Two things were plural Thursday at Lipscomb University. One should have been, the other not.
Nashville scored multiple goals. This should be expected from a USL squad against a college team, even when the former employs a group of reserves. The 2-0 win allowed those subs to battle for coach Gary Smith’s respect, and a number of them succeeded in that quest.
But then there’s that blasted school nickname: “Bisons.” As a graduate of the Belmont MBA program and three-time alum of the Rick Byrd Basketball Camp, it has always confounded me that the school three miles down Belmont Boulevard chose a grammatically incorrect moniker. Oh deers.
We’ll save that second topic for another discussion and focus on soccer, because that’s what we’re paid to do [paid exclusively in friendship, the rarest currency on the internet]. If you want more info about why Lipscomb deviated from grammatical norms, here’s some light reading.
Reservation for 11
With a battle against FC Cincinnati looming two days later, we guessed Gary Smith would use the Lipscomb match as a test for his reserves. We were right.
“The evening was all about making sure some of the younger players got some good minutes and good competition,” Smith said after the match. “It was trying to build some relationships.”
Ropapa Mensah and Alan Winn started up top. Martim Galvao, Bolu Akinyode and Ramone Howell patrolled midfield with trialist and Lipscomb alum Ivan Alvarado.
DeGraffenreidt, McGrath and Washington manned the back line alongside a trialist, and third-choice keeper Micah Bledsoe played in goal.
Fresh Forward Tandem
In particular, Smith wanted to measure chemistry between Winn and Mensah, who started together up top for the first time. Both are seen as competitors for starting spots, but other than connecting on Nashville SC’s first-ever goal against Atlanta United, the two had seen limited time next to each other.
“Alan and Ropapa have not played together before out front, so I wanted to see what that looked like,” Smith said. “Quite pleased with the way their movement took them into good areas and stretched out the game.”
Smith emphasized how much Winn has impressed him since the MLS SuperDraft pick joined the team the week before the preseason opener.
“Alan is a very nice late inclusion to the group,” said Smith. “He’s very versatile, he runs with the ball well, he’s got a bright, inventive mind and you’ve seen he’s also got an eye for goal.”
Winn has two goals this preseason — a PK against Ottawa and a tally against Orlando City SC. Against Lipscomb he was our first-half man of the match due to his disruption of Lipscomb’s defense. He blew by defenders with his speed and showed creativity in helping set up counterparts on front of goal. He also took corner kicks and looked comfortable on that role.
He should have scored a goal of his own last night. He dribbled past a defender and in on goal late in the first half, but the referee whistled a foul on what we deemed to be 50-50 contact with the defender.
Mensah came up short on some opportunities and didn’t seriously threaten to score, but he showed enough raw athleticism to prove why he’ll factor in the battle for playing time this year.
After 45 minutes, Martim Galvao stood out to us…and not in a good way.
He looked hesitant and a step slow. The Portugal native gave the ball away awkwardly a few times, delayed a shot attempt just long enough for a defender to converge, and didn’t look comfortable on the right side.
In the second half, he awoke.
The staff moved him to central midfield and he looked much sharper. He was just as active but more effective, connecting with teammates and ultimately sourcing both goals.
“He played on the right-hand side to begin with, purely because I thought the shape might help him get in the game and be a little bit more creative,” Smith said. “But when he moved inside, he looked a lot more comfortable.”
Galvao’s assist was simple but tasty. He lobbed a free kick from just outside the right side of the box, connecting perfectly with Ian McGrath’s head and putting the keeper in an impossible position. Here’s a good look at the play, courtesy of Nashville SC.
His goal 25 minutes later was just as straightforward, but he made the most of his opportunity. After a bad Lipscomb giveaway, Galvao found a hole in the defense outside the area, waited for the ball and calmly ripped a right-footed shot into the left side of the net.
Smith was pleased to see the young former PDL star unleash his skill.
“He’s taken a lot on board in the last month or so. He’s trying extremely hard to link up with others and to make the right choices, but what I or anyone else doesn’t want to do is take away that individualism,” Smith said. “He is very exciting when he can run at players. He’s got a nice eye for goal, he’s very creative, and slowly but surely he’s fitting into the group very well.”
