COLUMBUS, Ohio - When Nashville SC’s inaugural Major League Soccer season began at Nissan Stadium on February 29, the city and the soccer world got its first glimpse at what this club was about.
No one knew the challenges that would lie ahead in 2020, but if you said that night that the gold-clad team would be competing in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by the end of the season, most in the building would have taken that in a heartbeat.
Nashville’s run in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs came to an end with a 2-0 loss to Columbus Crew SC, three wins short of American soccer’s ultimate prize. For a team picked by many pundits to finish last this season, a run this deep into the postseason was equally as impressive as it was unexpected.
Perhaps it was only unexpected to everyone but the players in the locker room, though. The disappointment among the players following the loss shows how far this team has come in just a few months. The Boys in Gold felt fully capable of competing for silverware in year one.
“I think in a few days or a week we can look back on the season and say how great of a season it was considering the circumstances that we all went through,” captain Dax McCarty said. “Right now, I think the reason I feel so much disappointment and so much frustration at our season ending is because there was a real belief in our group after the Toronto win that we could go on and really win MLS Cup. You can’t say that very often about an expansion team. These moments don’t come around too often, so it’s hard for me to talk about fun right now.”
Nashville took the third-seeded Columbus into extra time just days after dispatching second-seeded Toronto FC on the road, and a little over a week after thoroughly dismantling its expansion counterparts Inter Miami CF in the play-in round. However, Crew SC’s offense proved too much, scoring two goals in the first half of extra time to earn the win.
Head Coach Gary Smith offered some perspective on how competitive Nashville SC was in these playoffs despite challenge after challenge, knocking off a perennial contender and taking another to the brink.
“There will be a lot of reflection in the coming days and weeks on what we’ve been able to put together here,” Smith said. “How we navigated through a very difficult season, what we achieved obviously and how we’ve strengthened. I’m delighted not only with where we’ve been able to extend ourselves to in this third round of the playoffs, but I’m also delighted at how the guys conducted themselves. It was not an easy game, the second one in five days, away from home against very good teams in MLS. I think we’ve given a really good account of ourselves. Yes, there are some areas we can improve on, but this is a first-year group and we'll all be very pleased with the progress we’ve made.”
Now, Nashville SC enters its first offseason with a strong foundation to build on, both on and off the pitch. McCarty says he’s proud of the support the team received from the city this season, and he’s looking forward to continuing to compete for Music City for years to come.
“I think the way the city of Nashville embraced us throughout our season is something I’m so proud of and so thankful we get to play for a city and a club that really supports its players," he said. "This is the foundation that’s been set. Hopefully we can get better. We need to get better in the offseason. I think the coaching staff and the front office staff know that, and we know that there will be changes. But we need to keep pushing this thing to get to the next level. We want to win trophies and championships and in order to do that you have to keep pushing the envelope and so hopefully we can do that.”