Nashville SC didn't quite manage to make it a perfect two wins from two trips to FC Dallas, but head coach Gary Smith was able to celebrate an eye-catching first MLS start for 21-year-old Alistair Johnston.
After making his full debut in the first match between the teams last Wednesday, the 11th overall pick in the 2020 SuperDraft appeared from the start for an impressive 66 minutes in a goalless draw on Sunday. And Smith was full of praise for the youngster, who started on the right side of Nashville's midfield.
"I think we view Alistair more so as a right back but what he has shown us in a very short period of time, is that he is a is an incredibly genuine character, and his quality and understanding of numerous roles is getting better and better," Smith said. "He is very adaptable, but most importantly of all, he's a very intelligent boy."
Indeed Johnston was involved in Nashville's two best attacking moments of the first half, first testing Dallas goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer with a shot from the right side of the box and then setting up Hany Mukhtar with a pinpoint cross.
"For 90, minutes, Alistair was able to take on board exactly what was required of him," Smith continued. "He applied himself fantastically well and in fact, he actually had a couple of reasonable opportunities and supplied a couple as well. When I remember the good save from Maurer in the first half and a wonderful cross-field ball to Hany. The boy's had a terrific debut, full debut. And if I was him, I certainly wouldn't be going to sleep tonight, I'd be looking at that game again and you know getting excited all over again."
Johnston set himself more modest goals going into his first start but was full of praise for the veterans on the team for their support in making the big moment as smooth as possible.
"I mean getting your first start's obviously a pretty big one," Johnston said. "For me, it's just not letting the guys down. I've worked really hard in training for the past three, four months now. You're playing alongside guys like Walker Zimmerman, Dan Lovitz, Dax McCarty and all those kind of guys. The biggest thing is that you want to play well for yourself but you also want to show that you belong with these guys and that's all I was trying to do. [Assistant coach] Steve Guppy gave me great advice right before the game, he said hey just be the hardest working player out there and no one will have any complaints for you and that's all I tried to do tonight."
But while offering plenty of support, one of Nashville's veterans also gave Johnston a surprise that left his mom non too pleased after his MLS debut.
"Brayan Beckeles never forgets. He realized this is my pro debut on Wednesday So he came at me pretty quick with the, with the treatment scissors, that he stole from our trainers," Johnston said of his teammate. "So right after the match, I'm just sitting there, kind of taking it all in, I made my MLS debut, and all of a sudden he's standing there laughing in Spanish pretty much because this guy's just something else and he's taken three lumps out of my hair.
"I've never seen a reaction like that from the rest of the changing room and they were absolutely losing it. So, I mean it was good comedy. I'm OK with the shaved head, my mom's not exactly excited about it."