No Such Thing as a Friendly Game

The 2021 season is off and running for Nashville SC as they began preseason against USL Championship rival Louisville City FC at the Currey Ingram training ground on Saturday. The "friendly" was broken up into three 30-minute sessions in order to get as many players as possible on the pitch. Nashville cruised to a comfortable 4-0 win against the LouCity side who beat FC Cincinnati, NSC's opening day opponent, 3-0 last week.

The first session's lineup was as close to a Starting XI as Nashville could muster with Randall Leal away with the Costa Rican national team and both Jhonder Cadiz and Daniel Rios sitting this out with what head coach Gary Smith called "niggling injuries" and nothing to worry about. Joe Willis started in goal with his back line of Johnston, Zimmerman, Romney, and Lovitz in front of him. McCarty and Godoy took their spots at CDM with Hany Mukhtar (SPOILER ALERT: He was the star of this match) at CAM. Alex Muyl and Handwalla Bwana took the wings with new signee CJ Sapong up top.

It didn't take long for Nashville to take control of this match with Mukhtar finding the head of Sapong off a free kick to score the first goal in the 7th minute. Hany Mukhtar scored from the penalty spot in the 17' minute and then in the 19' minute off an assist from Anibal Godoy. 3-0 in the first 20 minutes is a decent outing.

The second session saw full substitutions. New signee Bryan Meredith took over between the pipes behind a back line of Miller, Anibaba, Maher, and Washington. Tah Bryan Anunga played in the CDM spot alongside a trialist with another trialist at the 10. Luke Haakenson, 2019 SuperDraft pick back from his loan to USL Championship side Charlotte Independence, took the left wing opposite new signee Rodrigo Pineiro with Dom Badji as the lone striker. In the final minutes of that sesson, Haakenson set up one of the unnamed trialists for the game's fourth and final goal.

The final session saw last year's SuperDraft pick Elliot Panicco in goal behind Washington and new signee Robert Castellanos and two trialists. Matt LaGrassa played next to Anunga with Haakenson still on the left. With the exception of Abu Danladi at striker, the rest of the players were trialists with Haakenson and Anunga being subbed off for two additional trialists. There were no notable events in the final period.

After the match, Smith spoke to members of the media. One player who had been mentioned multiple times earlier in preseason was Luke Haakenson, and since he assisted a goal in the match, Smith was asked about his expectations for the young winger. "For Luke, he had a nice period of time in Charlotte last year: he’s found himself some good minutes at USL level. He knows what it’s like to be a professional, and he’s come in in the first 10 days and made a really nice impression," Smith said. “Do I think he’s capable of more, and is he going to be and possibly offer the type of qualities in creativity that we’re after? I believe so. But you know, this is part of Luke’s process and pathway.”

Smith also alluded to the work that Pineiro had put in during the first ten days of training, saying "Young Piñeiro in the second period has probably done more work in the last 10 days than he’s ever done in his life. It’s going to take some getting used to for him. I’ve seen some really nice flashes from him, and I’ve no doubt he’s going to be a real good player for this club."

When asked about the fact that Godoy started this match and if that meant that he would be able to go to IMG Academy in Florida with the squad, Smith responded “Aníbal goes with his country.... I think we miss Aníbal now until we get back [from Florida]. So the next two weeks, we’ll be without him. Likewise, Alistair [Johnston], who goes with Canada, but we actually see Alistair for our last game at IMG, purely because he is based in Florida with his national team. And I think the protocols to get him back with the group are slightly different.”

Nashville SC head down to Bradenton, FL to IMG Academy for more training and several more friendlies. They play against New York Red Bulls at IMG on 3/24, against NYCFC at Al Lang Stadium in Tampa on 3/27, against Tampa Bay Rowdies on 3/31 and Inter Miami CF on 4/3, both at IMG. There is a final friendly set for 4/10, but the opponent and location have not yet been revealed. Be sure to follow @NSCGoldenBoy on Twitter. The following video is courtesy of Nashville SC.