Heading into Tuesday night's match against Minnesota United FC, Nashville was on a record-setting pace for an expansion team, only giving up 14 goals in 14 matches to rival the 2009 Seattle Sounders. They improved upon that pace, hanging tough for a 0-0 draw that continued to build the team's reputation as having one of the league's stingiest defenses. On that side of the ball, head coach Gary Smith liked what he saw.
"We're seeing not just a backline, but a group of individuals that take a lot of pride in keeping a clean sheet," Smith noted. "And it's a quality in the modern game that I'm not sure you see too readily. I want to make this clear: We do not spend every minute of our time midweek working on how we keep our goal intact. We certainly work on defensive attributes and maintaining high standards. But there's an awful lot of work that goes into managing the ball, our appreciation with a ball, and, of course, creating goalscoring opportunities."
Highlights: Nashville SC vs. Minnesota United
As much as Smith credited the defensive effort, singling out goalkeeper Joe Willis for accolades, he also noted the team's challenges in putting the ball in the back of the net after they were held scoreless for a second consecutive game.
"What I will say is the most expensive players in the world are people that can put the ball in the back of the net. It's the most difficult thing to do in the game. And that's why they're so expensive at the moment. And we're struggling when it comes to that, that defining moment of being clinical. The rest of it, though, we've seen some wonderful performances and attributes."
Nashville's been a bit snakebit of late with injuries to attackers, and opened Tuesday's match with an unconventional front three of Alex Muyl, Derrick Jones, and Randall Leal. Smith was encouraged by their performances, though, even as he rued the missed opportunity for the team to get a home win.
"The opening 30 minutes was played a real good pace," Smith noted. "And there were some terrific passages of life from us, some terrific passages of play. The one thing we're missing is, you know, serious penetration and a spearhead up front. Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do about that at the moment. We can only play to our potential, and the guys did in the first half. We missed a window of opportunity, and they showed some other qualities in the second half, when they came under some pressure ... terrific courage and determination to get a point out of it."
Smith didn't confirm his previous suggestion that new Designated Player striker Jhonder Cadiz would debut Sunday. Cadiz's presence could potentially solidify Nashville's playoff positioning and make it a tough out in the East. In the meantime, Smith was more than content with their current standing.
"When you look at the standings, as we sit right now, that was our game in hand. And we're in eighth place, so anything that goes on tomorrow is a game in hand for us again. We're in a decent spot."