Going the Full 90
Every Nashville player went 90 minutes except for a trio of trialists. It’s all part of Smith’s conditioning ramp-up process.
“All the young guys now have played 90 minutes, and at the weekend I’ll be looking to try and stretch out those other guys,” said Smith. “I think they’re in a very good physical place.”
Third-choice goalkeeper Micah Bledsoe earned the start against his alma mater, where he’d started all four seasons. He made one last-gasp save after an awkward back pass set the Bisons free, intercepted a couple corners and crosses, and positioned himself well. He contributed to a couple giveaways, but we were generally pleased with his play.
Smith had positive reviews for Bledsoe, who served as Louisville City’s third-string keeper last year.
“I thought he did ever so well in terms of his shot stopping in the first half and his ability to keep the ball out of the back of the net,” Smith said. “There were one or two areas with his distribution with his feet that can certainly be improved.”
“I feel like I made a couple good saves,” Bledsoe said. “I’d like to clean up the distribution a little bit – a couple misplaced passes — but that’ll just come with work.”
While the former Bison recognizes he may not earn optimal playing time this season thanks to the pedigree of Matt Pickens and C.J. Cochran, he appreciates the opportunity to learn from their experience.
“It’s great training with them because you pick up things by watching them train,” said Bledsoe. “We all help each other out, so it’s a great experience. We all push each other.”
“He’s got two extremely talented and experienced goalkeepers in front of him, and he knows that he can only get better in this environment,” Smith said. “[It is] likely that those guys two guys are gonna take the brunt of the games, but he needs to be ready. That’s why he’s here.”
Was it strange for Bledsoe to face his former team on his former field? A bit, said the keeper.
“It’s a little weird, but as soon as the game kicks off you forget about it pretty quickly,” Bledsoe said. “I’ve played with those guys and trained with them. They come at you in training, so it’s kind of the same thing. It was a little interesting, a little surreal.”
Florida Trip Recap
Thursday was our first chance to catch up with Smith after Nashville’s successful trip to Florida, during which the Boys in Gold went 1-0-2 against Chicago Fire, Ottawa Fury and Orlando City. Smith said the excursion was beneficial on and off the field.
“It was an absolutely wonderful trip for numerous reasons,” said Smith. “The competition was great. We had a couple events in the evenings that were nice socially, as well.”
He commented candidly on each match the team played in Florida.
Chicago [0-0 draw]: “I thought we, with a more senior group for about 60 minutes, played ever so well throughout. The young lads, when they came on and ran into a very experienced group, I thought showed very, very well.”
Ottawa [1-1 draw]: “The younger group started and acquitted themselves extremely well against…an experienced Ottawa team. It was also nice to see our first USL group. And then the senior group came on and, in fairness, dominated the game but couldn’t score. So we had other challenges. They sat very deep, and that’s something else we need to try and look at and work teams out.”
Orlando [3-1 win in a closed friendly]: “The Orlando game was the toughest game, and it was a real shame we weren’t able to show footage of that. They had a very strong side out. The more experienced senior group played 70 minutes, and after going a goal down – and we were completely dominated for the first 10-or-12 minutes, they played very well and went 1-0 up – the recovery and the mindset and determination to get back in the game, and then going on and winning was great.”
Looking Ahead to Cincy
We’ll have a more detailed FC Cincinnati preview soon. We can expect a cast of starters to take the field against Cincy, and we can expect most of them to play 90 minutes. In our preview we’ll include a projected starting XI and some interesting Gary Smith quotes about the match.
Man of the Match
It has to be Martim Galvao, although we wouldn’t have imagined that after the first half. Galvao settled in during the final 45 and played much better, but much of the attack ran through him all match. We were pleased to see Galvao receive the opportunity to be a focal point, and we think he will eventually contribute to this team as he adjusts to the speed of the second tier.
As for the other guys, take a look at these player ratings from our friends at Speedway Soccer Pod.