NASHVILLE, TN – Nashville SC defeated Birmingham Legion 3-2 at Geodis Park on Wednesday in the first home preseason match open to fans and media in the club’s MLS era.
Nashville rolled out a strong lineup in the first half, with Hany Mukhtar making his first start of preseason up front next to Sam Surridge.
Around the 60 minute mark, Gary Smith made a bevy of changes, with Dru Yearwood taking Mukhtar’s spot up front alongside three unsigned trialists.
On the pitch
Unsurprisingly against USL Championship opposition, Nashville dominated the ball. They pushed their lines higher than in the past and pressed much more aggressively out of a 4-2-2-2 structure, perhaps one of the changes Smith hinted at in the offseason.
While Nashville had a lot of the ball, they struggled to do a lot with it. The midfield pairing of Sean Davis and Aníbal Godoy struggled to find passing lanes through the Legion’s low block, with Mukhtar dropping deep to try and get control of the game. Tyler Boyd, in his Geodis Park debut, pinched inside to combine off the right flank, and while it showed promise at times, the Coyotes ended up resorting to crosses as their only consistent idea in the final third.
Both Birmingham goals were self-inflicted by the home side. On the first, Joe Willis saw a routine cross bobble through his hands, over his head, and into the goal. It’s a catch the ‘keeper could usually make without issue, but the gaffe got Birmingham on the board.
The second away goal came from a sloppy giveaway, when Taylor Washington misplayed a pass with the team pushed high in Birmingham’s half. Mukhtar, again in a deeper spot, tracked back to try and break up the play, but couldn’t catch up to a streaking Tyler Pasher. The winger finished easily, the latest in his history of goals against Nashville.
On the positive side, Sam Surridge grabbed himself a brace. The first was a thumping header, rattling the bar after a Taylor Washington cross and requiring a lengthy VAR review to determine if it cross the line. For the second, the Designated Player pounced on a ball spilled by goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel, flicking the ball into an empty net.
Late in the second half, Nashville found a winner through trialist Julian Gaines. The younger brother of McKinze Gaines, the winger anticipated a Birmingham backpass and reacted quickly, cutting off the pass and finishing calmly into an empty net. The Legion couldn’t find an answer in the 30 minutes of extra time, and Nashville took home a narrow victory.
They’ll close out their preseason with a closed-door friendly against Memphis 901 FC next Wednesday, before taking on Moca FC in their Concacaf Champions Cup debut on February 22.
A lot rests on Surridge having a breakout sophomore season, and he certainly looked ready for it. He was a constant presence in the box, and while the service wasn’t always ideal, he made the most of it and bagged a brace.
Nashville’s biggest off-season acquisition, the winger looked sharp in front of the handful of fans at Geodis Park. He combined well with Shaq Moore and Hany Mukhtar, and was at the heart of Nashville’s early danger moments.
The trialist midfielder was Nashville’s best passer on the day, opening up the field with several well-hit diagonals to find Alex Muyl on the right. His passing range provided a different look for Nashville and perhaps warranted a first-team contract.
Another trialist, the young winger stretched the field and doggedly ran at Birmingham’s backline, causing problems by being in the right place at the right time. He also combined really well with Alex Muyl on the right and showed plenty of potential in his shift.