NASHVILLE - Going into Nashville SC’s inaugural MLS season, General Manager Mike Jacobs has said that when the team is on the field, he hopes you can’t tell which team is the expansion team and which is the established franchise.
Saturday night’s close 2-1 loss to Atlanta United showed Jacobs might be pretty accurate in his assessment.
Despite being on the wrong side of the result, Nashville SC showed plenty of signs that this team won’t be an easy opponent to beat this season. The Boys in Gold controlled the pace of play for large stretches of the match, battled toe-to-toe with the 2018 MLS Cup champions and likely could have earned a point from the match if one or two chances had gone their way.
Defender Walker Zimmerman, who scored the first goal in Nashville’s MLS history in the 29’ minute, hopes Saturday’s effort shows that this team can defy the outside expectations and be competitive from the very start.
“I think we should gain a lot of confidence from this,” he said. “Atlanta is a good team, they’re a team that’s always competing for trophies in the playoffs every year. We’re a team that everyone is writing off, not expecting to finish high in the Western Conference. We don’t listen to that in this locker room. I hope that everyone can see from today that we’re a team that’s going to compete, a team that’s going to be strong and aggressive and make it difficult to play against. I know for that Atlanta team, they’re probably happy to be walking off that field because I think we threw a lot of things at them that I don’t think they could handle that well. Sure they got the result this time around, but I thought we made it difficult for them and certainly had a chance to get something out of the game.”
Atlanta’s two goals came on their only two shots on goal of the night, and both came in the first half. Particularly in the second half, Nashville dictated the match and found a number of strong scoring chances. A Dominique Badji cross came inches from David Accam’s outstretched foot in the opening minutes of the half, which could have been the tying goal. Randall Leal also hit the post on a strong individual effort in the 78’ minute.
Badji knows the Nashville attack will flourish with even more time to jell and build cohesion.
"More games is what it takes,” Badji said. “I’ll tell you after a couple more games, then you will really see what we have to offer. You saw glimpses of it today, but we’ve got so much more to offer."
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A Tennessee record crowd of 59,069 at Nissan Stadium witnessed a competitive match with plenty of thrilling moments, including Zimmerman’s first goal. He hopes the fans that experienced Nashville SC and the atmosphere for soccer for the first time saw enough to make them want to come back again.
“I’ll tell you what, our Blue and Gold there, amazing atmosphere from them,” Zimmerman said. “It’s fun watching the Judah and the Lion anthem as we’re sitting in the tunnel and just watching the crowd sing that and getting involved. It’s only going to grow and I hope that through our effort, through our energy, through the excitement of the game that they’re going to feel like this is a product and a team that they can really get behind and feel proud to be part of this club.”