On an appearance on Fox17 this morning, Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs announced another preseason friendly for this USL season: the Boys in Gold will play a second annual game against Lipscomb University. The game will take place on Lipscomb’s campus Feb. 27. A 5 p.m. kickoff awaits the city’s top professional and college men’s teams.
Nashville played primarily depth squad members in last season’s game and emerged with a 2-0 win over the Bisons. However, several who made an impact on that game ultimately turned into key players for NSC over the course of the season, including Alan Winn, Ropapa Mensah, Bolu Akinyode, and Taylor Washington. The game’s goal-scorers, midfielders Ian McGrath and Martim Galvão, did not see regular-season action for the club, however.
The Bisons went on to make the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament, the best season in school history.
This is the fourth known preseason game (and first against an amateur club), with more on the way. See the full preseason and regular-season schedule here.
NASHVILLE (January 15, 2018) – Nashville Soccer Club will have a second preseason game in Music City in 2019. The club announced it will make a return to the campus of Lipscomb University for a preseason friendly against the Bisons on Wednesday, February 27 at 5 p.m. CST. It will be the second consecutive preseason that Nashville SC has played at Lipscomb. In 2018, the teams met for a friendly at Lipscomb Soccer Complex where Nashville SC took home the 2-0 victory in front of more than 500 soccer fans.
“I am delighted to be playing Lipscomb again,” said Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith. “Last year’s game was ultra-competitive and we know Lipscomb will give us a good preseason test. At the same time, this game allows us to keep an eye on the young collegiate talent in our city.”
The Bisons are coming off their best season in program history. Lipscomb won the ASUN regular season and tournament championships, qualifying for its second consecutive NCAA Tournament. Behind an improbable run, the Bisons advanced to the Sweet 16 of the tournament with a shootout win against Washington and an OT win over Central Florida.
“An exhibition with Lipscomb gives our fans another opportunity to see the 2019 club in action here in Nashville,” said Nashville SC VP of soccer operations and technical director Mike Jacobs. “[Head coach] Charles Morrow and his Lipscomb team had a magical NCAA Tournament run in the Fall, and gave soccer fans here in Nashville something to be very proud of.”
This game is the fourth on the preseason schedule so far for Nashville as it will kick off its preseason in Florida at IMG Academy against Montreal Impact of MLS and defending USL champions Louisville City FC. The club has also announced a home friendly against New York City FC of MLS on February 22 at First Tennessee Park at 7 p.m.
Tickets to the game at Lipscomb are available through lipscombsports.com and are $10 for adults and $5 for children.
Nashville SC’s skipper and starting keeper in Thursday’s victory over Lipscomb met with the press after the game. Here’s what they had to say.
“Happy to get the win. 2-0 win in a shutout. Obviously, the defense kept things organized for the most part, and we were able to create some opportunities. It’s always nice to be back at the home field.”
Playing against Lipscomb
“It is a little weird, but as soon as the game kicks off, you forget about it pretty quickly. I’ve played with those guys and trained with them, and they come at you in training. It’s kind of just the same thing. It was a little interesting, a little surreal.”
Impressions of his position-mates
“Matt and CJ are both very experienced, especially Matt. It’s great training with them, because you pick up things that they’ve – they’ve played 12-13 years of pro soccer, so just you pick up things just by watching them train, and we all help each other out, so it’s a great experience. We all push each other.”
“As far as shot-stopping, I feel like I made a couple good saves. I’d like to clean up the distribution a little bit: a couple misplaced passes, but that’ll just come with work. Overall, pleased with the performance individually and as a team we were able to get the win, so you can’t be disappointed with that, either.”
Playing with Nashville SC as compared to Louisville City last Summer:
“With Louisville last year, we were a very successful team. It was a good experience, good first year to get in there. Coming to Nashville obviously was something I was very happy about, just being familiar with the area. Obviously, being a part of the club’s first season, there’s a lot of new things, everything’s new. I’d say that’s the biggest difference: the fresh start.”
The introduction of a pro team in cultivating local talent:
“Definitely. When you’re playing in college and you can go right down the road and watch a pro game, that’s something you can compare yourself to, pick things up just by watching the game. That’s a big thing to have. I’m sure eventually with the club level as the team progresses, there’ll be an academy structure and all that, which will just help the game grow and help kids have something to look forward to and aspire to be.”
