Three takeaways from Nashville SC's first MLS match

By Ben Sundock
Mar. 02, 2020

Nashville Soccer Club can now officially be called a Major League Soccer team after they made their debut on Saturday night in Music City.

The boys in gold played in front of a record crowd for Tennessee at Nissan Stadium with nearly 60,000 on hand to see the club's inaugural match. After going behind just nine minutes in, Nashville rallied to tie the match 20 minutes later through star-signing Walker Zimmerman.

A questionable second goal for Atlanta United just before halftime tipped the scales in favor of the visitors for the remainder of the match, but there are plenty of positives to take away from NSC's first official match.

The city is behind this team

There were some original doubts as to whether or not a middle-market city like Nashville would buy into a professional soccer club. As the NHL and NFL quickly learned, the citizens of the Music City love their sports and supporting this growing city.

Nashville SC should be very encouraged by the showing and the early reception from the fans. In the weeks leading up to the match, fans were anxiously looking for information regarding the team and buying tons and tons of merchandise.

It's nearly impossible to go anywhere in the city without seeing an NSC flag, shirt, or bumper sticker.

While the attendance in person was staggering - it would be the third-largest crowd in any European league match this season - the viewership locally was impressive as well.

According to The Tennesseean, 22,614 households watched the game on FOX Saturday night.

Nashville has the right veteran personnel

The Nashville board splashed the cash to bring in Walker Zimmerman from LAFC just a few weeks ago, and that decision paid off almost immediately when the defensemen scored NSC's first goal ever.

Though he struggled early in the match and was partly to blame for the first United goal, Zimmerman is like a coach on the field the way he commands his team and leads by example.

After making the mistake, he rebounded nicely and finished with the highest team rating according to WhoScored with a 7.8 out of 10.

He and Dax McCarty were really the standouts, but Anibal Godoy was solid passing the ball in the midfield while former La Galaxy center back Dave Romney made some big clearances to keep Atlanta at bay.

However, I was very underwhelmed by Joe Willis. The goalkeeper struggled over the last few seasons while with Houston Dynamo and those struggles were quite noticeable again in his first match with Nashville.

Willis saw six total shots with two going on target. So, in his first match with a brand new club, his save percentage is zero.

Now, like I said before, the Atlanta United second goal from Emerson Hyndman likely should not have counted since the flag for offside went up during the sequence immediately before the goal, but the referee did not consult with his assistant and let the goal stand.

With a few USL veterans coming off the bench to provide depth like Alex Winn and Daniel Ríos, I can firmly stand by my prediction that the club will be a fringe playoff team.

Is there enough attacking firepower?

Surprisingly, Nashville doubled up Atlanta in terms of total shots but failed to create any threatening goalscoring chances other than Zimmerman's effort or Randall Leal's chance off the woodwork.

NSC fired 14 totals shots and managed four on target (one hit the post, six were off target, and four were blocked) through 90 minutes. The two players expected to provide the majority of the offense - Leal and German international Hany Mukhtar - led the team in attempts with three each.

My worry stems from the disappointing showing from striker Dominique Badji. Sporting the number nine and listed as the sole striker in Gary Smith's side, Badji was woeful in nearly every area of the game.

He struggled to hold the ball up when receiving outlet passes, he managed just two shot attempts in nearly 80 minutes of play (neither were on target), and had just 49 touches.

For a player who is expected to lead the attack, this is far, far below expectations.

Abu Danladi replaced Badji and didn't make much of an impact in a little over 10 minutes of action, so, where does the team get that attacking firepower from? Could Leal and Mukhtar be moved to a more advanced position? Or could Danladi slot in up top next to Badji this weekend?

There are a lot of questions manager Gary Smith will need to address before the club makes the long trek to Portland, Oregon for their second game.