NASHVILLE, TN – Nashville SC passed the first test of the 2021 preseason with flying colors, at least according to the scoreline. In a closed door match against USL Championship side Louisville City, the Boys In Gold got off to an early lead, one which grew throughout the encounter.
The match was split up into three 30 minute periods, each featuring a fresh group of 11 starters.
The first period consisted of the core of 2020’s starting group, with new signing CJ Sapong leading the line. He opened the scoring in the 7th minute, scoring off of a set piece. Hany Mukhtar continued the form in which he finished the 2020 season, scoring a 17th minute penalty kick before finishing an Aníbal Godoy through ball in the 19th minute.
The second session saw a largely second choice group take the field, with Jack Maher partnering Jalil Anibaba in defense, and two unsigned players in midfield (the club declined to comment on players not signed to their roster). One of the two unsigned players got on the scoresheet at the end of the 30 minute period, finishing from a Luke Haakenson assist.
The third period saw another wave of unsigned players take the field, with Haakenson and Brian Anunga coming off halfway through the session.
We always felt that this was going to be a very competitive game,” said head coach Gary Smith following the match. “Two teams that have got quite a bit of history, and it was just that. I thought we put our best foot forward, very good attitude, and some really decent displays given our first outing.”
Nearly every player signed to Nashville’s roster saw the field, save for a few exceptions. Winger Randall Leal is currently with Costa Rica in the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying Championship. Forwards Jhonder Cádiz and Daniel Ríos and defender Nick Hinds were the only others who didn’t feature.
“Daniel has come into the preseason with a niggling issue with his foot,” said Smith, “and Jhonder turned his ankle about a week ago. Nothing serious, but it was just too soon to see him in this game. My hope is that while we’re down in Florida we’ll see him in something competitive. Neither of those guys are serious problems, but as you can imagine with the workload they’re under, there’s always a chance that you can pick up a problem.”
“The same can be applied there about Nick Hinds,” Smith added. “He’s just got a bit of a tight hamstring. Nothing serious, but didn’t want to take a risk.”
Aside from their current roster, Nashville saw several trialists take the field, but Smith was cautious with his assessment of their futures in Nashville.
“Those guys have come in and they’ve been supporting the group. It’s a nice opportunity for them to be in this environment,” he said. “But at this point we’ll certainly take stock of where we’re at with those guys and move forward as necessary.”
Although the group that started the match was clearly the strongest, Smith said that there’s still plenty of competition for starting spots as the team continues in preseason.
“It’s so early, but what you could see is that I tried to keep what might have been the core of the group together,” said Smith. “Guys like Handwalla [Bwana] and CJ [Sapong] were not part of the group last year, and those guys just for me looked in a slightly better physical position as we went into the game. Can we expect changes to that? Of course.”
Nashville held onto the lead for a 4-0 win, starting their 2021 season with a rare attacking outburst. They’ll head to Florida to continue their preseason tomorrow, and will take on New York Red Bulls on Wednesday, March 24.