Nashville SC Profile
The days of playing in the lower USL are in the past, as the brand new Nashville team will be looking to make an impact in MLS.
MLS expanded by two teams ahead of the 2020 season and one of those was Nashville SC. The 2020 campaign was their first in Major League Soccer, but not their first in existence as a team with the same name played in the USL before moving up to MLS.
The original Nashville SC purchased the name, logo and colour scheme from an amateur team called Nashville FC. John Ingram purchased majority ownership in the Nashville team in March 2017. A month later, Gary Smith was hired as the first manager and technical director in Nashville. Over the summer of 2017, they added Mark, Zygi and Leonard Wilf as investors. The Wilfs own the NFL's Minnesota Vikings and Mark is on the Board of Trustees at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, as is Ingram.
The ownership group announced plans for a $275million soccer-specific stadium in October 2017 and this was approved by the city a month later. In December 2017, Nashville was awarded an MLS expansion team before the side had even played a game in the USL.
Heading into MLS play, the team changed their badge from a circular crest to an octagonal one. The electric gold and acoustic blue colours remained, but the N was moved to the top of the crest and constrained by vertical blue bars. The bars represent sound waves and vibrations, playing off Nashville's vibrant musical history.
For their two years in the USL, the team played at First Tennessee Park (now First Horizon Park), home of Minor League Baseball's Nashville Sounds. For the 2020 and 2021 seasons in MLS, they moved to the Nissan Stadium, the downtown home of the NFL's Tennessee Titans. Their new stadium for the 2022 campaign will be at the Nashville Fairgrounds and is expected to seat 27,500 fans.
Nashville SC's USL era
Nashville played their first-ever game as a pre-season friendly against MLS side Atlanta United on February 10, 2018, losing 3-1 in front of 9,059 fans. Ropapa Mensah, the youngest player in the team, scored the only goal for Nashville SC. They played six more friendlies before the start of the season and didn't lose any of them. They drew against MLS team Chicago Fire while beating MLS side Orlando City SC 3-0 for their first win.
Their first-ever regular season game in the USL was a 2-0 loss at Louisville City FC on March 17. Their home opener was played at Nissan Stadium and finished in a 0-0 draw in front of 18,922 fans. Nashville's first competitive win came on March 31 as Michael Cox scored a sixth-minute penalty for a 1-0 victory over Bethlehem Steel FC. They beat Charlotte 2-0 at home in the next game before going three straight winless.
Nashville won three out of four to end May and start June, including their first-ever three-goal game - a 3-1 win over Penn FC on June 2. They scored three again on June 30 to beat Atlanta United 2 3-0. Their first losing streak took place from July 11 to 21, but Nashville recovered to earn points in four of the next five games, including a 4-0 win over Richmond Kickers.
Battling for a play-off spot and a top-eight finish, Nashville earned at least a point from each of their final six games. That stretch included two wins and four draws, with four of the games being played at home. As a result, Nashville finished with 49 points and tied for seventh in the table with 12 wins, 13 draws and nine losses. They lost a tie-breaker to Indy Eleven and received the eighth seed for the play-offs.
In the play-offs, they faced No. 1 seed FC Cincinnati away from home, with the game ending goalless after 90 minutes. FCC scored first, but Bradley Bourgeois tied the game in the 115th minute to set the stage for a penalty shootout. Each of the first 11 kickers scored before Nashville's Justin Davis missed, meaning Cincinnati won 6-5.
In the 2018 US Open Cup, Nashville won three straight home games to advance to the final 16. They beat Inter Nashville FC 2-0 and Mississippi Brilla 3-1 to reach the fourth round. They then drew MLS side Colorado Rapids, with an own goal and a strike from Mensah resulting in a 2-0 shock victory. In the round of 16 on June 20, they lost at Louisville City FC 2-1.
Heading into the 2019 season in the USL Championship, Nashville lost friendlies against MLS teams Montreal Impact and New York City FC. They started the regular season with a 2-0 win over Loudoun United FC and earned back-to-back clean sheets in April. From May 11 to June 29, they didn't lose a single game, with four wins and three draws in that period. During those seven games, they outscored their opponents 17-8, with a team record five goals against Swope Park Rangers on May 11.
After consecutive losses to end June and start July, they recorded five straight clean sheets from July 17 through August 10. In those four wins and a draw, they scored 10 times, four of them coming in a 4-0 win over Hartford Athletic. After losing to St. Louis FC on September 7, Nashville finished the season with five wins and a draw in their final six games, which included five clean sheets. A win over Louisville City FC on October 8 secured a top-three finish, and Nashville beat North Carolina FC 2-0 four days later to clinch second place.
With 67 points from 34 games, Nashville finished just one point off the top as they won 20 games and had a +33 goal difference. Nashville SC led the USL in conceding just 26 goals all season while posting 16 clean sheets. They beat No. 7 Charleston Battery 3-1 at home on October 26 in the play-offs. Their season ended in a 1-0 home loss to No. 3 Indy Eleven on November 2.
