CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — In a battle between former rivals sponsored by competing automakers, Nashville SC drove its way to a straightforward win Saturday in Chattanooga.
The Boys in Gold overcame a lackluster start and steamrolled Chattanooga FC in their final friendly, riding three first-half goals to a 3-1 win over the NPSL side.
While the team suffered spells of sloppy play in both halves, its superior skill paved the way for a win against an outmatched opponent.
First-half goals by Matt LaGrassa, Ropapa Mensah and Tucker Hume put the match out of reach and enabled the team to cruise for the final 45 minutes of the preseason and capping a six-match unbeaten streak. Chattanooga added a second-half goal, but the fourth-division squad never seriously threatened the Boys in Gold.
After going 3-1-3 in preseason play, Nashville now prepares to open its inaugural USL campaign with a trip next week to titleholders Louisville City.
Following a sloppy start, Nashville SC opened the scoring on a penalty kick by Matt LaGrassa in the 20th minute. The Tri-Stars earned the PK after Chattanooga committed a handball in the box when Bolu Akinyode attempted to head home the team’s first corner kick. The goal was LaGrassa’s second in as many matches after he scored against FC Cincinnati last week.
Ten minutes later, Ropapa Mensah pounced on a poor giveaway by the Chattanooga center back and beat the keeper, slotting home a leisurely shot to give Nashville a 2-0 lead.
Hume added to the scoring just before halftime, dancing himself free inside the box and hammering a shot into the net in the 45th minute for his first preseason goal.
Chattanooga opened its account following an ugly giveaway by Nashville’s back line in the 59th minute. C.J. Cochran had little chance on a shot by Spanish midfielder Juan Hernandez, a club veteran who was celebrating his birthday Saturday.
The first half began inauspiciously for Nashville. Chattanooga seriously threatened on goal twice in the first seven minutes, sending a shot off the crossbar and forcing a trio of clearances off the line in a flurry of action soon thereafter. The Boys in Gold struggled to build possession early and fell victim to confident counterattacks from the NPSL side.
Matt LaGrassa finally took Nashville’s first shot 15 minutes into the match, clanging a driving ball off the field goal crossbar just above goal.
The scoring chance marked a shift in mentality for the Boys in Gold. They began to assert themselves in possession and played with more confidence, overcoming their early lack of chemistry.
Gary Smith’s squad got off to a smooth start in the second half, nearly going up four goals on a Taylor Washington shot that was skillfully saved by the keeper. The early chance gave way to a scrappy comeback effort by CFC that resulted in the 59th-minute goal but nothing more.
Nashville employed a blend of likely starters and reserves in its starting XI. Matt Pickens opened the match in goal. Ryan James and Taylor Washington started at fullback, while Bradley Bourgeois, London Woodberry and Liam Doyle opened at center back.
Bolu Akinyode and Matt LaGrassa got the start in the defensive midfield, and Alan Winn took Lebo Moloto’s usual place at the No. 10 role.
Tucker Hume and Ropapa Mensah enjoyed a productive first half up top.
Nashville made a slew of substitutions to open the second stanza. C.J. Cochran came on for Pickens in net, Justin Davis and Kosuke Kimura entered along the back line, Michael Reed replaced Matt LaGrassa in midfield and Lebo Moloto came on in the attacking midfield.
Robin Shroot, Michael Cox and Josh Hughes entered in the 62nd minute, replacing Alan Winn, Ropapa Mensah and Bolu Akinyode.
Chattanooga started a motley mix of roster members and local college players. The NPSL season doesn’t start until May, and the fourth-tier team does not have an active roster yet. Chattanooga drew with FC Dallas 1-1 on Feb. 3 in an early preseason match for the MLS squad.