On the game:
“I’ve not really spoken to them yet, but the evening was all about making sure some of the younger players got some good minutes and some good competition, which we certainly had. It was trying to build some relationships. Alan [Winn] and Ropapa [Mensah] up front to begin with have not played together before, so I wanted to see what that looked like. Ultimately, just really trying to make sure that we’re still moving in a positive direction and there’s some good foundations and some good habits that the players are getting into. Thought it was a little bit of a sloppy first half, and credit to Lipscomb – they competed ever-so-well. Actually hit us on the break a couple times, which barring a couple of good recoveries and a couple of good saves could’ve been a little bit nasty. I think more than anything, [we were] maybe just taking one or two situations a little bit casually. Committed far too many bodies to certain attacks and left ourselves a little exposed, but all-in-all, a good outing.
Martim Galvão’s performance:
“Really well, and not just Martim, a number of them. He played on the right hand side to begin with, purely because I thought the shape might help him get in the game and be a little bit more creative. When he moved inside, he looked a lot more comfortable, more natural. I think he’s taken a lot on board in the last month or so. He’s trying extremely hard to link up with others, and to make the right choices. But what I or anyone else doesn’t want to do is to take away that individualism. He is very, very exciting when he can run at players. He’s got a nice eye for goal, he’s very creative, and slowly but surely he’s fitting into the group very well.”
On Winn and Mensah’s pairing:
“There were a number of moments – more so Alan to be honest – I’m not sure that was a foul when Alan got himself in a very good position. There were three or four opportunities that maybe with a slightly better finish, we’d have taken a little bit more advantage of. Quite pleased with the way that their movement took them into good areas and stretched out the game. Lipscomb did sit quite deep, and they padded out that central area which was tough to break down. It was important that we found a way of breaking that group down. Very wide field, trying to stretch them out and certainly control and build a lot of pressure. But in terms of the partnership, pleased. I’ve been pleased with the way that pretty much everyone has conducted themselves up front. Alan’s a very, very nice late inclusion to the group. He’s very versatile, he runs with the ball well, he’s got a bright, inventive mind, and we’ve seen he’s also got an eye for goal as well on the weekend.
On the recent trip to Florida:
“I have to say it was an absolutely wonderful trip for numerous reasons. Great time for the group to spend together – staff as well, lot of new staff that have come together – but more so for the players. We had a couple of events in the evenings that were nice socially as well. Training on the grass rather than being on the turf field, which I think was good for a number of different reasons. The competition was great. Chicago game, I thought we – with a more senior group for 60 minutes – played ever-so-well throughout, and the young lads when they came on and ran into a very experienced group, I thought showed very very well. The Ottawa game was a flip-flop of that: the younger group started and acquitted themselves extremely well against quite an experienced Ottawa team. It was nice also to see our first USL group. And then the senior group came on and in fairness dominated the game, but couldn’t score, so we had other challenges: they sat very deep and something else that we need to try and look at and work teams out. The Orlando game was the toughest game, and it was a real shame that we weren’t able to show footage of that [publicly]. They had a very strong side out. The more experienced senior group [for NSC] played 70 minutes. After going a goal down and we were completely dominated for the first 10 or 12 minutes: they played very very well Orlando and went 1-nil up. The recovery and the mindset, determination to get back in the game and then go on and win it was great.”
Micah Bledsoe’s performance:
“I like him a lot. He’s a great lad, he’s a really hard-working individual. He’s got two extremely talented and experienced goalkeepers at varying degrees in front of him. He knows that he can only get better in this environment. It’s a really good development group for him to be in. I’m sure that – not just games like today, but ongoing – he’s going to be a better person and a better individual at the end of the season. Look, likely it is that those two guys are going to take the brunt of the games and the minutes, but he needs to be ready: that’s why he’s here. I thought he did ever-so-well in terms of his shot-stopping in the first half, and his ability to keep the ball out of the back of the net. There were one or two areas with his distribution with his feet that can certainly be improved. Bu I would think pretty much everyone that’s walked off the field tonight will think that there’s certain areas of their game that can be improved on.
The team approaching in-season fitness:
“That was part of the plan: we had – when Michael DeGraffenreidt played 90 minutes in the Ottawa game, and then we had four of the senior group – we had Liam [Doyle], Justin [Davis], London [Woodberry], Lebo [Moloto] played 90 minutes against Orlando. All of the young guys now have played 90 minutes [today]. At the weekend, I’ll be looking to try and stretch out some of those other guys. I think they’re in a very good physical place. They’re moving forward nicely game-by-game. I’m seeing improvements in all areas of the field. Defensively, we’ve looked sound from the outset, but layering in that creative and attacking mindset of the group whilst also being solid and not easy to break down or play through is part and parcel with building a group. Slowly but surely every game, we’re improving every department of how we play.”
