NASHVILLE – Nashville Soccer Club returns to Music City’s biggest stage in a top-10 showdown this Saturday, Oct. 12 as the Boys in Gold host North Carolina FC at Nissan Stadium.
The teams have been in the same league for only two seasons, but a history of competitive matchups has planted roots, which will make for an entertaining night at Nissan Stadium this Saturday. The match is presented by the GOAL Program presented by Cooper Steel to benefit the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt with kickoff set for 7 p.m. CT.
Coming off of a thrilling 2-1 win over two-time league champion Louisville City FC, Nashville SC heads into the weekend with plenty of momentum and adrenaline lingering from its last-minute stunner. As the team prepared for this weekend’s test, Nashville head coach Gary Smith says he wants to carry over the positives from both on the pitch and in the stands to Saturday’s match in order to put the team in ideal position heading into the postseason.
“Certainly, we want to see the same type of attitude as we saw on Tuesday night,” said Smith after a midweek training session. “We’re at that stage in the season that we’re really into that playoff mode. Everything that you can see on Tuesday night replicated that. The environment that we create and the fans when they get behind us can be quite a deciding factor in these final games now. And really our challenge is to bag all six points. We’ve not got an awful lot to look at. We’ve got two games and we’ve got to get our head around each one. If we can get six points, we can put Pittsburgh [Riverhounds] under some pressure to win both of their away games. That’s really what we’re trying to achieve.”
On Saturday, Nashville SC will face a worthy opponent in North Carolina FC. The series history between the two teams is exactly even at one win and one draw apiece, and each team is coming off of confidence-boosting wins. Three points are absolutely crucial for both clubs as Nashville SC hunts for the conference title and NCFC fights to avoid the newly implemented play-in match that will precede the first round of playoffs.
“I’ve always felt since probably the first six or eight games that they’ve been one of the most underestimated sides in the league,” Smith continued. “[North Carolina coach] Dave Sarachan has got them very well-organized; they’ve got a wonderful method about them; they’ve got some nice footballers in the group and a lot of their mantra is around possession of the ball and what that brings for them and the shape of the team whilst doing that. I think the players within that group have been able to take on very quickly what Dave is after. They have a little dip, but they’re in a great spot. I think their early form has left them in a really good place, and they’re fighting for their own lofty position in the league. They stand in the way of us and a possible title, so there won’t be any prisoners taken at the weekend.”
Defender Forrest Lasso made his Nashville SC debut at the club’s earlier match at Nissan Stadium that saw the Boys in Gold pull out a 2-0 shutout victory over Indy Eleven. With North Carolina roots, Lasso is looking forward to hosting NCFC in what could be one of the most important matches of 2019. A win Saturday would mean more than three points. It would solidify the team’s home field advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs, an accomplishment that would give Nashville SC an important edge.
“There’s a lot on the line for us,” Lasso said. “We just want to get the result. We want to win. I think it’s all pretty obvious that the next two games are super important for us, so we’re going to go out and get our job done. [Home-field advantage] is huge. It’s the small things that people don’t really see. Sleeping in your own bed, being able to be with your family, your kids, your girlfriend, your wife, whatever it may be, having that comfort and that security in that environment I think is super big. We get to stay in front of our fans and in front of our friends and family. I think home-field advantage gives us a step forward. It’s our foundation, our castle, ours to defend. We want people to come here and be terrified of it.”
For forward Daniel Ríos, he’ll be hosting his former side for the first time. North Carolina FC was Ríos’ first American club as he joined the league ahead of the 2018 season, and he was the team’s leading scorer with 20 goals during the season. With 18 goals for Nashville SC, Ríos is just two goals away from becoming the first player in league history with back-to-back 20-goal seasons. To have the opportunity to reach that milestone with his former team in town is a unique experience, and Ríos says playing in Nissan Stadium provides that extra inspiration.
“It really motivates us to play in a stadium like that,” Ríos said. “It’s really fun to hear and watch all of the fans cheering us on. We take advantage of it and make it better and makes us play better. It’s never easy to play my former team, but I will be happy to see my old teammates and play against them. It will be a little bit weird. I played against them this season before, but the feeling is the same because it’s only been six or seven months since I was back there. It will be fun, and I will try to win no matter what.”
Click here for tickets to Saturday night’s match. The first 8,000 fans through Gate 1 on Saturday night will receive a $5 concessions coupon courtesy of Nissan.