NASHVILLE – The MLS is Back Tournament schedule is here, and Nashville SC’s slate is chock full of storylines. From unexpected player reunions to early-morning clashes, there’s no shortage of intrigue in Orlando.
Here are the storylines you need to know for Nashville SC’s MLS is Back schedule:
Chicago Fire FC, Wednesday, July 8 at 9:30 p.m. CT, ESPN and ESPN Deportes
Best Foot Forward – Head Coach Gary Smith has emphasized the importance of a strong start in the tournament. Particularly in a group of six teams, securing a win right off the bat could set a much easier path towards the knockout round in the next two matches, especially with the announcement that the top three teams in Group A are guaranteed to advance.
“Our challenge will be to get off to a good start,” Smith said. “If you watch any of the big tournaments you know it will be ringing in everybody's ears when we get down there: if you can just get off to a good start, you got a real good chance of progressing. You hear it many times in in Euro Championships or World Cup and that's what we’ll be fighting for: get points under our belt.”
Dax Is Back – Nashville SC’s first match at the MLS is Back Tournament will be a special one for captain Dax McCarty, who will get to face the Chicago Fire for the first time since being traded to Nashville after the 2019 season. Chicago was not originally on Nashville’s 2020 schedule, so McCarty is looking forward to this unexpected reunion.
“I’m obviously excited to play against my former club,” he said. “Going from assuming that we weren’t playing them at all this year because we were in the West and now playing them in this tournament because we’re in the East, I think that is just a perfect microcosm of just what this whole year in 2020 has been like. Just complete unpredictability across the board.”
Preseason Memories – Chicago is the only team in Group A that Nashville SC has faced in any regular season match or preseason friendly. The two squared off in a preseason friendly in February with Chicago taking a narrow win. That match featured Nashville SC’s first goal of preseason with Randall Leal scoring at the end of the first half on an assist from Hany Mukhtar.
Philadelphia Union, Tuesday, July 14 at 7:00 p.m. CT, TUDN/Twitter
Old Friends – Nashville SC’s second match features another pair of reunions as David Accam and Derrick Jones will get to face their former club for the first time. Accam spent 2018 and the first part of the 2019 with the Union before spending the final half of 2019 with Columbus Crew SC. Jones came up through the Union’s academy system and became the first signing for the club’s USL affiliate before being traded to Nashville.
The match will also be a special one for Taylor Washington, who was drafted by the Union in 2016, making one friendly appearance for the club. Ken Tribbett also made 23 appearances across two seasons with the Union, including a start against Toronto FC in the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Early Season Momentum? – Right before the season was paused, the Union played one of the most memorable MLS matches in recent memory, a 3-3 thriller against LAFC in Los Angeles. That match featured a goal of the year candidate scored on a free kick by the Union’s Jakob Glesnes. Whether or not the momentum of that March thriller has carried through the season pause remains to be seen.
Orlando City SC, Monday, July 20 at 8:00 a.m. CT, ESPN and ESPN Deportes
Rise and Shine – This match will be Nashville’s only group stage match taking place in the early morning window. The unique kickoff time was designed to avoid playing in the heat and humidity of an Orlando summer afternoon. With the early start, routines will have to be adjusted and preparation will be slightly different.
First Meetings – In its short MLS history, Orlando City SC has struggled against new expansion clubs in their first meetings. Since joining MLS in 2015, Orlando has played five matches against new MLS clubs, including its own inaugural match against fellow expansion club NYCFC. In those five matches, Orlando City SC has won just once, a 5-1 win over eventual last-place finisher FC Cincinnati in 2019.
Nashville SC’s novelty and unfamiliarity to opponents could be an advantage in this match, particularly against a club that has struggled against new teams.
The MLS is Back Tournament kicks off July 8 in Orlando. Click here for more information about the tournament format, health and safety protocols and more.