The 23,832-person crowd at Nissan Stadium was Nashville SC’s largest to date, and that crowd got to witness the club’s best outing this seasons in a 3-0 win over FC Cincinnati.
NSC’s victory is the first outright all-time between either side going back to their days in the USL; they’ve settled for draws each time previously.
Led by CJ Sapong's two goals and assist, plus a goal from Randall Leal, Nashville found itself with several advantageous scoring chances despite a having possession for only 33 percent of the match.
"The balance between [Mukhtar, Leal and Sapong] is excellent," Nashville coach Gary Smith said. "There's a synergy that's bringing out the best in all of them...They have a terrific understanding and they're in a great vein of form."
Added Sapong: “There is a chemistry that is flowing through us, and we have been able to see the last couple of games. Guys are stepping in their spots after maybe not having as many hits there and really showing their worth and their values. It's a beautiful thing and this is what we work for every day. I'm excited but I still want more.”
Sapong broke open the scoring barrier in the 13th minute, redirecting a Hany Mukhtar cross at the top of the six-yard box and chipping the ball past Cincinnati keeper Kenneth Vermeer.
Later in the first half, Sapong changed gears and found Leal just inside the box, pinpointing the ball over to him as he nailed his shot past Vermeer to the top left corner of the net in the 35th minute for the 2-0 lead.
Sapong wasn’t done putting on a show. He scored his second goal of the match on a header off a Hany Mukhtar free kick in the 57th minute for the 3-0 advantage. The 32-year-old striker now has four goals in his last five matches, and he ranks second behind Mukhtar for the team lead in goals.
"I felt confident with the team even in the games I wasn't getting on the stat sheet or scoring,” Sapong said. “Wearing the defense down, putting myself in positions to win free kicks for our team. We have a team that has so many dynamic players that all have an opportunity to make an impact. I was just the next guy in the best position to help the team, and that is an ideology that I have carried with myself throughout my whole career.”
Sapong’s performance is just the latest example of much-needed depth scoring Nashville has been getting from its supporting cast. In Nashville’s 5-1 win over Chicago, Mukhtar scored the club’s first-ever hat trick, and he added a goal in the match before that one.
Nashville has also gotten timely goals lately from players like Jack Maher, Luke Haakenson, Jalil Anibaba, Abu Danladi and Brian Anunga.
“To put on the sort of display that we had tonight, in front of goal, especially, was just what the doctor ordered,” Smith continued. “…There were a number of guys that really stepped up tonight when it mattered. Our front line continues to be an absolute menace going forward and they’re really leading the charge. The rest of the group are a fantastic supporting act in the moment, and I couldn’t be happier.”
Nashville SC has seen plenty of new faces make their way into the lineup with several players representing their countries in the Concacaf Gold Cup. Walker Zimmerman, Alistair Johnston, Jhonder Cadiz and Anibal Godoy have all been absent from the NSC lineup with Zimmerman and Godoy suffering minor injuries.
Newly-acquired striker Ake Loba relieved Sapong in the 68th minute. He might be a player to keep an eye on in the coming matches as Smith said Nashville may have a different look moving forward, at least for a little while.
"What we might see as a ‘normal’ back four or back five and the players who would normally occupy that is completely different now,” Smith said. “…If you're as professional as some of those guys, you put yourselves in a position where you're ready to succeed again."