NASHVILLE - The race to the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs is a marathon, not a sprint.
In that marathon, every step forward matters, no matter how large or small. While Nashville SC would have wanted all three points against Minnesota United FC on Tuesday night at Nissan Stadium, a point in a scoreless draw puts the Boys in Gold in eighth place and one step closer to a playoff berth.
Coupled with a number of missing bodies at forward due to injury, Tuesday’s result is even more important for the Boys in Gold as they get players back healthy down the stretch.
“I was very pleased that we’re unbeaten,” Head Coach Gary Smith said. “The way I saw it, we were certainly brighter and more positive in the first 30 minutes of the game and probably looking back on it, we missed our opportunity to win it right there. Yet again, with no recognized forward on the field for the majority of the game and a very quick turnaround of course, I couldn’t be more proud of the way the guys have gone about their business. Of course, disappointed that we haven’t won at home, but still pleased to be unbeaten.”
While Smith might be satisfied with a point given the circumstances, he says he still feels the win was there for the taking. But, he says that won’t detract from the importance of earning a positive result against a playoff-caliber opponent.
“I would say that this is an acceptable draw,” Smith said. “When you look around [Minnesota’s] group, you are looking at individuals who have got real experience and the majority of them have battled a lot at this level. So, I’m very pleased with the point. I am always pleased to add to the tally. When you look at the standings as we sit right now that was our game in hand, and we are in eighth place. So, anything that goes on tomorrow is a game in hand for us again. We are in a decent spot. Of course, we would have loved to win the game, but I am pleased again to make sure we keep our goal intact and add to the board.”
The draw was also Nashville’s second straight clean sheet and seventh of the season. Goalkeeper Joe Willis entered Wednesday night’s Major League Soccer slate tied for the most clean sheets in the league. Defender Alistair Johnston says he plays with confidence knowing Willis is behind him.
“It felt good again,” Johnston said. “I’m sure we gave a couple chances but we felt pretty good again with Joe [Willis] back there, which we talked about before. There is a reason why he was on the MLS Team of the Week. He’s been super steady for us back there again made a couple big saves when we needed it. At the end of day as the backline our first priority is to keep a clean sheet, so we can’t really complain too much about that.”
Tuesday’s match was the club’s first home match in front of fans since Feb. 29 with a limited capacity allowed into Nissan Stadium under strict safety rules. Johnston says the socially-distant crowd made an impact on the match, and he says he hopes to hear them more in remaining home matches.
“It was over 3,500 but it sounded like a lot more,” Johnston said. “I thought once they got going with the chants, we felt the momentum go in our favor. They were definitely on Minnesota’s backs, and I think it’s a lot more fun when it’s like that. You can hear every single insult and every single comment a little more clearly. I think it adds more of a personal touch to the game. For me, it was more enjoyable. It would’ve been great to celebrate with them but there’s more home games to come, and we’ll get a chance to do it again.”