Opening night a memorable one for Nashville SC for many reasons, but not for the result

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Nashville soccer fans who’ve followed the pro soccer movement since it was a tiny seed to those who watched their first match Saturday night left Music City’s inaugural MLS game pondering the same three moments after a tough-to-take 2-1 loss to Atlanta FC.
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  1. A brilliant goal by the visitor’s Emerson Hyndman made possible after a confusing sequence where a teammate was clearly offsides. (Explanation below.)
  2. David Accam’s slide that couldn’t quite reach Dominique Badji excellent cross from the left side early in the second half.
  3. Randall Leal hitting the left post from close range after a smooth move beat Laurence Wyke left him with space to beat Brad Guzan to the near side.

“As the game wore on, I felt we warmed to the challenge and really gave a pretty decent account of ourselves,” coach Gary Smith said. [Unlocked]

A defensive team gave up two goals on two shots, which isn’t good enough. The team found a Walker Zimmerman goal out of a direct kick and had those two near-misses. But Atlanta didn’t seem particularly worried as Nashville gained more possession later in the game, because breakthroughs were rare.

Playing in front of a Nashville soccer record crowd of 59,069 a better result was certainly possible. And the opening opponent was a tough draw. Atlanta FC finished second in the 2019 MLS table and was a playoff semifinalist in 2019, a year after lifting the MLS Cup.NSCGoldGuy

On its last chance to pull even with Atlanta, Nashville SC’s Dax McCarty and Alan Winn knocked the ball back and forth outside the box on the right side, probing and patient.

They waited for a chance to attack and, after several exchanges in front of Eric Remedi, Winn made his move, putting the ball between the approaching Hyndman’s legs, sliding around him and moving into space near the touchline where he promptly… hit his attempted cross harmlessly into the recovering Hyndman.

Smith saw several moments where a better choice could have meant a draw and a point.

“Alan’s final moment being one of the biggest examples of that,” he said. “He does extremely well to get himself to the dead ball line and then the final ball really isn’t good enough at that point in the game.”

Too often, the team lacked offensive verve in the final third and on the rare occasion where it found a bit, it didn’t turn into anything.

I found center midfielder Hany Mukhtar particularly disappointing. He saw a lot of the ball as he should. He served the ball Zimmerman scored on and he connected on 85 percent of his passes. But at his position he needs to facilitate chances and he didn’t. He also took three unthreatening shots, one from a prayerful distance.

“I think we got ourselves in some really promising positions and had some really good opportunities to get our dangerous attacking players in one v. one positions create some chances and try to get some shots on goal,” McCarty said. “I think we didn’t test Guzan enough. And then I think when we got the ball in some promising positions maybe out wide, maybe our service was lacking in key moments.

“We talked about that. We’re going to have to get better and we’re going to have to get sharper.”

At opening-night sharpness, Nashville saw its U.S. national team defender Zimmerman head down Mukhtar's free and then knock it in to tie the game in the 28th minute.

But they had fallen behind in the ninth minute when the anxious backline got sucked forward and Eric Miller misplayed a pass that set Ezequiel Barco free. He hit a one-hopper from the top left of the box into the bottom right of Joe Willis’ net.

And the winner came with some controversy because Nashville slowed for a bit as a result of an assistant referee’s flag that indicated offsides near Atlanta near the touchline but was disregarded by referee Drew Fisher.

Atlanta sent the ball back in, where Anibal Godoy hit a popup of a header as his attempted clearance, a chance he needed to drive out of the box entirely, making the confusion moot. Nashville failed to close on Hyndman who chested it down and whistled a fantastic volley into the right side of the goal.

“World-class finish,” McCarty said. “It was unfortunate. …(The ref) explained that he was sorry that the flag went up, it was a mistake, but that ultimately the guy was in an offside position but that the ball came off of one of our defensive players so it negates the offside.

“Fair enough, it still doesn’t make it feel any better when the ball goes in the net.”

NSC looked better than I expected in its first game. How much of that was fueled by emotion and the setting? How much did Atlanta fail to rise to the occasion? 

We will learn those things as we watch this team moving forward. We don't want to get overly excited about a loss and give them the expansion franchise moral victory. It was a memorable night for a lot of reasons. Unfortunately the result not among them.

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A few notes: Nashville saw players taken down at least three times in the first half where resulting free kicks would have been dangerous but didn’t get whistles for any of them. “I think we deserved more, but these things happen,” Accam said.

If you say the game starts at 7, it should start at 7, not 7:30. It’s nice you want everyone to be there for your pregame festivities, but that’s a choice ticket-buyers get to make…

Lines at merchandise stores and stands were remarkably long before the game when I strolled around. Look for a lot more of that NSC gold all around you now. Preds gold does not blend in very well as the bit I saw actually stood out…

The singing and fan involvement was impressive. That element of the crowd is going to be here. The question is, how much of the rest of the nearly 60,000 will return?

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