There were plenty of excuses for Nashville SC if they wanted them.
After withdrawing from the MLS is Back Tournament following positive COVID-19 test results, Nashville came into the first match of the resumed MLS regular season against FC Dallas at Toyota Stadium on Wednesday with the odds stacked against them. Already knowing they had to play their first competitive match in five months in Frisco's unforgiving heat against a tough Dallas side, Nashville was then hit with the revelation that they would play the match without head coach Gary Smith, who didn't travel after an inconclusive COVID-19 test (which was later confirmed to be negative).
In one of the guttier displays we've seen from an MLS team in 2020, however, Nashville pulled out a dramatic 1-0 victory courtesy of a later winner from David Accam, securing their first three points as an MLS club. After the match, assistant coach Steve Guppy, who was filling in for Smith, attempted to put into words what the moment means to the players and staff following what has been an undeniably challenging stretch.
"Obviously, I'm absolutely thrilled for everyone connected with the club," Guppy said. "I know how hard it's been to start with a dream of trying to bring MLS to Nashville and the reality and the excitement. And of course the knock-back with what's happening in the world.
"Tonight, things were going against us with all sorts of delays and obviously Gary not being here, the incredible heat — there was loads of excuses," he continued. "We spoke about it before, there was a load of excuses to throw in for maybe not tracking someone or just not quite wanting it enough. But we all decided as a group that we weren't going to use that today. We were going to stand up, fight our corner. And look at what happened tonight.
"We had a college kid [Alistair Johnston] come on making his debut at right back with an incredible block in the last few minutes. We've got Matt LaGrassa making his MLS debut after coming through the USL. So it was a real team effort and obviously David Accam comes on, shows a bit of an unbelievable class. But I have to say Walker Zimmerman's block in the last few minutes was every bit as good as Dave's shot. So, fantastic, for me there was a lot of heroes out there today, plus the subs who came on."
GOAL: David Accam, Nashville SC - 86th minute
With everything that led up to the match, Guppy said the victory was nothing short of a cathartic moment for the players. And given what they've been through together, the coach added that he feels as though it's bonded the team closer together.
"It is one game, but please forgive us for maybe enjoying it more than we would normally: It's our first win, away from home, we've had the disappointment with what went on [with the tournament], a lot of the players being in isolation forever," he said. "But [the players] stuck with it, Gary's done a marvelous job in keeping it together. If anything I feel like it's brought us all a little bit closer, as well. So, when you put all these things and look at it all together and look at tonight, away from home, in the heat, having to fly in on the day, all these things players are not used to — first game in five months — to hang in there and to get a win in the manner that we did, hats off to the players."
Accam himself has dealt with as much adversity as any player on Nashville's team, making it appropriate that he was the one to find Wednesday's historic tally. The 29-year-old veteran had his apartment destroyed by a tornado earlier this year, while his wife was pregnant amid the ongoing pandemic.
After the match, Accam said those trials made Wednesday's goal even more of a special moment.
"It's amazing," he said. "It's a different feeling because I haven't had this in a long time. Last year and this year have been really tough for me and my family with everything, with the tornadoes and the virus, everything. So I was just happy to be on the field and support us and to score and also help the team get our first win of the season."