Nashville SC got their first ever home win last night, beating Inter Miami CF 1-0 with a well-taken goal from Aníbal Godoy. It was another night of firsts for Brian Anunga, who got his first taste of action in Major League Soccer, starting in place of captain Dax McCarty.
Signed in the offseason from Charleston Battery, the 24-year-old Cameroonian midfielder spent the last three season in the USL Championship, a level below MLS in the American soccer pyramid. Nashville clearly valued Anunga, spending $50,000 to acquire him, and the midfielder rewarded that confidence with an impressive debut.
“Let’s look at Brian Anunga, his very first start in MLS, his full debut, he plays 90 minutes and he was absolutely outstanding in midfield,” said Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith following the match. “In fact, there were probably only one or two moments in the game that I might have put into question his display. It was exactly what the team needed, more bite, more energy.”
Anunga had big shoes to fill last night. Dax McCarty had played every minute of the season so far, and is one of the more consistent performers on the team. Seeing a player with no MLS minutes in place of McCarty in the lineup may have surprised fans at first, but Anunga hardly looked out of place.
Couldn’t have asked for a much better MLS debut by Brian Anunga. The 2019 #USL Best XI man with 14 defensive involvements and a solid passing chart. Hardly put a foot wrong for #EveryoneN. pic.twitter.com/vgqyKl8HoU— Jeff Rueter (@jeffrueter) August 31, 2020
Godoy, whose goal sealed the victory for Nashville, said that playing with Anunga behind him gave him the freedom to attack more. “I like to play box to box,” he explained. “But for example, when you have a player like Brian, who is a more holding player, a more tactical player, I feel more comfortable to go a little more higher because I have support behind.”
Anunga himself was humble after the match. “I felt like it was an awesome game. Making my debut and laying that game against Miami and having Anibal Godoy next to me and he was guiding me helping me, all of the guys you know. Walker [Zimmerman] and Dave [Romney] helping me and made my debut so much easier. I couldn’t be more happy to have these guys and playing around these guys. It just made everything easy and was great.”
With a heavily congested schedule, Anunga’s debut performance gives Nashville another strong option in midfield to finish out the season.
“Maybe that opportunity wouldn’t have come along if we were playing weekend after weekend and no midweek games,” admitted Smith. “But he’s given a display that certainly puts him in a very positive light in my mind.”
Nashville SC have a short turnaround this week, staying in Nashville to face Orlando City on Wednesday night at Nissan Stadium.