The upcoming Cincinnati game:
“It’’ll be a completely different group up there. I genuinely think if Alan puts his strongest group out, it’ll be our toughest game. Just purely because they’re an intraconference group. He’s made some very good additions to that group in the offseason. I’m sure with the proximity of the teams, they’ll want to o well. They’re unbeaten in preseason at the moment. In my mind, it will be the biggest challenge and probably the most realistic challenge that we’re going to run into. So, I’m looking forward for much the same: that there’s improvement in our game. The result really is immaterial because it’s preseason, but let’s not all think that winning a game is not important, because it is. If the group that I put out for the opening exchanges do well again, I’ll be very very pleased.”
For an entire half, Nashville SC seemed to be on the front foot against NCAA side Lipscomb, but the Boys in Gold could seem to figure out how to solve the puzzle of completing that final step of actually putting the ball in the net. Several solid opportunities (including a should-be penalty that went uncalled) resulted in nothing at the break, while a few solid counter-attacks from the Bisons threatened to put NSC on upset alert.
“Thought it was a little bit of a sloppy first half, and credit to Lipscomb – they competed ever-so-well,” said Nashville head coach Gary Smith. “They actually hit us on the break a couple times, which barring a couple of good recoveries and a couple of good saves could’ve been a little bit nasty.
“I think more than anything, [we were] maybe just taking one or two situations a little bit casually. Committed far too many bodies to certain attacks and left ourselves a little exposed, but all-in-all, a good outing.”
After the break though, a slight change in formation – attacking midfielder Martim Galvão’s move from the right wing to a more central role most importantly – seemed to breathe new life into Nashville. A foul on the edge of the box in the 50th minute led to a Galvão free kick that found the head of defender Ian McGrath, and then found the back of the net. In the 75th, Galvão found the back of the net himself, taking a pass from trialist Reza, dribbling centrally at the top of the 18-yard box, and coolly slotting home with his right foot.
Those two goals would be the whole story of the game, and resulted in the Portuguese youngster – for once, not the only player from NSC’s U-23 team of last season on the field, with Nashville trialing former Lipscomb star Ivan Alvarado, while striker Logan Paynter has one more year of eligibility with the Bisons – being the offensive star.
“He played on the right hand side to begin with, purely because I thought the shape might help him get in the game and be a little bit more creative,” Smith said. “When he moved inside, he looked a lot more comfortable, more natural.
“He is very, very exciting when he can run at players. He’s got a nice eye for goal, he’s very creative, and slowly but surely he’s fitting into the group very well.”
Nashville started Micah Bledsoe in goal, meaning yet another former Lipscomb player was on the field. After a season with Louisville City FC in 2017, he’s back in a familiar city, and earned the start against many of his former teammates, going the distance between the pipes.
“It is a little weird, but as soon as the game kicks off, you forget about it pretty quickly,” Bledsoe said being on the opposite end of the purple-jerseyed attack. “I’ve played with those guys and trained with them, and they come at you in training. It’s kind of just the same thing. It was a little interesting, a little surreal.”
Bledsoe made three saves in the course of the match, and keeping a clean sheet is the most you can ask of a keeper. That doesn’t mean he was without areas to improve.
“I thought he did ever so well in terms of his shot-stopping in the first half, and his ability to keep the ball out of the back of the net,” Smith said. “There were one or two areas with his distribution with his feet that can certainly be improved. Bu I would think pretty much everyone that’s walked off the field tonight will think that there’s certain areas of their game that can be improved on.”
Nashville SC will take the field again in just a couple days, and unlike this evening’s reserve-heavy lineup, look for the First XI to be on the pitch for Saturday’s trip to USL rival FC Cincinnati. Although it’s just a friendly, there will certainly be a bit of a competitive edge to the game, given that the two are likely to be among the teams battling for Eastern Conference supremacy in 2018.
25′ NSC sub: Ivan Sakou on for Eduardo Reza
25′ Lip sub: Jeff Zec on for Malik Shaheed
45′ Lip sub: Luke Wilson on for Christopher Zappia, Malik Shaheed on for Jeff Zec
After challenging themselves through the first four games of the pre-season, Nashville SC will take on what is (hopefully) a breather this afternoon.
