The Boys in Gold might as well have been driving a red truck with sirens yesterday in Florida, because they doused the Fire.
Nashville SC held Chicago scoreless despite a late push by the MLS side, when its starters faced Nashville’s reserves. While Gary Smith’s squad didn’t score any goals of its own, the result was enough to continue the team’s encouraging preseason form.
Here are five observations we had from Wednesday’s scoreless draw on a puddle-free pitch. Read to the bottom of the piece for our man of the match.
Wednesday’s match offered our second opportunity to watch five Nashville forwards jockey for playing time, and each member of the squad showed promise as they battle for starting roles come March.
Robin Shroot doesn’t blow anyone away with his size or speed, but he is going to be pesky to pry away from the starting lineup. The Northern Irishman participated in several first-half scoring threats, sending a shot on target and robbing the keeper of the ball twice inside the area.
Cox started up top alongside Shroot and didn’t make a great deal of noise other than a tepid on-target header he wasn’t able to hit with much force. He didn’t make any pivotal mistakes but looks to be more of a possession forward rather than an incisive striker.
Ropapa Mensah and Tucker Hume entered in the 60th minute and each showed moments of positivity. Mensah nearly won the game for Nashville in the 71st minute, converging on a Hume rebound and pounding the ball straight into the keeper. Hume earned our praise on that play, too, taking a nifty pass from Alan Winn and showing assertiveness with his shot, which was blocked.
We’ll lump Winn into the starting forward conversation, too, even though he plays a hybrid midfield-forward role. Winn will be kicking himself after his near miss in the 75th, when he squandered what was essentially an empty net with an awkward, thundering finish that went 10 feet above the net. It’s a shot he’ll need to make if he wants to play consistent minutes up top for Nashville.
Starters and Subs
We only saw one change in the starting XI from the Atlanta match. Liam Doyle took Bradley Bourgeois’s place and played at center back, shifting London Woodberry to right fullback in Nashville’s 3-5-2 alignment.
Every field starter but one — a very-much-in-form Kosuke Kimura — played 60 minutes. Taylor Washington entered for Kosuke to start the second half, and Gary Smith moved Ryan James to the other side of the pitch to accommodate the change. What do we take from that? First, Kimura is a proven quantity and likely doesn’t need significant preseason minutes for the staff to know how he’ll perform. Second, we think Washington and James are in a tight battle for playing time on the defensive wing and that both will see plenty of action in 2018.
Matt Pickens has not allowed a goal in 90 minutes of preseason action against two MLS sides. That’s partially due to solid defense in front of him, but it can also be attributed to his understanding of where he — and his back line — need to be at any given time. A tricky crosswind created difficulty on a handful of corner kicks, but Pickens confidently stepped up and fielded the ball rather than letting it find an opposing head.
The defense in front of the veteran looked organized during his time in the match. Pickens — like many goalies — is vocal and unafraid to point his defenders in the right direction. The result: a Nashville team we think will be tough to break down this year.
Speaking of keepers, C.J. Cochran showed why Gary Smith calls him a first-choice keeper in his own right, redeeming himself from a lackluster outing against Atlanta. The former OKC Energy goalie laid out to make two game-preserving saves late in the match. If Nashville needs — or chooses — to rotate keepers this year, we aren’t sure the dropoff will be significant.
Gary Smith will not be fazed by a single opponent this year, if his tactical choices against two MLS sides are any indication. Kimura and James played far up the pitch rather than reverting to defensive roles, and Nashville employed a pressing scheme that forced Chicago into awkward long passes rather than spells of sustained possession.
Bastian Schweinsteiger made mincemeat out of the Music City midfield on a couple occasions, but he’s a world-class top-flight veteran. We suspect Nashville will be difficult for USL sides to break down — and probably pretty miserable to play against.
Who Will Finish?
Who will display the killer instinct Nashville will need in the final third? In match one, Ropapa Mensah delivered. But against Chicago, nobody could slot home a game-winner despite some appetizing chances. Mensah struck the keeper with a solid effort; Winn missed a sitter; Shroot beat the keeper twice but couldn’t navigate past the last-gasp defense.
It’s unfair to make much of a few squandered chances in February against an MLS side, but let’s keep a close eye out for who on this team will display an incisive final touch. Chances are they’ll win lots of minutes…and even more praise from the fans and coaches.
The draw against Chicago was not a memorable affair, even though it provided Nashville with its first-ever clean sheet. Still, Gary Smith should double down on the encouragement he felt after the friendly with Atlanta United nearly two weeks ago. His side outclassed an MLS outfit, even when its reserves faced Chicago’s starters. The match may have been a tie, but that’s a win.
Man of the Match
Robin Shroot. Shroot annoyed the Chicago defense for much of the first half. He pressured and plundered the keeper, played all over the final third and contributed to three scoring chances. In a match where nobody delivered a sterling performance, Shroot provided some signs of things to come. He edges Kosuke Kimura and C.J. Cochran for top honors.
Nashville finally gets to play someone in its own league. The Boys in Gold take on Ottawa Fury FC Friday at 2 p.m. Central.