Nashville Soccer Club wrote the first chapter of its on-field history Saturday in a 3-1 defeat to Atlanta United. Here are five observations from the match.
Im”press”ive defensive aggression
Gary Smith is not afraid to put pressure on the opponent, even when that opponent has arguably the most dynamic offense in Major League Soccer. The team displayed a pressing defensive approach that took Atlanta out of its rhythm, especially early in the match.
“There were moments, especially as we’ve only been together for two weeks, that we can look back on and be extremely pleased about defensively,” Smith said. “We looked difficult to break down, and there were very nice interchanges of play.”
Nashville’s veteran holding midfielders, Michael Reed and Matt LaGrassa, joined fullbacks Kosuke Kimura and Ryan James to employ a tight marking scheme that left Atlanta’s stars with little breathing room, until they used their superior skill to begin breaking through midway through the first half.
Mensah shows skill despite lack of preparation
Ropapa Mensah got off a plane Sunday, after his teammates had already been together for a week. Six days later, he celebrated the team’s first-ever goal. Even though he trained for a week less than his teammates, his technical skill resulted in a big moment — perhaps the first of many for the Ghanaian, who left a “really good impression” on Smith.
“It’s been a broken week for him, and he’s really not had an awful lot of time for any foundational fitness work or to get to know the guys,” Smith said. “25 minutes and a goal was a great return and the right time to bring him out.”
“I am happy because out of the whole Nashville SC team, I am the one who scored,” Mensah said.
Mensah, who starred on a mediocre Harrisburg City team last season, showed flashes of skill that should only be more radiant as he builds chemistry with his teammates.
Nashville played aggressive long balls and displayed a positive mentality that tested Atlanta’s defense at times and showed why Nashville may be a handful for USL teams this season.
Ramone Howell played a speculative shot from distance that landed just atop the goal. Mensah struck another chance high before breaking through later in the second period. And even when Nashville didn’t muster a shot, it showed enough connection to give fans something to anticipate as rapport develops.
5-3-2 or 3-5-2?
Smith made no secret of his plan to play a five-man back line with two aggressive players on the defensive wing. But those two defenders came forward so often that by the end of the match, Smith was calling the formation a 3-5-2.
The formation — whatever you want to call it — allows for a fair degree of versatility. Against offensive juggernauts, Nashville can sit back with five defenders. More often, though, they can be expected to use the defenders on the wing to press play forward and punish opponents for mistakes.
Smith said after the match that he was impressed with four or five reserves who saw time in the second half. He singled out Tucker Hume, suggesting that the 6-foot-5 striker may push Michael Cox and Robin Shroot — and ultimately Mensah — for playing time.
“Hume was a real handful, not just in the air, which we would expect because he’s a giant, but his technique was very good and he uses his body well,” Smith said.
We believe Smith also may have been referring to Winn among that list of players, whom he called “extremely talented” Friday when we asked him about the recent addition on the left wing. Winn looked confident along the left flank and has the speed and savvy to make an impact in the attack.