Nashville SC Still Searching for the Right Offensive Combination

Ropapa Mensah celebrates after scoring Nashville SC's first goal against Atlanta United in a preseason match at First Tennessee Park.

Ropapa Mensah celebrates after scoring Nashville SC’s first goal against Atlanta United in a preseason match at First Tennessee Park. / Courtesy Nashville SC

Nashville SC has the unfortunate honor of being the only team in the USL without a goal after two games this season. There are two other teams out of the 33-team league yet to put the ball in the back of the net, but Pittsburgh and Penn FC and have only played just once.

“I think scoring a goal in general is the toughest part of soccer,” said Nashville Head Coach Gary Smith after the 0-0 draw against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Saturday. “Groups can be set up to be destructive, and disrupt play, but scoring goals and being creative are very, very difficult.”

Nashville’s been unlucky facing two opponents, Louisville City FC and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, who were extremely well organized on defense. Louisville City kept the most clean sheets last season (15) and Bob Lilley set Pittsburgh up to stifle Nashville’s offense.

With that being said, The Boys in Gold need to find a way to generate more quality scoring chances. Nashville’s 14 total shots rank near the bottom of the league.

Kharlton Belmar has more goals for the Swope Park Rangers (4) than Nashville’s forwards have shots on goal. Out of Michael Cox, Robin Shroot, Ropapa Mensah and Tucker Hume, Hume is the only forward to put a shot on target. Lebo Moloto leads the team and the league with eight total shots, but only three have been on target.

Smith is still searching for the right starting combination up top and admits it is taking time for his attacking players to get on the same page.

Making the Case for Mensah to Start

Mensah might be young, but the 20-year-old striker knows how to score goals in the USL. He racked up seven goals in 19 appearances for a bad Harrisburg City Islanders (now Penn FC) last season.

Smith should insert him into the starting lineup instead of using him as a substitute. When Mensah’s been on the field, Nashville’s attack has been its most dynamic.

After coming on in the 57th minute for Shroot against Pittsburgh, Mensah’s pace and bold attacking style put the Hounds’ defense in dangerous positions. He was a disruptive force, using his speed and strength to stretch the field. Mensah’s average position was the highest on the pitch out of any other Nashville player.

“He’s got that raw, no-fear approach to the game,” Smith said of Mensah after the game. “Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out. But there were moments – it wasn’t certainly for lack of effort or determination.”

The 20-year-old striker demonstrated his fearlessness when he crashed into Pittsburgh’s goalkeeper knocking Dan Lynd to ground and drawing a yellow card. Mensah didn’t give up on any chance to break free and was close to beating Pittsburgh’s defense on a few occasions.

Mensah’s effect on Nashville’s offense can be seen in one single stat – shots inside Pittsburgh’s penalty box. After not having a single shot from close range, Nashville took five shots from inside the box in the second half.

Mensah’s best effort was a cutback pass inside the box to a trailing Moloto who fired a shot that was deflected high in the 78th minute.

If Mensah starts against Bethlehem Steel next Saturday, he can help Nashville set the attacking tone from the first whistle instead of trying find some magic in the waning minutes.

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