Voices: Andrew Wiebe

How Nashville SC can reach new heights in GEODIS Park


I’ve covered a World Cup in Brazil. I’ve been a fly on the wall as teams celebrated championships. I’ve had the honor of telling dozens of college players where their professional future lies. I’ve hosted All-Star games, interviewed players who will go down among the game’s all-timers and checked off more bucket list items than I can count.

Some of my most vivid and cherished memories from the past decade are stadium openings. Sporting Kansas City, D.C. United, Minnesota United and LAFC. All days with juice from start to finish.

There’s nothing quite like coming home for the first time. Home is a vessel. It’s where you can truly be yourself. It’s where you can connect with the people and passions you love most. It’s where a team and their city and supporters share something bigger than the game. There’s a buzz, an anticipation and a can-you-believe-this joy on those days unlike any other. Everyone is experiencing something for the first time. Together.

To me, being a fan of this sport is about two things above all: making community (friends and friends that eventually feel like family) and making memories. Both are intimately intertwined, and both will be the most important things that come out of Sunday’s GEODIS Park opener in Nashville against the Philadelphia Union (4 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes). Nashville SC are home, and their new home is spectacular.

Sharing that moment means everything to the 30,000 people that will fill it against the Union and hundreds more times over the years to come.

Enjoy your day, ‘Yotes.

There’s nothing I’d like more than for Nashville supporters to flood my mentions with memories, pictures and videos after the final whistle blows and the dust settles on Sunday. Tell me what you’ll remember forever. Tell me what you’ll cherish every week for the decades to come. Let me experience this one-time-only day through your eyes and ears.

Meanwhile, I’m here to tell the rest of the league that the Supporters’ Shield goes through Nashville this year. I say that with the utmost seriousness.

Now, don’t get it twisted. I’m not saying Nashville WILL win the Shield, though that wouldn’t surprise me at all.

I’m saying the Union, LAFC, Austin, Galaxy and Seattle (just to name a few with Shield potential) must go to Nashville, who will now play 17 of 26 remaining games at home after grabbing 11 points from eight road games, and on April 29 there’s as good a chance as any that GEODIS Park could be celebrating Nashville SC’s first-ever trophy against Houston on Decision Day.

Here’s why…

They don't lose at home

If you didn’t know, Gary Smith’s team has the longest active home unbeaten streak in MLS regular season and playoff competition at 19 consecutive games, now you know.

Nissan Stadium was a good home, clearly, but it was a rental. It was temporary, and Nashville still made it a fortress. What can they do in their own building?

I hope, those supporters hope and Gary Smith hopes the answer to that question is win a little bit more. Eight wins and nine draws last year is very, very good … but it’s not Shield good. Turn those draws into three wins and six defeats and Nashville earn the same points (with more sour tastes in their mouth).

They’ve got to find a middle ground and a way to send folks home with three points when the result hangs in the balance while retaining something close to the perfection they put up last year. It won’t be easy, but great teams do hard things regularly.

Hany Mukhtar loves playing in Nashville

Nobody in MLS scored more goals (13) at home last year than Hany Mukhtar.

I’m not going to run you through a bunch of numbers here (though I will admit the Landon Donovan MVP runner-up outperformed his home expected goals – or xG – by a decent amount). I’m just going to say that we clearly haven’t seen the best from Mukhtar this year, and that makes sense given Nashville took a more conservative approach to their eight-game road trip.

At home, Smith’s lineup selections and subs will get more aggressive, even if just slightly, and Mukhtar will have a sustained and comfortable run in environs in which he’s at his best. If Nashville are my Shield dark horse, then Mukhtar is my MVP dark horse. He’s got an entire home slate to play.

Opponents don’t create big chances in Nashville

Nashville’s defensive strategy, dumbed down considerably, is to bend but not break. Opponents have the ball, but they rarely have it in truly dangerous areas with numerical advantages and thus struggle to create truly dangerous goal-scoring opportunities.

That’s born out in the stats. In 2021, in home games including playoffs, Nashville were third in opponent xG (18.3 in 19 games), T-3 in big chances allowed (15), third in opponent xG per shot and third in percentage of opponent shots inside the box.

Their xG allowed was in line with actual goals allowed, which is a good sign. They didn’t overperform. This is who they are, and it got them a plus-19 goal differential at home. The issue, again, is that didn’t equate to enough wins. Their defensive game plan will put them in position, now can they take advantage?

This is the year of Walker Zimmerman

Congrats on the Designated Player deal, big fella. Well deserved.

Between Nashville and the US men's national team, this just feels like one of those years where everything is going to go right for Zimmerman. He’s in his prime. He’s the emotional bellwether. His legend is about to grow.

In the players’ lounge at GEODIS Park, there are photos on the wall of big moments in club history. How many of those photos feature Zimmerman’s face now? How many will be plastered on that wall whenever his time in Nashville comes to an end?

Depth, it matters

Go take a look at Nashville’s depth chart. They’re two-deep everywhere with players Smith trusts.

Nobody is talking about the loss (more like gain, of $1 million in allocation) of Alistair Johnston thanks to the play of Alex Muyl. The addition of Sean Davis means they’re four deep with quality in central midfield.

The only question mark is up top. Outside Mukhtar and C.J. Sapong, where does truly difference-making play come from? Which leads us to…

Ake Loba could finally take off (maybe?)

Clearly Nashville need more than just Mukhtar to make history. Enter Ake Loba, who has already been labeled a bust, and I don’t think unfairly so.

Labels aren’t permanent, but a club-record fee followed by 440 minutes in 27 games (just two starts) and a single goal and two assists has a way of encouraging folks to pass judgment. Loba has been a non-factor so far in 2022, with just 59 minutes played, which brings me back to Smith’s approach so far.

In many ways, it’s completely understandable that Loba has been buried on the bench during this road trip. Smith trusts other players more, on both sides of the ball. But there comes a time in which Nashville have to see what they’ve actually got in Loba, or else that “bust” label won’t be temporary. If that time isn’t “17 of 26 games at home,” then it might be time to move on.