrifices for each other and doing whatever it takes to get points. Not to be cliché, but it’s a team effort and everyone has to do their part, whether that’s defending as a team or attacking as a team. Seeing plays like that is huge. It instills a lot of confidence in me, and it also at times puts pressure on me. When you see your teammates making these big plays, you start to think that your number is going to get called upon soon, and I’ll have to make a big play and be ready for it.”
Veteran leadership has been the backbone of Nashville SC’s culture in 2020, and the familiar Major League Soccernames such as Dax McCarty, Walker Zimmerman and Dave Romney all played an important role in Saturday’s draw. However, the heavy personnel rotation that resulted due to injuries and compact scheduling has allowed some newer faces to make a statement.
“Listen, I’m not sure there was a performance out there on the field that I could look at and be critical of,” said Smith. “Guys were asked to play a slightly different role and different shape. There were guys in the group like Matt LaGrassa who made his first MLS start, Brian Anunga of course we know has made a couple of appearances. ...Those two lads in particular I thought were absolutely outstanding and showed so much energy, and we needed that.”
After Saturday’s draw, Nashville SC remains above the playoff line with 17 points and a match in hand. The Boys in Gold still have work to do considering most of their upcoming opponents currently sit above them in the standings. Smith says while there’s still improvements to be made and challenges to overcome, he’s encouraged by the players’ winning attitudes.
“I know that the stats will lean heavily against us with regards to possession, I’m sure efforts at goals, crosses, corners, whatever area you want to look, but today’s performance really was about this group digging in, showing the sort of fiber and character that really championship teams are built on. Whilst there is a long, long way to go for this team, they are all the qualities I want to see in a group.”