Winning in the Rain
In England, teams are always questioned if they can succeed on a cold, rainy night at Stoke. Well, on a cold, rainy night in Music City, Nashville SC proved they can still succeed dispatching CF Montreal 2-0 with goals from Jacob Shaffelburg and Taylor Washington.
Due to jersey issues with Montreal, the Boys in Gold continued to be the Men in Black for the third week in a row. There wasn't much gold in the crowd anyway as the temperature and nearly constant rain were more of a call for ponchos and coats.
After drawing away at New York Red Bulls last Saturday, it seemed that Gary Smith took a cue from the Red Bulls as Nashville began with a high press. Montreal had the lion's share of the ball with 66% possession, but NSC never let them have it with any time to create. Add to that the slick conditions causing numerous errant passes for both teams, and the Canadian side could not get anything going.
Nashville continued to harry their opponents and get off half chances with Teal Bunbury and Dax McCarty both missing the goal wide. It wasn't until the 37th minute that it all paid off.
Sean Davis intercepted a pass just outside his own box and passed straight ahead to a waiting Hany Mukhtar. The reigning MVP made a slick turn that sent Montreal winger Aaron Herrera past him and opened Mukhtar up for a three-on-two with Bunbury and Shaffelburg to either side.
As is typically the case, the defense chose to break down Mukhtar who just released the ball to the wide-open Shaffelburg. The Canadian winger had plenty of time to set up his shot and blast it into the roof of the net. It was Shaffelburg's second goal of the year as well as Mukhtar's second assist.
The half ended with a 1-0 scoreline and the damp crowd hyped. Nashville SC has not lost in its last 29 matches when scoring the first goal of a match, a streak that dates back to Aug. 2021.
The second half began with Smith deciding to hang back in a low block. This has been a frustration for Nashville fans for six years as it opens the club up to late equalizers and even later winners for our opponents. This is a big reason why the possession stat was so one-sided, but the defense prevailed and prevented CF Montreal from recording a shot on goal all night leading to Joe Willis's 34th clean sheet with Nashville.
The counterattack almost worked in the 69th minute when Bunbury intercepted a pass at midfield intended for centerback Rudy Camacho, laid it off to Mukhtar, and was fed in all alone against Montreal goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois. Bunbury carried into the box before shooting past Sirois, but the ball curved too much and ricocheted off the left post and harmlessly out of bounds.
Still seeming to be happy to settle for a 1-0 win, Nashville continued to sit in a low block and absorb pressure until the final few minutes of regular time when NSC decided to raise the pressure in order to get the ball and milk the clock.
Alex Muyl intercepted a pass from Joel Waterman and passed it back to Davis. Davis gave it back to Muyl who fed wingback Shaq Moore up the sideline. As Moore carried the ball forward, from across the field, Washington began his run into the center of the box. Moore's cross seemed to be heading to Mukhtar at the near post but was actually seeking Washington who hit the volley in mid-air with the outside of his left foot to fly into the corner for the final nail in the coffin. It was Moore's first assist of the season, but it was Washington's first MLS goal.
In his postgame press conference, Smith said of the play: "Taylor's not known for creation or even efforts at goal, so to see that fly into the top corner was a bit of a shock." Knowing that, it was equally shocking that Washington led the team in shots (3) and shots on target (2).
"Absolutely delighted for him," Smith continued about Washington. "I think everyone in this room knows what a person he is, not a bad bone in his body. Just a terrific individual and a very, very good professional. Couldn't be happier for him."
Personally, I agree with Smith's assessment of
Washington. He has always been such a humble and approachable player all the way back to USL days. He is an all-around nice guy, the kind of person that deserves good things because of the good he puts into the world.
Nashville ended the night in a three-way tie for first in the East with Atlanta United and FC Cincinnati with New England Revolution playing Sunday against LAFC. A draw for the Revs would make it a four-way tie, but a win would give them sole possession of first place.
Speaking of New England, the Boys in Gold travel to Foxborough, Massachusetts to take on the Revolution who have never beaten Nashville. Out of four total meetings, Nashville leads the series with one win and three draws. New England are unbeaten this season with wins at Charlotte (1-0) and at home against Houston (3-0). At the time of this article, they had not played LAFC away. Nashville has not scored in their last two away matches going back to last season, and New England has scored seven goals in their last five matches going back to 2022. My prediction is a 1-1 draw with goals from Mukhtar and New England's Latif Blessing. The match will kick off at 6:30 p.m. CST on AppleTV.