Vintage Nashville SC win marks "first step in a long journey"


NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Entering Saturday night's match against CF Montréal, Nashville SC had won just one of their first 10 matches. Pressure was mounting. They needed a win. Badly.

The Coyotes got that win in emphatic fashion, a dominant 4-1 victory reminiscent of their best moments from 2022 and early 2023. The scoreline was important, but it's the players who stepped up that was even more promising.

Walker Zimmerman marked his return to the starting lineup after seven matches injured with a trademark headed goal in the first half. Hany Mukhtar played provider, setting up a pair of goals. And Sam Surridge had his best performance yet in MLS, becoming only the second player in Nashville SC history to log a hat trick. Mukhtar, who has four, is the other.

Regaining confidence

"It was obviously pretty refreshing for all of us to get back on the win column and to do it in a way that we all felt like was a much stronger performance than what we've seen as of late," Zimmerman said after the match. "... We felt like not only were we not winning games, we didn't feel like we were performing well. And those are two very different things."

"You can play really well and not win, and you don't feel as bad because you feel like there are positives to take away," he continued. "But the way that we were conceding goals, the way that we were losing, just the energy and swagger that we had on the field was just not there."

Nashville had struggled mightily to hold onto leads. Heading into Saturday, they had dropped 12 points from winning positions and conceded 10 goals after taking the lead. Not just holding onto leads, but extending them, was a hurdle they hadn't yet cleared.

"One of the things we've talked about lately is how we've given up leads this year and how if we get the first goal or even the second goal, we're letting teams back in the game," Zimmerman admitted. "It's so important that if we get the lead, we can't start to sit back and sort of concede possession. It's all about, hey, let's get the second goal and have that be our mentality rather than protecting a lead."

"There have been some decent performances," head coach Gary Smith added. "We've got ourselves in good positions, and we've just not been able to hang on to that, to show the sort of... backbone that we've seen before from the group. So today to extend the lead, to put ourselves in a better position, and to win the game was very, very important for some confidence."

Pressure relief

"If we just keep doing that at home, we're going to be all right. I think we're going to do really well," said Surridge, whose hat trick was the first for Nashville since June 17, 2023. "... Having that confidence that we can now shut out games, I see the sky is the limit for us, I think."

One win certainly doesn't fix everything for Nashville – Smith described it as one step forward after three or four backward recently – and they still have work to do to get into the playoff race, create quality chances, and maintain the consistency they've been so adept at in the past. But after weeks of frustration, questions, and pressure they hadn't often felt before, getting a dominant win was both a relief and something on which to build.

"Make no mistake, it's the first step in a long journey for us to get back to some rhythm, some success, put ourselves back in a position where there's some belief here again that we can get results," said Smith. "We've seen that we can score goals here... So one game at a time, but you know, it's a nice feeling."