Nashville SC earns frenetic draw against hard-charging Red Bulls, 1-1

HARRISON, N.J. — Nashville SC needed every ounce of the energy it saved up during an 11-day hiatus to earn a 1-1 draw against New York Red Bulls II Sunday.

The Boys in Gold (2-2-3) survived a New York onslaught late in the first half, then squandered a spell of superior second-half play to settle for a hard-earned point.

On a day marked by missed chances, Ropapa Mensah’s third goal of the season put coach Gary Smith’s squad out front on the seventh minute. The MLS reserve squad (3-1-5) equalized 20 minutes later courtesy of Vincent Bezecourt, who found himself alone in the penalty area to tie the score and craft the final result.

The final 63 minutes witnessed a frenzy of scoring chances and several near misses for a Nashville squad that is now winless in its last three matches despite mustering a point in its last two contests. Lebo Moloto found himself past New York keeper Evan Louro twice, but one shot was saved off the line and the other breakaway was denied by a chasing New York defender.

In the 90th minute, missed shots by Moloto (just off the side netting) and Bolu Akinyode (a header saved by Louro) denied Nashville the full three points.

Mensah’s early goal came off a New York miscue in the seventh minute. Two Red Bulls center backs miscommunicated on an innocuous bouncing ball near midfield, and the Ghanaian stole possession and found himself in on goal. He calmly slid his shot past the keeper for his team-leading third goal of the year.

The Red Bulls responded with a series of dangerous attacks that came ever closer to paydirt, culminating in Bezecourt’s goal in the 27th minute. The midfielder found himself alone inside the front right corner of the Nashville penalty area and firmly placed his shot to the right of Pickens, who had no real shot at corralling the ball before it found the corner of the net.

The goal ended a 219-minute scoreless spell for New York, which averages four goals per home game but was rendered scoreless in its most recent road matches against Toronto and Ottawa.

After a relatively even start to the match, New York controlled possession for the second portion of the first half. The Red Bulls tallied five of the next six shots, including Bezecourt’s equalizer. After the teams possessed the ball equally during the first ten minutes, RBII led the possession stat 60 percent to 40 percent at the halftime whistle.

But Nashville managed two more strong chances before the halftime whistle. Mensah capitalized on a counterattack and crept into the penalty area in the 38th minute, but his shot was saved by Louro. Six minutes later, Ropapa notched a bicycle kick across the goal line but it was negated by an offside call.

The Boys in Gold were the better side for the final 45 minutes. They controlled possession, outshot New York 9-7 and passed the ball more accurately than in the first 45; after a passing accuracy of 66 percent in the first half, Nashville ended the match at a 72 percent clip. New York did not put a shot in target in the second half; Nashville had three shots on frame.

Nashville’s first on-target shot of the second half came when Mensah headed a free kick onto the outstretched hands of Louro in the 65th minute, Nashville’s most dangerous chance of the second stanza to date.

The pressure resulted in another chance in the 80th minute. Matt LaGrassa notched a pass to Lebo Moloto just inside the area, and the midfielder tiptoed deftly past the defense but could not square his shot, hitting the side netting.

But Moloto’s miss in the 89th minute will perhaps be the biggest point of discussion during the seven days before Nashville’s next match. Taylor Washington collected an incisive through ball from Michael Cox and slid a pass past the keeper and onto the foot of the surging Moloto, who immediately struck the ball. But a desperate Hassan Ndam deflected the shot just before the ball could enter the front corner of the net, preserving the draw.

The match ended an 11-day layoff for Nashville, which had only played one match — a scoreless draw at Penn FC — since April 14. The 36-day, three match road swing is the team’s longest stretch away from home this season.

Nashville returns to Music City next week for its first home match since early April, a Mothers’ Day date with Louisville City. The Bourbon Boys got the better of the Boys in Gold in the team’s inaugural USL match, a 2-0 result in Louisville on March 17.

RBII had the league’s most active offense coming into the weekend. The reserve squad led the USL in goals (15) and shots (132, an average of 16.5 per contest).

While Red Bulls II has created numerous opportunities in the final third this season, it has done so in spite of inconsistent linkage. It came into the match tied for third-worst in the league in passing accuracy.

Smith only made one change to the starting XI, inserting Alan Winn after the attacking player missed the Penn FC match due to a minor injury. Robin Shroot gave way for the rookie but was still among the reserves.

G: Matt Pickens

D: Justin Davis, David Edgar, Bradley Bourgeois, Kosuke Kimura

M: Taylor Washington, Michael Reed, Bolu Akinyode, Lebo Moloto

F: Alan Winn, Ropapa Mensah

Reserves: C.J. Cochran, Liam Doyle, Matt LaGrassa, Ryan James, Robin Shroot, Tucker Hume, Michael Cox

Substitutions: Doyle for Edgar (52′), LaGrassa for Winn (63′), Cox for Mensah (74′)

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