It wasn't a show of appreciation for the 3-1 outcome, which, as expected, went in favor of the more talented visitors from the MLS. It certainly wasn't a reflection of the conditions, as the game had been played in a steady rain that dropped more than 2 inches of rain on Music City and turned parts of the field into mush.
The overflow of emotion was rather simply a reflection of the day's historic event, which marked the birth of professional soccer in Nashville. A dream until the summer of 2016 when the USL awarded the city a franchise, it became a hands-on reality Saturday afternoon when Nashville SC took to the pitch for the first time.
It also served as a precursor to another debut, as Nashville's MLS team – also fronted by local businessman John Ingram – will be making its debut by 2020.
“When that whistle blew, soccer in Nashville changed forever,” said Court Jeske, the former MLS executive now serving as Nashville SC's CEO. “People could see and feel the product, feel the fan engagement, and – whether they were watching on TV at home or at the stadium – have an appetite for what will come next.”
Nashville fans march to the match | USA Today Images
The sights and sounds of the big day were evident well before kickoff, as fans of both teams marched toward First Tennessee Park, many waving flags and singing songs as the unrelenting rain fell.
One of the many local businesses that got a bump was Von Elrod's Beer Garden and Sausage House across from the stadium, as soccer supporters jammed the site and spilled into the streets around it.
The crowd eventually headed to their seats, with the noisiest and most visible entrance made by Nashville SC's two official fan groups, The Roadies and The Assembly. They made their presence known throughout, screaming for the home team, booing the visiting goalkeepers and driving the frenzied momentum of the early moments.
Despite the dreary conditions, the game drew 9,059 fans, which included the standing-room-only supporters section at First Tennessee Park, which has a soccer capacity of roughly 8,500.
“Credit to the city of Nashville for coming out and supporting us,” said Nashville SC goalkeeper Matt Pickens. “It's been raining since last night and it's not going to stop until tomorrow, so credit to everybody that came out.
“We're going to go out and we're going to fight all year for these guys. They came out first game blazing, so hopefully we can return that favor to them the whole year.”
Fans at First Tennessee Park | USA Today Images
The hometown boosters were treated to a competitive first half by Nashville SC, which had been training together for less than two weeks. Taking on an Atlanta United side that featured the likes of Darlington Nagbe, Josef Martinez and recent showcase signing Ezequiel Barco, Nasvhille SC played the visitors to a scoreless draw in the first 45 minutes.
Even when Atlanta struck first in the second half, Nashville bounced right back, tying the contest 1-1 on a beautifully chipped finish by Ghanaian striker Ropapa Mensah.
“I am happy because out of the whole Nashville SC team, I am the one who scored,” Mensah said. “We are so proud to have so many supporters behind the team.”
Atlanta would score twice more for the win, which pleased a solid contingent of visiting fans that made the four-hour drive north for the contest. The presence of the Five Stripes' boosters was especially noticeable behind the center-field fence (First Tennessee Park is primarily a Triple-A baseball stadium) as fans waved Atlanta banners and chanted.
Postgame embraces | USA Today Images
It was a lively atmosphere, the kind that might be repeated again this year if the two teams happen to meet in US Open Cup competition.
Expect the soccer rivalry between Nashville and Atlanta to grow in future years as well, with Music City's MLS team likely to bolster a burgeoning regional competition between the two southern cities.
“I think this will a big soccer market, a big soccer city,” Atlanta 'keeper Brad Guzan said of Nashville. “We're excited being just down the road, so when they do come in [to MLS], I think it will be good.”
On Saturday, however, it was all about living in the present, which Nashville SC fans, most drenched to the bone, were all too happy to do.
“I think today was a fantastic start to what is possible for soccer in Nashville,” Jeske said. “To have over 9,000 people in the pouring rain stay until the bitter end gives us an extremely positive feeling for us about what our fan base is, and for what they mean to our club.”