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Smitha's Strategy, Belmara's Brilliance Give Nashville SC Massive 2-1 Win over Tampa Bay Rowdies

September 2, 2019 - United Soccer League Championship (USL) - Nashville SC News Release

ST. PETERSBURG - For much of the second half of Saturday night's match between Nashville SC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies, it looked as if neither team would be able to unlock the defense and find the winning goal.

That's when Nashville SC Head Coach Gary Smith made some tactical changes, and it was one of his substitutes in Kharlton Belmar that scored the winning goal in a massive 2-1 road win for the Boys in Gold. Smith made the changes following a long stretch after halftime that saw Tampa Bay equalize the scoreline and dominate the match.

Once those fresh legs came in, the tide began to turn.

"You've got two good sides," Smith said. "There was never going to be an awful lot between us, I didn't think. And for large portions of the game, it looked like it was going to be tough for either team to find an opportunity or break the deadlock. Maybe sometimes you find that the details are the differences, and the free kick and the follow-up were massive just before halftime. Although, I thought they responded incredibly well and probably for a good 20-25 minutes, they were better than us, and we were on the rack. They had all the momentum, which is when I made the first change. I thought we looked flat and maybe got caught mentally in some sort of trough coming out of halftime.

"It took the guys coming on. The two forwards made a massive impact in the game, I felt. Kharlton [Belmar]'s goal is an easy one point to, but I thought Alan [Winn]'s energy again gave us a big lift. And Justin [Davis] helped us massively when he came on. His natural left side, his choices and ability, picked up some good spots in a game where there's always going to be some strange things happen. Matt Pickens gets cramps, you've got players going down all over the place with cramps, big game. We had to just find a way to hang on and that's what good sides do. They find a way, and we did it."

Lebo Moloto got the scoring started in the first half with a rebound goal off of a saved Cameron Lancaster free kick. Early in the second half, Tampa Bay went on the attack and found the equalizer on a rebound by Sebastian Guenzatti. After Smith brought on some fresh attackers in Belmar and Alan Winn, defender Bradley Bourgeois found himself in possession around midfield and noticed Belmar ready to make a move.

He laid a perfect ball into the box for Belmar to half-volley into the far side netting, putting Nashville SC in front for good.

"As they were pushing forward, we kind of saw that their midfielders liked to come forward, but defensively trying to track from that midfield space in behind," Bourgeois said. "We kind of knew we could take advantage of that. I kind of saw a gap about five-ish minutes before that, and I knew with Belmar's fresh legs, we could try and get behind. As soon as I take that touch, credit to Belmar. We made eye contact, and he just darted in behind. I knew if I could just put it in a good area, hopefully he could do something with it. It's a fantastic finish by him."

With the win, Nashville SC now sits in second place in the Eastern Conference with just a handful of matches remaining. Even though the race at the top of the conference is still incredibly tight, the win gives Nashville a bit of a cushion over some of the other teams in the hunt. The Boys in Gold are undoubtedly happy to earn such a crucial result, but according to Bourgeois, they won't take that cushion for granted.

"I think it just keeps the train moving to be honest," Bourgeois said. "It's really a one game at a time mindset right now. Because if we look ahead of that, I think we get lost in the bigger picture. But right now I think it's just about small steps. I think we took a big step tonight, and at this point, it's literally just about the next game. And then we pick our head up and we achieve that goal, keeping our heads down and really working towards each game, I think that's what's going to get us to where we want to be."

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