BRENTWOOD, Tenn. — Nashville SC’s entry to Major League Soccer has been long-awaited in Music City, and the debut is inching ever closer. More than two years of buildup will culminate Saturday evening when the Boys in Gold host Atlanta United at Nissan Stadium (8 pm ET | FOX, FOX Deportes | MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada).
"I think all of the guys, when they get to that point, will be inspired by the crowd that's going to be there,” said Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith. “Big, big day, of course, in the history of the club. I would say pretty much every player — to a man — has come here to a new expansion side to experience that.”
While every player is new to Nashville SC’s MLS side, there’s plenty of experience both inside the league and outside it among the players on the inaugural roster. From US men's national team veterans like midfielder Dax McCarty and defender Dan Lovitz, to players coming from abroad or from the USL Championship level, there’s a wide range of experiences coming together for this new team.
A couple players have even more specific experience that can be applied to the challenge of taking the field with an expansion team. Center back Walker Zimmerman — a US international with 12 caps to his name — was a member of LAFC’s initial roster for their 2018 debut season, and has some knowledge of what it takes to be successful as an expansion season. LAFC finished third in the Western Conference in its inaugural MLS campaign, and Zimmerman was a key part of that, earning 26 starts.
"We talked a little bit about it with some of the guys,” he explained. “It's funny, because the thing that we stressed about back with LAFC was: Don't look at it as, 'We're coming in as an expansion team' and let that change expectations. You're in MLS now. So, that's the message here: 'Sure, we are technically an expansion team, but hey, we're in MLS just like any of the other teams.' So don't let that change our mindset, don't let that change our mentality. We're going to come out and compete not as a team trying to prove ourselves, but as a team that's wanting to establish ourselves right way."
Setting a bar for success is always tricky when there’s no baseline level established for the club. Would simply avoiding a bottom-of-the-table finish be considered a success? Is the goal to make the playoffs? Is everything short of an MLS Cup championship considered a disappointment?
In the early going, the "how" may be more important in setting up the future of the organization than the "what" in terms of results.
"I've been around the block a few times, and I've been around long enough to know that our group, what we have is real,” McCarty said. “We have a real sense of camaraderie, guys have really bonded off the field. We have a sense of discipline and organization in how we're going to play. I think that there's a real sense of urgency with this group that we want to start off our first season on the right foot."