NASHVILLE – Nine consecutive games unbeaten, 3-0 in the U.S. Open Cup, a victory over an MLS team. Nashville SC is on its finest run of form in its brief club history. Coming off a win no fan will soon forget, Nashville will have to gear back up for another tough road opponent in the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday night. This game will end the 12-game USL gauntlet to start the season for Nashville SC that included eight of 12 on the road and 10 of 12 against the top-10 of the Eastern Conference.
Tampa Bay Breakdown
The Rowdies boast one of the best home field advantages in the USL. Since joining the league prior to the start of the 2017 season, Tampa Bay has lost just once at Al Lang Stadium, a 3-2 defeat to Charleston Battery on April 22 on 2017. And until last weekend’s 0-0 draw to Atlanta United 2, Tampa had scored in 30 consecutive home games. Nashville’s vaunted defense will have its hands full on Saturday night.
Tampa Bay will be missing some key pieces on Saturday night. Starters Marcel Schäfer and Joe Cole will both be forced to sit due to cards picked up against Atlanta United 2. Schäfer was given a straight red in the first half and per USL rules must sit out this game. Cole, on the other hand, picked up his fifth yellow card of the season against Atlanta meaning he too must sit out a game. The two suspensions, mixed with some possible injuries, will make Tampa’s 18 dressed and Starting XI interesting on Saturday.
What more can be said about Nashville SC the last two months? The club hasn’t lost since a 2-1 defeat to Indy Eleven on April 14. Since then, Nashville has gone 6-0-3, gained 12 points in six USL games and is now considered one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Being one of just three non-MLS teams remaining in the U.S. Open Cup certainly helps as well, as Nashville is coming off a victory over the Colorado Rapids to advance to the final 16 teams.
The game will be special for Nashville keeper Matt Pickens as he returns to the place he called home from 2014-2017. Nashville’s man in net saw action in 112 games with the Rowdies, becoming the team’s leader in clean sheets (28) and fourth-ranked player in appearances. Now he returns as still one of the top keepers in the USL, leading the league in clean sheets (6) and has allowed the fewest USL goals (7).
Gary Smith - “We have a huge challenge on the weekend, make no mistake. Tampa are a very good side, they are extremely efficient at home and we’ve all got to try and get ourselves in a position where we can get something out of the game. It’s no different than any other away game we’ve played, but probably at the end of this run, the most difficult.”
Watching the East
Nashville’s recent run of form has it just four points out of first place in the East, despite playing a majority of its games on the road and against tough competition. The team also maintains a game in hand on four of the five teams ahead of it in the standings. A win mixed with other potential results on Saturday would have Nashville SC sitting in a tie for second place.
The game will be broadcast locally on MyTV30 beginning at 6:30 p.m. The game will also be broadcast on the radio at ESPN 94.9 Game 2. Out of town fans can catch the game digitally on ESPN+. If fans aren’t able to watch or listen, they can follow @NashvilleSC on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for live match updates a