NASHVILLE – In just about 24 hours on Saturday night, Nashville SC’s first-ever Starting XI will walk out of the tunnel at the northwest corner of Nissan Stadium and onto the pitch for the first time.
As the new Major League Soccer anthem blares over the speakers, 50,000-plus gold-clad Nashville fans and a smattering of red and black Atlanta United fans will raise their voices and their scarves. A prematch concert by Judah & the Lion, a rousing national anthem by Charles Esten and a shredding Gibson Guitar Riff by Lzzy Hale will whip the crowd into a frenzy.
Meanwhile, FOX cameras will send images of the scenes on the banks of the Cumberland River across the country and around the globe.
When the referee blows his whistle for kickoff moments later, one thing will be certain: Nashville has arrived in the big leagues.
Head Coach Gary Smith thinks the atmosphere at Nissan Stadium for Nashville SC’s MLS debut, presented by Renasant Bank, will be enough to motivate any player that laces up his boots and steps on the pitch.
“I think all of the guys when they get to that point will be inspired by the crowd that’s going to be there for a big day in the history of the club,” Smith said. “I would say pretty much every player has come here as a new expansion side to experience that. A group that’s still developing and growing in terms of their relationships and quality of play, but in a good place and I think we’ve created a good foundation for that. As far as the weekend goes, I’ve said to a couple of people I would think that anyone that’s out there that steps on the field is going to get another 10-15% out of themselves just given the emotion of the occasion.”
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Atlanta United comes into this match having already played a pair of competitive matches in CONCACAF Champions League, so they will have some minutes to build on already. Nashville, meanwhile, has been working on building bonds and chemistry in preseason leading into this match.
Smith doesn’t think catching Atlanta early in the season will be particularly helpful, considering all the firepower they possess. However, he still thinks his team is up for the challenge.
“I would have to say that anytime you play a side as good as this group, it’s going to be a tough time,” Smith said. “Yes, they might have one or two players that are unavailable, but they’ve got a good squad. They’ve also got some history to draw on as a group. They’ve already won silverware, that inspires teams. It builds a fiber within the group that you can’t get unless you actually win silverware or you are a good team and you’re winning titles. And they’ve done that. They’re always going to be a tough task. Can we impose ourselves upon the game for periods? I believe so, and within those periods we’re going to be able to define whether we win the game or not.”
Saturday’s match marks the beginning of a historic first MLS campaign for the Nashville SC, and will serve as an introduction to the sport for some in the stands, and an introduction to the city for many watching around the world. While pundits and fans on the outside have their own expectations for the club on and off the pitch, forward Dominique Badji knows what the Boys in Gold are capable of and is ready to prove the doubters wrong.
“Why can’t we win?” Badji said. “I think there’s a stigma around the league where new teams aren’t projected to do well. That’s fine, because nobody really knows what you’re bringing to the table. I think we’ve got a little chip on our shoulders. Why not win games? Why not cause upsets? Why not get as far as we can? We’re definitely not here to just be bottom of the pile. We want to be up there.”
Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. on Saturday night at Nissan Stadium. Tickets are available here.