Michael Reed in action for Nashville SC in its 3-0 victory against the Richmond Kickers. | Photo courtesy Jessica Stone Hendricks / Richmond Kickers
RICHMOND, Va. – With its playoff hopes hanging in the balance on Saturday night at City Stadium, Nashville SC responded with a thorough 3-0 victory over the Richmond Kickers to jump back into the playoff places in the Eastern Conference.
“I think overall it was a disciplined performance from the whole group,” NSC midfielder Matt LaGrassa said after the match. “We provided what was required from us whether it was dropping back and defending or stepping higher in the attack. I think we carried out the game plan to a ‘T’.”
Nashville got the comfort of an early goal in the 20th minute as Ropapa Mensah’s right-wing cross was punched by Richmond goalkeeper Trevor Spangenberg but the ball landed right on the head of NSC forward Tucker Hume to nod home from the center of the penalty area. The visitors benefitted from some more good fortune nine minutes later as an attempted clearance from Richmond defender Mekeil Williams struck NSC midfielder Michael Reed and deflected into the net. The goals weren’t exactly picturesque but nobody from Nashville was complaining after Alan Winn rounded out the scoring 11 minutes after halftime to secure three pivotal points for his side.
“Results are the only thing that really matters,” said LaGrassa. “It hasn’t always gone exactly how we wanted to throughout the season, but quietly we are on a four-game unbeaten streak and are playing some good soccer. We are in a good place right now.”
Nashville heads into the final week of its inaugural season sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, two points clear of the playoff line with two games remaining in the regular season. The club has picked up results down the stretch against the playoff-bound Charleston Battery and eighth-place New York Red Bulls II, while taking care of business against teams below it in the table with wins over the Kickers and ATL UTD 2.
On Saturday, Nashville showed off an impressive level of mental toughness to move past a disappointing draw against the ten-men Red Bulls II and thrash Richmond for the second time this season, having previously recorded a 4-0 victory over the side at First Tennessee Park on August 28.
“We as a group feel more confident,” said Nashville Head Coach Gary Smith. “The hope was that we could find a rhythm. We want to qualify, but in doing so we want to be in a good mental and physical spot. All of the guys would feel at the moment that they are in a bright and confident place. We couldn’t be in a brighter mental spot going into our last two home games. We just have to get it done. We will enjoy this win and be ready on Tuesday.”
Nashville can clinch a postseason berth as early as Tuesday night if it picks up a win against Toronto FC II at First Tennessee Park (8:30 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) and either New York or North Carolina FC drop points away from home earlier in the evening.
The Tennessee side, which lost its only previous meeting with TFC II by a 2-0 scoreline in late July, would like to avoid repeating that result and waiting until the final weekend of the season to secure its playoff spot, especially with a visit from 2018 USL Regular Season Champion FC Cincinnati slated for Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+).
Still, Smith believes his side are in a great situation – in control of its destiny with two home games to play – and is hopeful that his players can bring the club across the finish line this coming week.
“This is an ideal scenario for us,” said Smith. “We have to do all the right things to make sure this game on Tuesday goes honestly. It won’t be easy with the turnaround. My hope is that we can get the job done.”