On a rain-soaked night, Nashville SC notched a 2-0 win over CF Montréal. With the victory, the Boys in Gold climb to 2nd in the Eastern Conference trailing only Atlanta United on a tiebreaker.
Jacob Shaffelburg started off the scoring with a screamer. Late in the second half, with Montréal threatening to find an equalizer, Taylor Washington slammed the door shut on the Quebecers.
Here are my three thoughts on the match.
Defense approaching record territory
It may start to feel like a broken record, but Nashville’s defense, once again, deserves its flowers. The shutout win now makes three straight clean sheets to start the season for the Coyotes.
While not there yet, the team is closing in on a place in the MLS record books.
Including stoppage time, Nashville has logged 301 minutes without allowing a goal to start the season. The all-time record is held by Vancouver. The Whitecaps began the 2012 season by not allowing a goal in its first 427 minutes played.
The Coyotes won’t be able to catch the Whitecaps with a shutout against New England next week. However, they would pass the Seattle Sounders (349 minutes in 2009) for the third-longest streak.
Beyond keeping the ball out of the net, Nashville has been brilliant in not allowing high-leverage chances to threaten Joe Willis. The Impact failed to register a single shot on target.
According to American Soccer Analysis, Montréal generated a mere 0.33 expected goals (xG) on the night. It brings Nashville’s season total expected goals against (xGA) to a paltry total of just 1.22 goals.
Nashville will face a difficult test next week against Carles Gil and New England. If they manage to secure a fourth-consecutive clean sheet, Nashville will have a chance to snatch an all-time record against their rivals, FC Cincinnati.
Taylor to the rescue
Nashville’s cult hero and longest-serving player, Taylor Washington, iced the match away with an 89th-minute dagger. The karate kick goal erased the mounting nervousness in the building.
You couldn’t blame supporters for fearing the worst. In 2022, Nashville made a bad habit of letting opponents back into the match at GEODIS Park. There was the stoppage-time penalty conceded to the L.A. Galaxy, a 75th-minute winner for Minnesota United, a pair of second-half goals for Portland, and Dom Dwyer’s 88th-minute equalizer for Atlanta United following a lengthy rain delay.
Arguably, the biggest key to this season was to establish GEODIS Park as an impenetrable castle rather than one made of sand. Hanging on in just one of those matches would have earned Nashville an all-important home playoff match.
After Teal Bunbury missed a one-v-one opportunity in the 69th minute, it must have felt like déjà vu. Nashville seemingly missed its golden chance to secure the win.
Just minutes before, Gary Smith brought on Taylor Washington and Alex Muyl for the more attack-minded Jacob Shaffelburg and Fafà Picault. The on-coming Washington and Muyl immediately signaled to their teammates to reorganize into a five-man backline.Dan Lovitz slid to left back, while Alex Muyl, Sean Davis and Brian Anunga formed a three-man midfield. The plan was to see out the match absorbing Montréal’s pressure.
Due to injuries and Smith’s own selection, there were not any other winger options available on the bench. Smith named two goalkeepers to the matchday squad – a curious decision on a night when the entire Huntsville City roster was present at GEODIS Park.
Could new signings Tyler Freeman, Kemy Amiche, or Nebiyou Perry have made a difference? I certainly would have rather seen a Huntsville City outfielder make the bench rather than a third goalkeeper. Even if no one has earned Smith’s trust to see out a precious one-goal lead (a perfectly reasonable decision for a manager to make), they could’ve been brought in to gain experience had Nashville raced out to a comfortable lead.
Back to the squad on the field. The chief concern was that the substitution of Washington for Shaffelburg would choke off the counterattacks that have made Nashville so deadly in transition to start the season. Those moments have often come via Hany Mukhtar driving the ball forward and Shaffelburg stretching the backline. If Shaffelburg is no longer on the field, who, if anyone, would become Mukhtar’s running mate?
However, all credit to Washington and Nashville. They found a goal via a different approach.
To Smith’s admission, no one would have expected Washington to be the one to find the insurance goal. He may be much better in the defensive third than the attacking third, but Washington made an intelligent run and finish.
In a match where one bad bounce in favor of Montréal could have been the difference between a win and a draw, Washington slammed the door shut.
Rain, rain, go away
On Saturday, Nashville and Montréal played in a downpour. It’s by no means the first time the club has had to battle the elements.
Earlier this week, @stacheVille wondered aloud the question that we must have all thought at least one point on Saturday. Why does it always seem to rain on Nashville SC match days?
For everyone’s sake, I decided to look into it.
It turns out that rain occurs on 32.6% of Nashville SC match days, with an average precipitation of 0.21 inches. While this generally falls in line with the number of rainy days the Midstate receives, Nashville SC match days experience nearly double the average rain volume.
That still doesn’t quite capture it. It felt like most of the big rain events occurred earlier in the season.
During the months of February through April, the chances of a rainy day skyrocket to 70% if there’s a Nashville SC home match scheduled, compared to the city’s overall average of 29.2%. The average precipitation on these match days jumps from 0.14 inches to a whopping 0.88 inches.
To put that into perspective, if we extrapolate those numbers over an entire year, it would equal an average annual precipitation of 320 inches, making Nashville SC match days during February through April as rainy as Quibdó, Colombia – the rainiest city with over 100,000 inhabitants in the world.
Interestingly, the Amazon Rainforest, often associated with heavy rainfall, only averages between 59 – 118 inches of precipitation per year, which is significantly less than what a Nashville SC match in February, March, or April experiences.
Now, those numbers come with a massive Tim Sullivan Small Sample Size Warning™. After all, Nashville SC has played in only 10 matches during those months since 2018. However, it does highlight just how snake-bit the club has been by early season weather.
Beyond the actual totals, rain-soaked games and weather delays have come to help define Nashville SC going back to the USL days.
The connection between torrential rain and Nashville SC began with the club’s first professional match, a friendly against Atlanta United. The game’s first goal, scored by Josef Martinez, had a water-logged pitch to thank.
A month later in the first regular season match at Nissan Stadium, 18,922 spectators watched the club battle Pittsburgh Riverhounds on a dreary day.
Rainy days and weather delays became a recurrent theme during Nashville’s two seasons in the USL Championship. Supporters quickly learned to embrace the rain delays and formed memorable moments around them.
Last year during a nearly three-hour weather delay, a new chant and party location was born. The Backline’s impromptu gathering in the concourse behind the section went viral across the soccer Twittersphere.
Even the team has learned to embrace the rain. Alistair Johnston will always hold a special place in the supporters’ hearts. He was an excellent young defender in his two seasons in Nashville. However, his lasting legacy may just be his reporting work during weather delays.
Given all the seminal moments tied between the club and the weather, it is easy to see why rain always seems to follow Nashville SC. Taylor Washington’s karate kick goal, his first in MLS, may go down as another lasting memory that inextricably links rainy nights with Nashville SC.
Nashville’s next home match comes in two weeks against FC Cincinnati. Bring a rain jacket.
While Taylor Washington deservedly receives endless praise following his first MLS goal, I wanted to briefly mention the pass that set up the goal.
Shaq Moore served up a tantalizing cross right on top of the penalty spot. Throughout his career, Moore has been an excellent crosser. Since arriving in Nashville, we haven’t always seen that talent bear fruit. We did on Saturday.
If Nashville can continue to weaponize Moore’s ability to deliver scintillating balls like this, it will add another dimension to Nashville’s attack.