NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nashville Soccer Club played to a scoreless draw in its home debut against Pittsburgh Saturday at Nissan Stadium, surviving a second-half Riverhounds onslaught and missing a pair of late chances to earn its first point in the team’s USL era.
Nashville goalie Matt Pickens made two second-half saves and a 79th-minute Lebo Moloto shot was cleared off the line to keep both sides off the scoreboard in the Boys in Gold’s second match of the 2018 season.
“We want to win,” said Nashville SC Coach Gary Smith. “We believe we are better than we’ve shown with the ball. [Pittsburgh] showed a lot of determination, and in general it was a really even game.”
Moloto managed Nashville’s only two shots on target — and took five of Nashville’s six shots — in a match Pittsburgh dominated for most of the second half after Nashville was on the front foot for much of the first. Pittsburgh outshot the Boys in Gold 10-4 in the second stanza and nearly evened up a possession battle that went Nashville’s way 56 to 44 percent in the first 45 minutes.
“I’d like to have said that we were able to break a good defensive unit in the first period, but that wasn’t the case,” said Smith. “In the second period as the game opened up more, sights of goal were at a real premium.”
The team was unable to break the record for a first-year USL team’s home opener, welcoming 18,922 to Nissan Stadium. Sacramento set the previous record of 20,231 in 2014. Nonetheless, coaches and players were pleased with the turnout.
“It was brilliant,” Pickens said of the fan support. “It was what we like to see as professionals. In a way, we feel like we let them down a little bit not giving them three points. You want to play for people that care.”
“I thought the support was terrific,” said Smith. “I’ve said all along that there needs to be a relationship built between the players and fans. Today went a long way toward that.”
Nashville opened the match on the front foot, but the Boys in Gold didn’t muster a shot until the 40th minute, when Lebo Moloto rocketed a right-footed shot into the arms of Riverhounds keeper Dan Lynd.
Although Nashville carried the bulk of the possession in the game’s early minutes, Pittsburgh dominated the shot count. The Hounds took five first-half shots, but none were on frame. The closest effort came from Pittsburgh midfielder Joe Holland, who screamed a shot toward Nashville goalie Matt Pickens in the 39th minute, only to see the ball glance off the back of a teammate and deflect wide of goal.
Pittsburgh threatened three times in the first eight minutes of the second half. Romeo Parkes drove a shot from outside the area high of goal in the 49th minute, then forced a superb Matt Pickens save — his first of the match — in the 53rd. In between those opportunities, Christiano Francois hit the right post with a shot inside the box.
Those chances came during a dominant stretch that saw Pittsburgh take the first seven shots of the second half, two of which were on target. The spurt drew the ire of Pickens, who yelled repeatedly at his teammates to improve their play.
“I don’t like to do that too much, but when I start to see [the other team] start to take over, there needs to be a little bit of a punch,” Pickens said.
The saves — and Pickens’ coaching — enabled Nashville to rally late. The squad recovered in time to generate chances of its own late in the match.
“Whenever I need to get the tables turning in our direction, I try to do whatever I can do,” Pickens said. “We withstood that [Pittsburgh onslaught], and that gave us a little bit of a platform to go and have our own attack.”
Moloto and reserve forward Ropapa Mensah combined to force a corner kick in the 78th minute when Mensah slid a pass to the midfielder, whose shot deflected off a Pittsburgh foot and went high.
On the ensuing corner kick, Moloto attempted a scissor kick which a Pittsburgh defender cleared just in front of goal.
“I seriously thought it was going in,” Moloto said. “It would’ve been nice if it would’ve went in. We would have been talking about something else right now.”
Two minutes later, Moloto scuffed a shot on another corner kick and sent it harmlessly across the goal line.
“Scoring a goal is the toughest part of soccer,” Smith said of the missed chances in the final third. “We have extremely talented players that play on that front line. To get them on the same page and have them feed off each other in vital moments is going to take a little bit of time.”
Next, Nashville travels to Pennsylvania for a showdown with Bethlehem Steel, which finished eighth in the Eastern Conference last season and lost to Louisville in the first round of the playoffs. Bethlehem won its opener 4-1 against Richmond and lost at Tampa Bay 2-0 Saturday.
The Boys in Gold return home to play Charlotte at First Tennessee Park the following Saturday, April 7.
“This is a work in progress,” said Pickens. “We have a good foundation, and we’re trying to create that identity game by game.”
The match was Nashville’s first home league match after the Boys in Gold opened the season in Louisville, falling 2-0 to the defending league champion, Louisville City FC. It is one of two games the team will play at Nissan Stadium rather than its typical home venue, First Tennessee Park.
Smith made two changes to his starting XI, one of which was necessitated by injury. Bradley Bourgeois entered at right center back for London Woodberry, who will miss time with a hurt knee. Tucker Hume entered in favor of Michael Cox at forward as Smith seeks to establish chemistry in his team’s attack.
- G: Matt Pickens
- D: Justin Davis, Liam Doyle, Bradley Bourgeois, Kosuke Kimura
- M:Ryan James, Michael Reed, Lebo Moloto, Matt LaGrassa
- F: Tucker Hume, Robin Shroot
- Reserves: C.J. Cochran, Josh Hughes, Taylor Washington, Bolu Akinyode, Alan Winn, Ropapa Mensah, Michael Cox
Moloto and Washington faced their former club Saturday. Moloto scored seven goals and notched eight assists in his two years in Pittsburgh, and Washington played the third-most minutes on the team last year, participating in 30 matches for the Hounds.