When asked if Nashville Soccer Club’s 2021 season could be considered a success, CEO Ian Ayre didn’t hesitate at all.
“Absolutely,” he said.
It’s hard to argue with that after Nashville SC finished third in the Eastern Conference, reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the second consecutive season and did what no modern expansion team has done before: win an Audi MLS Cup Playoff match in back-to-back seasons.
General Manager Mike Jacobs echoed Ayre’s sentiments, noting the chaotic nature of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
“We always look at our own expectations about trying to advance to the playoffs and what we’re shooting to, because the MLS Cup Playoffs every year is a flip of the coin,” Jacobs said. “For us, the hope is to put ourselves in a position to get in that tournament, then take our shot. The reality is once you get in the tournament, so much of what happens is luck. When you look at what happened here in our first two seasons this is uncharted for our league. Look at how few teams in MLS history have done what happened in our first two years here. We're the only expansion team to ever win a playoff game in our first two seasons. I don’t know how you couldn’t say that’s successful.”
With a strong sophomore season under its belt and a new stadium coming next season, Jacobs and Ayre shifted focus on Sunday with two new acquisitions for 2022: attackers Teal Bunbury and Ethan Zubak.
Bunbury was acquired from the New England Revolution where he scored 45 goals in eight seasons, becoming the club’s fourth-best goal scorer all-time. He led the Revolution with eight goals in 2020, starting all four matches in the MLS Cup Playoffs en route to a berth in the Eastern Conference Final.
“Teal is someone who we feel very strongly about,” Jacobs said. “He’s contributed in a number of different roles, both as a winger on either side and a center forward. Absolutely somebody who’s able to create and finish scoring chances at a very high level, both with New England and Kansas City and the U.S. Men’s National Team.”
Zubak is a graduate of the LA Galaxy Academy, playing for the club’s USL Championship affiliate LA Galaxy II before signing with the MLS club in 2019. The 23-year-old made 18 appearances in 2021, starting six matches. The Galaxy owned a 4W-2L-0D record with Zubak in the starting lineup in 2021.
Jacobs said Zubak fits the mold of what Head Coach Gary Smith wants in an attacker.
“For those who remember the start of the  season when Chicharito was on fire, Ethan was a big part of that,” he said. “We feel pretty strongly that the things that he offers fits really well with what Gary looks for in attacking players. Per-90 minutes, Ethan is one of the league leaders in runs in behind and in aerial duels in the box.”
Moving into 2022, the club has gone from an expansion darling to a back-to-back playoff contender. However, that doesn’t mean the underdog mentality that got it there has gone away.
“Someone asked us last year if I like proving people wrong,” Jacobs said. “We've created a culture within our club of guys that walk around with two chips on their shoulders. We’re always going to try and prove people wrong.”