Inaugural Season By The Numbers, 12.10.20

NASHVILLE - Nashville Soccer Club’s inaugural Major League Soccer season was one to remember. 

2020 has been a difficult year for many, but through all kinds of adversity on and off the pitch, the Boys in Gold secured an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs berth in year one, winning two playoff matches en route to a berth in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. In an unprecedented year with extraordinary challenges, Nashville SC still reached heights only matched by the 1998 MLS Cup champion Chicago Fire FC. 

By most metrics, Nashville SC’s inaugural season defied expectations and impressed pundits across the soccer world. Here are the most noteworthy stats from Nashville SC’s first season in MLS. 

59,069 Fans at MLS Debut

Nashville SC’s first match in MLS made plenty of noise and even broke records. 59,069 fans packed into Nissan Stadium on February 29 to watch Nashville drop a tight contest with Atlanta United 2-1. Celebrities such as Lily Aldridge, Judah & The Lion, Lzzy Hale, Charles Esten, Chase Rice, George Kittle and Corey Davis were in attendance for a historic night. The late February crowd set a record for professional soccer in Tennessee.

0.96 Goals Allowed Average

Nashville SC’s defense was stout all season long, finishing the year averaging less than one goal allowed per match, the best ever mark by an expansion team. MLS Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman anchored a strong backline alongside fellow center back Dave Romney, who played every minute of every match this season. In addition, Dan Lovitz and rookie Alistair Johnston made a significant defensive impact as outside backs. That backline, along with goalkeeper Joe Willis, kept Nashville’s defensive third clean throughout the season. Willis, Zimmerman and Romney all received contract extensions this year, keeping the trio in Nashville for the next few years. 

11 Clean Sheets 

Willis, Zimmerman and the Nashville backline kept Nashville SC in every match this year, putting up nine clean sheets in the regular season and another two in the playoffs. As of Dec. 4, Nashville led the league in combined regular season/playoff shutouts with 11. Those clean sheets came against some of the league’s most talented offenses, including Toronto FC and FC Dallas.  

76.7 Save Percentage

Nashville’s backline did not let many shots through towards goal, but when shots did get through, Willis came up clutch. His save percentage led the Eastern Conference during the regular season. His 69 saves on the season and 22 goals allowed are both career bests for Willis in a full regular season slate.

1.39 Points Per Game

Not only did Nashville finish the regular season in a playoff spot, but it finished as one of the most successful expansion teams ever. Its 1.39 points per game in a shortened season is the fifth-best by an expansion team in MLS history. Nashville finished seventh in the Eastern Conference, clinching a playoff berth comfortably with three matches remaining in the season. 

9 Headed Goals

Nashville SC has dominated in the air this year, scoring an Eastern Conference-best nine goals off of headers this season. Many of those goals came off of set pieces, as some of the tallest players on the pitch such as Zimmerman and forward Jhonder Cádiz got on the end of brilliant set piece crosses to finish goals. Zimmerman scored three goals this season, two of which were headers. Cádiz scored a headed goal on Decision Day in stoppage time to give Nashville a memorable 3-2 win over Orlando City SC. 

6th Expansion Team Ever To Make The Playoffs

Nashville SC made history by becoming the sixth expansion team to clinch a playoff spot in its inaugural season, joining elite company when it comes to first-year success. In 25 years, MLS has grown from its original six clubs to 26 teams with more on the way. Since the “modern era” of MLS expansion began in 2009, only three teams made the playoffs in their first seasons before Nashville: the 2009 Seattle Sounders, 2017 Atlanta United FC and 2018 LAFC.

2 Playoff Wins

Nashville shocked the soccer world by thoroughly dismantling fellow expansion side Inter Miami CF at home in the play-in round. The Boys in Gold continued to surprise the league in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals by upsetting second-seeded Toronto FC, a club that has appeared in three of the last five MLS Cup Finals. Nashville’s top offensive weapons led the way in the playoffs, with Hany Mukhtar and Randall Leal scoring against Miami. Mukhtar also set up Daniel Ríos’ match-winning goal in extra time against Toronto FC. Those two playoff wins are the most by an expansion team in the playoffs since the 1998 Chicago Fire FC squad went all the way to an MLS Cup title in its first season. To date, Nashville and Chicago are the only two clubs to ever win a playoff match as an expansion team.