Opponent: Lipscomb Bisons (11-8-2 NCAA Division-1 2017) The Line: No line, this is a friendly, you degenerates Time, Location: 4:00 p.m. CST • Lipscomb Soccer Complex, Nashville Event: Preseason friendly Weather: 58° F, 12% chance of rain (I promise it’s supposed to clear up around noon), 18 MPH Northeasterly winds. Watch:Tickets. Etc.: Lookin’ at the remainder of NSC preseason. Elsewhere: Music City Soccergame preview.
Yes, it is infuriating that the plural of “Bison” is “Bison,” not “Bisons,” why do you ask?
So: these are college kids, and it’s unlikely that they’re going to stand much of a chance against Nashville SC, assuming both teams try to win the game (more on NSC’s desire to do just that below). Still, they had a decent performance within their cohort – NCAA Division I and the Atlantic Sun Conference – and I’ll evaluate them on those merits alone for the sake of this discussion.
Lipscomb went 11-8-2 (2-4-0 A-Sun), and won the conference tournament, earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament, where they fell 2-0 to Butler in the first round. That was a bit of an improvement on the past couple years, but they’ve gone through stretches of being pretty competitive over time.
Forward Logan Paynter – who was with NSC’s U-23 team last Summer – was the leading scorer with nine goals and five assists. He was a redshirt junior in the Fall, so technically has one year of eligibility remaining and could return next season (and thus play in today’s game). Fellow Nashville U-23 player Ivan Alvarado joined Paynter on the all-region team, with the midfielder earning second-team honors to Paynter’s first-team. Alvarado was a senior in the Fall and no longer has collegiate eligibility, so he won’t play in the spring season for Lipscomb (I believe he’s been practicing with NSC on a trial basis, as well).
Another senior, Ivan Sakou, notched eight goals and two assists on the year, Eduardo Reza had three and three, Kyle Smith had two and three, starting keeper Christopher Zappia was another redshirt junior – as you can see, this was a team dominated by experience and leadership. They are likely to have a rebuilding year in 2018.
6-2 freshman Ihaia Delaney is one of the key returning threats. He had three goals in 19 appearances (three starts), and will have to shoulder a bigger load with all the seniors this team will be losing. Junior midfielder Ryan Birchfield had a productive year in his first after transferring from Feather River College, a juco in California, while defender Ben Locke started 17 games as a true freshman and sophomore Daniel Muhlbauer got 11 starts of his own on the back line.
It’s plain to see that not only is this a college side, it’s one that’s entering a transition season. Even the backups of all backups should be able to control this game pretty easily for NSC.
The Boys in Gold
That means… look for a lineup heavy on reserves for Nashville SC. Former Lipscomb goalie Micah Bledsoe is a holy lock to start between the pipes, and will probably go the full 90 minutes. Players who are expected to star in USL (Alan Winn, Ropapa Mensah, Michael Reed, Kosuke Kimura, Justin Davis, Matt Pickens, and the like) probably won’t see the field, unless Gary Smith wants to give them a bit of a stretch just so they don’t have to knock off as much rust when traveling to Cincinnati Saturday.
A similar lineup to the one that started the game against Ottawa is likely, though we’ll see some unsigned trialists on the pitch, as well (standard operating procedure during preseason friendlies, especially against the lower levels of competition a club faces). Seeing Martim Galvão take the field against college kids with a mini-sales pitch “this guy played on our U-23 team last year and is now a pro” can have some value when the U-23 team is re-established in coming years: it is a recruiting opportunity, too.
How NSC approaches the lineup in this game may also tell us a bit about the plan of attack for Cincinnati just a couple days later: if we see those who we consider non-starting XI key backups get plenty of field time, the Boys in Gold will probably head to the Queen City with the intention of playing their first team and seeing how that group competes against what Cincinnati can offer. A competitively played friendly against one of USL’s best teams can be a useful barometer for the regular season.
This probably isn’t going to be a super-interesting game. Given the talent disparity between professionals (even those on trials) and college kids, NSC is unlikely to put everything forward to try to score. Working some specific schematic things (and giving a live-fire tryout to some trialists) seems a more valuable use of time than trying to win 7-0 or whatever. I also think NSC isn’t going to keep a clean sheet (even if purposes of engendering good will around town come into play there).