Halftime: Nashville starts on the front foot, but Atlanta rallies in scoreless half

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On a waterlogged pitch in front of a sellout crowd of soaked supporters, Nashville SC made its long-awaited debut Saturday against MLS powerhouse Atlanta United. At halftime, the sides are locked in a scoreless draw with only one total shot on target.

The teams traded longballs early as they grew acclimated to each other and the soaked field. Neither team mustered a shot until Darlington Nagbe clanged a screamer off the left post in the 14th minute after a clever cross from Ezequiel Barco.

Credit Nashville for not being intimidated by its top-tier opponent: The Boys in Gold implemented a pressing defense that made life challenging for the Five Stripes early in the contest. The approach put Nashville on the front foot for the first 20 minutes before Atlanta asserted itself.

At that point, though, the men in red began to show their MLS class. Nagbe nearly volleyed home a Miguel Almiron corner kick in the 30th minute, then Barco dragged a shot just wide of goal after an incisive run in the 31st.

Ultimately, though, there was only one shot on target in the initial stanza: A tough-angle effort by United striker Josef Martinez that bashed the chest of Matt Pickens.

Nashville’s biggest first-half threats came from a pair of free kicks in Atlanta’s final third. One was handled easily by Guzan before it found the head of a teammate, and the other deflected off the back of a Nashville head and left the danger area.

Halftime Stats

SHOTS — ATL 7, NSC 2
CORNERS — ATL 3, NSC 0
SAVES — ATL 0, NSC 1
FOULS — ATL 9, NSC 10

Before the match, the team’s reserves revealed gold home jerseys, the result of a vote by season ticket holders.

The match marked the first time the two cities met on a soccer pitch since 2001, when the Nashville Metros edged the Atlanta Silverbacks 1-0 in the last of four meetings during that campaign. Following the 2001 season, the Metros dropped to U.S. soccer’s fourth tier and never re-emerged.

Now, Music City has a team in the second division once again, with eyes toward the future and an MLS debut that will likely take place in 2020.

Next up for Nashville will be a trio of games in Florida, two of them against MLS teams. The Boys in Gold take on Chicago and Ottawa on Feb. 21 and 23, respectively, at IMG Academy in Bradenton. They conclude their Sunshine State tour with a date against Orlando City SC Feb. 25.

In all, Nashville will play seven preseason friendlies before opening the season at USL Cup holders Louisville SC on March 17.

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