LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Nashville SC opened its USL era with a 2-0 defeat at defending USL Cup champion Louisville City FC Saturday.
Second-half goals by Louisville’s Luke Spencer and Niall McCabe were enough for the Bourbon Boys to fend off Nashville and spoil the team’s inaugural league match, which Lou City dominated in the second half after a tight first stanza.
Louisville forward Luke Spencer opened the scoring by heading a cross off the post and past Nashville goalie Matt Pickens in the 56th minute. The tally from Louisville’s 2017 leading scorer capped a dominant run of play from Lou City, which controlled play early in the second half after a relatively even first 45 minutes.
Ten minutes later, Oscar Jimenez found space along the right flank and carried the ball nearly to the touchline, then whipped in a beautiful cross onto the foot of McCabe, who delivered a simple finish to seal the win.
Nashville managed only two shots on target in the loss, a 49th-minute Lebo Moloto effort from distance and a Tucker Hume header off a Justin Davis corner kick in the 90th minute. Moloto was Nashville’s most active player, driving a couple other attempts high of goal and opening up the Louisville defense on occasion.
Louisville outshot Nashville 12-8 (4-2 on target), although the teams were even in possession.
Louisville controlled the match early, dictating possession and establishing its up-tempo attack but failing to find the net. That failure was due in part to the heroics of Nashville keeper Matt Pickens, who made the team’s first-ever save in the 10th minute, when a dangerous free kick found the head of Luke Spencer and the veteran keeper threw himself in front of the ball.
The Boys in Gold recovered from the assertive Louisville start and started generating threats of their own. Nashville’s first-ever shot came in the 25th minute, when Kosuke Kimura slipped past his defender on the right flank and sent a cross into the box. Ryan James’ head connected with the ball but flicked it just high.
The half ended scoreless without a Nashville shot on target, although the Boys in Gold efforted three shots that missed the net. Louisville had two shots on goal and five total shots in the first half.
Nashville’s first corner was the result of a Lebo Moloto run. The attacking midfielder was tackled along the right flank as he turned left to work his way into the box. Louisville cleared the ensuing effort across the side touchline.
Nashville earned its first-ever scoring chance when it won a free kick 30 yards out, but Louisville turned away the opportunity. Two minutes later, the Bourbon Boys threatened when a through ball found an open man inside the box, but he was ruled offside.
NSC’s lone booking of the match came against Matt LaGrassa after a hard foul in the 79th minute that left Louisville’s Kyle Smith reeling on the pitch. Two minutes later Spencer earned a Louisville yellow card after physical play inside the Nashville box.
Next up for the Boys in Gold: the home opener March 24 at Nissan Stadium against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Nashville has sold more than 15,000 tickets to the match through its Drive to Nissan campaign.
Nashville’s starting lineup largely reflected the group Gary Smith favored in preseason — a veteran bunch that earned the majority of first-team minutes during the squad’s seven friendlies.
- G: Matt Pickens
- D: Ryan James, Justin Davis, Liam Doyle, London Woodberry, Kosuke Kimura
- M: Michael Reed, Matt LaGrassa, Lebo Moloto
- F: Robin Shroot, Michael Cox
Smith’s choice of reserves revealed an ambitious strategy, as he employed three attackers in the group of seven.
- F: Tucker Hume, Ropapa Mensah
- F/M: Alan Winn
- M: Bolu Akinyode
- D: Taylor Washington, Bradley Bourgeois
- G: C.J. Cochran
Three subs entered the match for Nashville: Tucker Hume (59th minute), Ropapa Mensah (74th) and Taylor Washington (85th).
The match was the first of three regular-season meetings between the squads. The teams will renew their rivalry in Nashville May 13, then return to Louisville for an August 18 showdown.
Nashville was 3-1-1 this preseason and drew its two matches against USL sides, a 1-1 deadlock against Ottawa Fury and a 2-2 stalemate at FC Cincinnati. Louisville was unbeaten in four matches, although three were against college sides.
Louisville took more shots than any other USL team last year and finished second in the league in goals scored. Nobody had more clean sheets on the defensive end.
Louisville won the USL Cup title in 2017, defeating Swope Park Rangers 1-0 at home to take the title in its third season.