NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A pair of first-half goals lifted Major League Soccer’s New York City FC to a 2-0 victory against USL Championship side Nashville SC on Friday night in front of a crowd of 5,384 fans at First Tennessee Park eager to get their first look at the Boys in Gold this preseason.
“I honestly thought that the game was a terrific exercise for us for many different reasons,” said Nashville Head Coach Gary Smith. “It was great to see some of our guys get through some more work an hour into a game now rather than breaking it up at halftime. There were some terrific players and quality on display from the New York City side, which enabled us to really have a look at the standards that we’re trying to achieve because even though we’re working in different leagues, you’ve still got that pinnacle of your game to try and aspire to. That was wonderful to see, some of their composure. I was delighted with the output of the group.
The opening 10 minutes saw few chances as both sides looked to feel each other out and play safely in soggy conditions brought on by steady rain throughout the day in the Music City. Nashville’s new signing Kharlton Belmar almost got a good look at goal from the top of the penalty area after Alan Winn had cut in from the right before passing, but Belmar couldn't quite get a shot away.
On the ensuing counterattack, NYCFC’s Jonathan Lewis put a shot well wide of the far post after he streaked into the left channel as NSC goalkeeper Matt Pickens did well to narrow the angle coming off his line quickly to deter the United States international.
New York took the lead just before the half-hour mark, though, as Belmar saw a ball ricochet off his hand in the 18-yard area, giving NYCFC a penalty kick. Designated Player Maxi Moralez slotted home the penalty to the lower-left corner, sending Pickens the wrong way.
The visitors doubled their lead in the 40th minute when NYCFC’s new Designated Player signing Alexandru Mitrita curled a beautiful finish into the right corner from 25 yards out past the outstretched arm of Pickens to put Nashville into a two-goal deficit going into halftime.
Nashville subbed in Daniel Ríos at halftime, marking the first time that MLS signings Rios and Cameron Lancaster took the field at the same time this preseason. The extra striker in the lineup paid dividends as Nashville looked more dangerous in the attacking third, allowing Smith to continue to experiment with his lineup as the club’s preseason preparations continued.
Belmar used some technical skill down the left wing to free up a chance in the middle in the first few minutes of the half, but NSC captain Michael Reed put a chance wide. The home side continued to apply pressure before making wholesale changes to the lineup in the 60th minute. Minutes later, a Mitrita free kick nearly found the back of the net for NYCFC but was denied by a tremendous lunging stop by new goalkeeper Connor Sparrow moments after he had come into the game.
“A lot of goalies will tell you, and I’m no different, that it’s one of the best things that can happen to you, getting involved right away and not hanging out for 10 minutes back there without being called upon,” said Sparrow. “Having to make a save early on is something that helps your rhythm and helps your mentality and it honestly helps you stay focused the rest of the time.”
Nashville almost pulled a goal back with 16 minutes to go when Dutch midfielder Vinnie Vermeer, who had been unveiled as the club’s latest signing earlier on Friday, sent a powerful shot from the top right of the 18-yard area just wide of the left post. NSC went closest to finding the net in the 88th minute as a tantalizing cross by Lebo Moloto from the left found Tucker Hume at the back post, but his header went just wide of the right post.
“I thought we played well in patches, but they showed us the difference in levels at times as well as we did play at some times,” said NSC defender Liam Doyle. “As the game went on, the quality showed. I think they were very comfortable with possession and we paid for that late on, but I think we showed a lot of good signs and something to build on. It’s good to see that kind of level where we’re at.”