The 2019 US Open Cup saw Nashville defeat South Georgia Tormenta FC 3-2 in the second round, but they lost to Charleston Battery on penalty kicks in the third round after a 1-1 draw.
Nashville SC's MLS era
Moving into MLS for the 2020 season, Nashville let all but six players leave, while also retaining manager Gary Smith. Of those six players, five saw action in 2020: forwards Daniel Rios and Alan Winn, midfielders Derrick Jones and Matt LaGrassa, and defender Taylor Washington. They had brought in Jones in a trade with Philadelphia Union in May 2019, while midfielder Hany Mukhtar came in an August deal from Seattle for $3million. They used future draft picks to acquire midfielder Dax McCarty from Chicago Fire and used international roster spots and money allocation to pick up goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas, defender Daniel Lovitz, forward Dominique Badji and defender Dave Romney.
In the 2019 MLS Expansion Draft, they added forward Abu Danladi from Minnesota United, defender Zarek Valentin from Portland, defender Jalil Anibaba from New England, forward Brandon Vazquez from Atlanta and midfielder Jimmy Medranda from Kansas City. They then traded Valentin to Houston for goalkeeper Joe Willis and sent Vazquez to Cincinnati for $200,000.
Nashville were busy in January too, adding forward David Accam from Columbus and midfielder Anibal Godoy from San Jose. In the MLS SuperDraft, they took defender Jack Maher from Indiana University with the second overall pick. Nine picks later, they added midfielder Alistair Johnston from Wake Forest University.
The most prominent American brought in by Nashville was US men's national team defender Walker Zimmerman. They traded $950,000 in allocation money and an international roster spot to LAFC on February 11, 2020, to bring him in to anchor Nashville's first defense.
The 2020 season started with six exhibition matches, one against IF Elfsborg from Sweden, one against old USL foe Louisville City FC and four against MLS sides. Nashville won three, drew two and lost 3-1 to Chicago Fire.
Their first-ever MLS game drew 59,069 fans to Nissan Stadium for a showdown against southern rivals Atlanta United. Zimmerman tied the game in the 28th minute with Nashville's first official MLS goal, but Atlanta won 2-1. Nashville lost a week later in Portland 1-0 before the league shut down due to COVID-19. While MLS teams gathered in Orlando for the MLS is Back Tournament in July, Nashville had a COVID-19 outbreak and were forced to withdraw from the competition. They went from March 8 to August 12 without playing a game.
In August, Nashville returned to MLS action with two games against the other MLS side that had been forced to withdraw from the tournament, Dallas FC. Nashville won the first game 1-0 with a goal from Accam and the teams drew 0-0 in the second game. After two straight losses, Nashville then beat Inter Miami CF 1-0 on August 30 in their first home game since March.
In September, Nashville won twice, drew three games and lost once, 2-0, to Columbus Crew. They kept piling up points in October with three wins, four draws and just one defeat. They beat Orlando City 3-2 in the final game of the regular season to finish seventh in the East and secure a play-off spot. Mukhtar tied the game in the 88th minute and Jhonder Cadiz scored the match winner in the third minute of added time.
Nashville won eight times and drew eight, picking up 32 points from 23 games. They scored 24 times and conceded 22 goals. Mukhtar and Rios both scored four goals over the season, while Zimmerman and Randall Leal had three each. Leal led the team with four assists and Willis started all 23 games in goal with nine clean sheets.
In the play-offs, Nashville routed Inter Miami 3-0 in the play-in round in front of a limited home crowd of 3,240 fans. Leal, Mukhtar and McCarty scored the goals while Willis recorded a clean sheet. In the first round, they upset No. 2 Toronto FC on the road 1-0 with a goal in the 108th minute from Rios. The No. 7 Nashville side went on the road again in the conference semi-finals to face Columbus Crew and the game ended 0-0 after 90 minutes. However, the Crew scored twice in extra time to win 2-0 and end Nashville's inaugural MLS season.
Heading into the 2021 campaign, Nashville let Brayan Beckeles, Ken Tribbett, Winn and Tanner Dieterich leave the team as free agents. They also lost backup goalkeeper Brady Scott to Austin FC in the 2020 Expansion Draft.
Nashville SC's rivals
MLS is hoping that Nashville SC and Atlanta United FC become rivals. The two cities are separated by 200 miles, and the fans are already rivals in college football, with Tennessee and Georgia competing in the SEC. The first matchup saw over 59,000 fans as Atlanta won 2-1 in February and they won again behind closed doors in August. Nashville got their first win over Atlanta 4-2 on September 12, again with no fans.
Nashville SC's top players
The top American players for Nashville SC are Walker Zimmerman, Dan Lovitz and Dax McCarty, who have all played more than 10 times for the USMNT. David Accam has played for Ghana since 2014 and Randall Leal has played for Costa Rica since 2018. Anibal Godoy has more than 100 caps for Panama and played in the 2018 World Cup.
Designated player Hany Mukhtar is from Germany and has played for Benfica, Hertha BSC and Red Bull Salzburg. Jhonder Cadiz is also a designated player and the Venezuelan is currently on loan from Benfica.