NASHVILLE – The last few weeks Nashville SC has proven to be one of the best teams in the USL, riding a six-game unbeaten streak in that league. Nashville has also show that it can take care of business when necessary, dispatching two lower-level teams in the second and third rounds of the U.S. Open Cup. On Wednesday, a new test will be presented: a meaningful game against a MLS team in the Colorado Rapids. It will be the first time that Nashville SC will play MLS competition with something on the line, and it will take place at Vanderbilt Stadium at 7:30.
How We Got Here
After being given automatic entry to the U.S. Open Cup second round, Nashville SC defeated amateur squads Inter Nashville FC and Mississippi Brilla FC, in the second and third rounds respectively, to earn a date with the Colorado Rapids of the MLS. Nashville SC outscored the two Open Cup opponents 5-1 to punch its tickets to round four. Nashville SC learned its fate for the upcoming round after a draw held by U.S. Soccer on Thursday, May 24.
Colorado, as a MLS team, was given automatic entry into the fourth round.
The Colorado Rapids are off to a slow start to the 2018 campaign, having dropped its last seven games. The club has earned a league-low eight points in its 12 regular season MLS games, earning an overall record of 2-8-2. The Rapids are still looking for their first road win of the season, sporting an 0-4-1 record away from DICK’S Sporting Goods Park.
Colorado has been led offensively by forward Dominique Badji. The Senegalese-born forward has netted five of the Rapids’ 14 goals this season, building on his nine-goal campaign last season. The only other multiple goal scorer in 2018 for the Rapids is forward Joe Mason who has tallied two for the club.
The Rapids have star power on the back end in keeper Tim Howard who helped lead Colorado to the post season his first year with the club in 2016 with stellar defensive numbers. Howard has made 11 starts between the posts this season but has struggled a bit this season. Despite making 30 saves in 11 games, Howard has allowed 17 of the Rapids’ 22 goals on the season for a goals against average of 1.55. He has earned both league wins for Colorado and has two clean sheets on the season.
Colorado is no stranger to the U.S. Open Cup, having played 30 games since 1996. The Rapids have faced a USL side 15 times in U.S. Open cup competition, going 8-7. Even with a record barely over .500, the Rapids have not lost to a USL side since 2013. The club did a make a U.S. Open Cup Final run in 1999, where it fell to the Rochester Rhinos. That Rhinos team (then of the USL A-League) was the last non-MLS team to win the Open Cup.
There is truly no shortage of narratives for Nashville SC in this game.
While Nashville has had a lot of success the last two months on the field, the biggest storyline is off the field in head coach Gary Smith. Smith coached Colorado from 2008-2011, guiding the Rapids to their first and only MLS Cup in 2010. His career at Colorado was widely successful, going 38-31-35 in the his three plus seasons at the helm.
With him in Colorado were Nashville SC keeper Matt Pickens and defender Kosuke Kimura. Both featured prominently in the 2010 club as Pickens was the team’s starting keeper and Kimura, a starting outside back.
One lesser known off-field storyline comes from one of the youngest players on the team, Alan Winn. Winn was drafted with Colorado’s first pick in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft on January 19. After spending some time in training camp with the Rapids, Winn made the decision to take his talents to Nashville and suit up for Nashville SC. The move has paid dividends for both Winn and SC, as he has two goals in six appearances.
On the field, Nashville is 1-1-1 against MLS clubs it played in friendlies prior to the start of the 2018 season. The club saw Atlanta United, Chicago Fire, and Orlando City SC in the preseason, losing to Atlanta 3-1 before drawing Chicago 0-0 and defeating Orlando 3-1. Admittedly, the sample size is small for Nashville, and those preseason games featured a number of squad and trialist players on both sides of the field.
Gary Smith - “I had 4 successful and enjoyable years at [Colorado]. There is a bundle that has changed in the organization since I left…It’s not going to be a normal environment for them or us. I’ll have the lads on raw meat and razorblades all week, and we will ready.”
Tickets to the match are still available here. If fans aren’t able to be at the game, they can tune in to the stream on the USL’s site or can follow @NashvilleSC on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for live match updates and highlights.