Nashville SC have gone 13 games unbeaten at home this season, but entered the weekend yet to find a win away from Nissan Stadium.
That to-do list item was emphatically checked off Saturday afternoon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as part of Heineken Rivalry Week, as Gary Smith’s team grabbed a 2-0 victory over Atlanta United behind stoppage-time strikes from Daniel Rios (first half) and Randall Leal (second half).
With nine of their last 13 regular-season games on the road, these three points should instill a belief that they can find success beyond friendly confines.
“The difficulty for any team is to convert that balance of any game from one [where] you're in it, you're competing, you're making life difficult for teams away from home on a field that they'll be far more accustomed to,” the head coach said. “How can you turn the screw a little bit more and turn that into victory? And today will be a monkey off of everyone's back. To your point, it will give all of the guys huge confidence to have won here against our local rivals and a top team.”
Back on Aug. 4, Nashville also secured a solid road result when battling the Supporters’ Shield-leading New England Revolution to a 0-0 draw. They proved difficult to break down against both New England and Atlanta, limiting the latter to just two shots on target, a testament to their backline being anchored by 2020 MLS Defender of the Year and US men’s national team center back Walker Zimmerman.
By securing three “immensely satisfying” points, Nashville also halted Atlanta’s four-game winning streak and spoiled the start of Gonzalo Pineda’s time as head coach. The former Seattle Sounders assistant manned the sidelines for the first time after his midseason appointment, with Rob Valentino acting as an interim manager after Gabriel Heinze was let go 13 games into his MLS stay.
“To win these games, we do have an awful lot of respect for the rivalry, of what these guys are capable of,” Smith said. “They have some immensely talented players and this, I'm sure, will only put some fire in their bellies the next time we meet.”
Nashville, firmly in the hunt for a top playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, return home this coming Friday to face New York City FC (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+). Afterward, a four-game road stretch awaits, while five of their six games in October are also on the road.
Now they’ve proven they can win beyond their Tennessee home. The only questions seem to be if the Atlanta result is a one-off and if their penchant for home draws (six of 13 tries so far) will prove costly.
“Hopefully as we go back home for Friday's game against New York City and then into a long stretch, there will be something in the back of their mind that says, 'Okay, we've done some excellent form at home and we know if things don't always go our way that we're capable of earning all three points in some difficult surrounds,'” Smith said. “Because to be quite honest, I'm not sure they come much more difficult than this.”