Nashville SC went to Columbus Crew in high spirits after their 4-2 win over Atlanta last weekend, but fell just short, losing 2-0 to the league-leading side.
Gary Smith had his work cut out for him before the match began. David Accam, Abu Danladi and Randall Leal all missed out through injury. With three starting-caliber wingers out, Smith handed Alan Winn his first MLS start after a strong substitute performance last time out.
#NashvilleSC Starting XI for #CLBvNSH:— Speedway Soccer (@SpeedwaySoc) September 19, 2020
Willis; Johnston, Zimmerman, Romney, Lovitz; McCarty ©, Godoy; Winn, Mukhtar, Muyl; Badji
BENCH: Panicco, Anibaba, Miller, Beckeles, Washington, Anunga, LaGrassa, Jones, Ríos#EveryoneN pic.twitter.com/UUV3ALkEW4
The first half was somewhat uneventful, with each side creating a handful of half chances, but neither clearly establishing dominance. Gyasi Zardes saw an effort from just outside the six-yard-box fly over the crossbar in the 23rd minute. Aníbal Godoy got onto a rebound following a set piece, but his low drive was cleared off the line by a defender.
Columbus found the breakthrough just after the half. Gyasi Zardes took the ball off of Walker Zimmerman as the defender tried to advance with the ball. Zardes drove down the left wing and cut back for Pedro Santos, who took a touch before hitting a powerful effort into the top corner.
Nashville had chances to equalize, with Alex Muyl testing Eloy Room from close range, and Dom Badji heading a pair of crosses over the bar. Walker Zimmerman also saw an effort saved late in the game, collecting the rebound from his own header and blasting a low drive at goal, which Room was able to collect.
Late in the match, Smith changed formation to a 3-5-2, throwing bodies forward in an attempt to find an equalizer. Columbus took advantage of this and secured the victory with a late goal from Gyasi Zardes.
The striker scored his ninth goal of the season with a classy heel-flick, leaving Dave Romney and Joe Willis with no chance.
It was telling that Columbus scored with their only two shots on target. The league-leaders have been the most efficient side in MLS this season, scoring a goal from every seven shots they take.
“The only thing that I’d be critical of our players is that out of our 15 shots, only two hit the target… and of course, the mistake that lead to the first goal,” Smith told reporters after the match. “The only criticism I have of [Badji] or any of the guys getting into those areas is that we’re just not making the goalkeeper work enough.”
Smith praised the effort of his players, saying that they went toe-to-toe with “the in-form side in MLS”, and praising their work-rate and use of the ball. Despite all their endeavor, though, the Boys In Gold leave Columbus with zero points.
They’ll have an opportunity to bounce back at home on Wednesday night, taking on 13th placed DC United. They’ll have to do it without Dan Lovitz, who will be suspended for picking up his fifth yellow card of the season.
The loss leaves Nashville in ninth place in the MLS’s Eastern Conference, with 12 points from 11 matches and a game in hand on all but two teams.