As Nashville SC prepare for their trip north to face Eastern Conference-leading Columbus Crew SC on Saturday (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in the US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada), they do so on a four-match unbeaten run that is the longest in their brief MLS history, and in ninth position in the East table.
If they finished there, the revised playoff format would see manager Gary Smith's expansion side make their first postseason appearance, arguably ahead of schedule.
But for the man who once took the Colorado Rapids to one of the most surprising MLS Cup triumphs in league history, that alone might not be enough to leave 2020 feeling satisfied.
"I don’t think there should be anyone in our group, be it players or staff, that are looking and compartmentalizing where we should be and saying, 'well if we make 9th or 10th, that’s success,'" Smith said during a conference call on Thursday. "I firmly believe at this point we are in charge of our own destiny, and there’s no reason that we can’t finish in the top three or four in the league. I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest.
"There’d be a lot of people that question that given the goals that we’d scored before last weekend. But we have reinforcements coming in. We’re looking confident. And of course, we need to take every game as they come. But on an unbeaten run as we are, we’ll be certainly trying to keep that run going."
Behind The Scenes: Nashville SC 4, Atlanta United 2
That result last weekend, a 4-2 victory over Atlanta United, was Nashville's first multiple-goal performance. The club recently added Venezuelan striker Jhonder Cadiz as a Designated Player signing to bolster an attack that has nine goals in 10 matches, though it seems unlikely he'll be available on Saturday.
On the other end, they'll have to close down one of the league's most in-form strikers in Gyasi Zardes. But they'll at least have a little inside intelligence in center back Dave Romney, who was previously Zardes' teammate at the LA Galaxy.
"I got to play against him for three years, so I like to think I know where he’s going to go some of these times, or where he likes to run," Romney said of Zardes, who has eight goals this season. "He’s got confidence right now, and it’s going to be a tough task. But I think me and Walker [Zimmerman] are definitely ready to play against him this weekend."
Columbus are on their own four-match unbeaten run and have only one loss on the season. Smith isn't in denial about the challenge his squad will face. He just believes they aren't the kind to back down from it.
"This will be one of the toughest games that we’ve had, it will be a terrifically difficult environment I’m sure, and whatever the outcome as we walk off of that field, we’ll be better for it," he said. "Do I believe that we have the credentials, the qualities and certainly the fiber to go up to Columbus and earn points? No two ways about it, of course I do. And I’ll certainly be disappointed if we don’t."