Nashville SC advanced to the Fifth Round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup with a 2-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids at Vanderbilt Stadium on Wednesday night.
Ropapa Mensah’s 78th minute goal propelled the upstart USL squad to its first-ever competitive win over an MLS franchise and extended an unbeaten run to nine games across all competitions.
The loss extends Colorado’s winless run to eight games, but it also added to a pair of unfortunate records they already hold. This marked the 15th consecutive tournament that the Rapids have failed to win multiple games in a tournament, and this was the tenth time that a lower division team knocked them out of the competition. Both of those are Modern Era (1995-present) records.
Mensah wasted little time finding the net after being subbed on for Brandon Allen just one minute prior. Liam Doyle’s cross found Mensah near the back post and the attacker rose above Colorado’s Deklan Wynne, finishing the chance with a header to the lower right corner to beat keeper Zach MacMath and send the Nashville crowd into a frenzy.
Nashville coach Gary Smith praised Mensah’s immediate energy and awareness off the bench.
“He comes onto the pitch like a crazy person,” Smith said. “He’s so keen to make a mark.
“I’ve got good players on the line that can either help us win a game or change a game and the second goal was key.
“To score the second goal at that time really deflated them and the writing was on the wall from that moment,” Smith added.
The Rapids controlled nearly 60 percent of possession, yet totaled just three shots on the night.
The lone true threat to Nashville’s goal was a 26th-minute scramble that was cleared near the line by Nashville’s Justin Davis.
“It was a tough one,” said Rapids forward Dominique Badji. “We were on top of it for most of it but we just didn’t create enough quality chances and didn’t put away the few chances we had.”
Nashville goalkeeper Matt Pickens, who helped Colorado hoist the MLS Cup in 2010, said it was more of the same for one of the USL’s best defensive teams.
“Probably the easiest game of the year for me,” Pickens said. “I just tried to keep guys tuned in. They held the possession but the guys put in the work and also played smart. We didn’t give up any stupid fouls around the box and we kept everything in front of us. It’s good see we’re staying disciplined to that.”
Nashville drew first blood in the 38th minute when Rapids defender Michael Azira turned in a Justin Davis cross into his own net.
“I was just trying to put it in a difficult spot for them,” Davis said. “Playing on this turf it’s not ideal for a back line so when facing their own goal stuff like that happens.”
Smith said he felt his squad turning up the heat on the visitors before the eventual breakthrough.
“We had started to turn the screw a little bit,” Smith said. “It’s about putting players under pressure. If you can deliver to good areas and you can build some pressure and get bodies in dangerous areas, defenders are concerned and they do strange things.”
The own goal coupled with Nashville’s stingy defense held until Mensah’s goal gave the hosts the final winning edge. But Smith, who coached that 2010 MLS Cup-winning Rapids team before being relieved of his duties just a season later, hinted the edge may have come well before the match kicked off.
“You’ve got guys in that locker room who have, at certain times, been passed up at the MLS level,” he said. “You’ve got guys that have achieved something at that level and you’ve got guys that want to be at that level. Any way you look at it, you’ve got a group of guys out there that were going to give absolutely everything from where they were at tonight.”
The win by Nashville SC was made even more impressive by the fact that it was the first time that a Tennessee-based club defeated a Major League Soccer team since 1998. Twenty years ago, the Nashville Metros eliminated the Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City), 3-1.