NASHVILLE, Tenn. — There’s no easy time to face Atlanta United. The Five Stripes have made the playoffs in each of their three years in existence, winning the 2018 MLS Cup and following that by taking home the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
In other words, it could be a tough welcome to the league when Nashville SC play their inaugural MLS game on Saturday night against their Georgia neighbors (8 pm ET | FOX, TSN4, MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada).
However, the ripple effects from Atlanta's Open Cup victory — namely their participation in this year's Concacaf Champions League, beginning with a round-of-16 victory over Motagua this month — means Nashville has already gotten to scout Atlanta in two live, meaningful matches.
“We're excited to watch them in Champions League, it's good for us because we get a decent scout,” said Nashville center back Walker Zimmerman. “Other games, you're coming into the season and it's everyone's first game. At least we have two games of film to look at, and it should give us a good idea of what to expect."
The compact early-season schedule also means there’s little chance for Atlanta United to recover: a Tuesday-Saturday turnaround from the home leg against the Honduran side to an away trip to Music City is a tough ask for a team that’s already short-handed.
Atlanta are still waiting on a work visa for midfielder Mattheus Rossetto and also tending to several health questions, meaning Nashville just might be playing this first fixture in a nascent rivalry at the right time.
“I know they're dealing with a couple of injuries right now, which: who knows how those injured guys are going to recover before the weekend,” said Nashville midfielder Dax McCarty. “But it is definitely an advantage to be able to see them play, and to be able to see what they're all about.”
Even with those advantages, Nashville SC is well aware that the season-opening game presents a tall order.
"I would have to say that any time that you play against a side as good as this group, it's going to be a tough time,” said head coach Gary Smith. “Yes, they might have one or two players that are either available or not available, but they've got a good squad.
“They've also got some history to draw on as a group. They've already won silverware: that inspires teams, it builds a fiber within the group that you can't get unless you actually win silverware, or you are a good team and are winning titles, and they've done that. They're always going to be a tough task.”