NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In the music capital of the world, it was 30,109 fans forming an orchestra for the boys in gold at GEODIS Park on a beautiful Sunday afternoon under the Tennessee sun.
"It was an incredible, enveloping noise"
“The crowd were magnificent,” head coach Gary Smith told media after the match. “From the very first moment, the guys realized it was going to be wonderful. The acoustics were brilliant. It was an incredible, enveloping noise.”
The first half played out to a thoroughly entertaining but goalless spectacle, with Joe Willis and Andre Blake, in particular, making a few breathtaking saves. In the 66th minute the breakthrough came as Mikael Uhre scored the first-ever goal in GEODIS Park history, a composed finish when 1-on-1 with Willis. The goal briefly silenced the majority of the fans in attendance, save for a section of traveling Union fans in the upper corner. It was Uhre's first MLS goal, the Union’s club-record signing.
Nashville rallied to try and salvage a result and caught a break when Jose Martinez was called for a handball in the box, resulting in a penalty kick.
Costa Rican international Randall Leal stepped up and buried it in front of the supporters’ section, sending the stadium into pandemonium as he sprinted to the corner in celebration, under a cloud of gold smoke.
“I just ran to the fans,” Leal said. “This is the moment, all the players wanted to score. To see what happened after the goal, the reaction of the fans, I just ran to them. To feel that energy, it’s unbelievable.”
The penalty was noteworthy in this particular matchup, given the Union eliminated Nashville in a penalty shootout from last year’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Nashville memorably failed to score on all four of their spot-kicks, though Leal wasn’t one of the takers.
“In the past, I missed a penalty for the national team against Mexico. In this moment, life gives you revenge. Today was mine,” Leal said. “I took the ball and said to God, please help me, and we scored. But it’s not about me. It’s about the team, we wanted to win.”
Alex Muyl echoed that sentiment.
“It’s great to come back after conceding, but we all wanted three points,” Muyl said. “We expect three points. When we get a tie, especially at home, it feels like we’re leaving points on the table.”
Building a fortress
In 2021 at Nissan Stadium, Nashville were one of a few teams in MLS history to complete a season without losing at home. Now in their new home, Nashville are hoping to build a fortress once again.
“The most important piece of the puzzle for us starting this new phase of our world in this wonderful stadium was not to get beat today,” Smith said. “Of course we want to win, but we had to find resilience to at least get something out of the game. Which the guys did. It’s not a fairytale, but it was a wonderful atmosphere.”
Nashville accumulated 11 points from eight games on the road to start the season, a daunting trip. With a home-heavy remaining schedule, they are in a strong position to capitalize on the momentum and keep climbing the table in the Western Conference.
“If there’s a way to make sure we have 30,000 people here every week, well, we play a big part in that. If we play well and we entertain, the supporters will turn up,” Smith said. “The atmosphere was terrific. Having been in some very good environments, that was as good as anywhere I’ve been.”
“Our fans deserve everything"
Outside of the 90 minutes on the field, it was a party. If club owner John Ingram could have calibrated the weather himself, he wouldn’t have done much better than the reality of 75 degrees, sunny and a refreshing breeze.
Leading up to the match, Nashville gold kits became more and more prevalent across the city, even in neighborhoods far from the stadium. Those gold kits continued to build the closer you got to the ground. A lot of bars, restaurants and coffee shops had NSC flags, scarves and sticks on display, from the packed Honkey Tonk bars on Broadway to the dive bars miles from downtown.
Nashville continues to show up for their team.
“You know (the atmosphere is) good when I’m yelling at Randall and he’s 15 feet away and he can’t hear me,” Muyl said. “There’s a lot of noise, we’re so grateful for the fans.”
Pregame fireworks, flares, torches and sparklers set the scene for the party, preluding the players walking onto the field, sparking the first deafening symphony of applause from the Nashville faithful to welcome the players to their new home.
“It was special,” Leal said. “Our fans deserve everything.”
Jason Fitz, a member of the chart-topping country music group The Band Perry turned ESPN personality, performed the national anthem with his fiddle. Uniquely Nashville, as CEO Ian Ayre has been saying for years.
Tommy Shaw, the guitarist for the rock band Styx, ripped Nashville’s pre-game guitar riff ritual.
After the game, the players came together arm-in-arm to sing the club’s anthem, "Never Give Up On You" by Judah & the Lion, with the fans. It was the players' turn to join in with the orchestra of more than 30,000 in Music City.
“We wanted to commemorate this moment,” Muyl said. “There are some things bigger than the result. The love, support and genuine feeling of care we have for the fans, we wanted to show them. We wanted to say thank you and wrap up this wild moment. It probably won’t happen when we tie in the future, but today it was fitting.”