The once third tier of US soccer is now the second tier thanks to a collapsed NASL and buttressing from Major League Soccer. The support from MLS has allowed USL to expand rapidly and to an almost ludicrous degree. Now featuring 33 teams divided into two conferences, USL is by far the most expansive, deep, and accessible professional soccer experience in the United States.
Among the expansion teams to join the league this season is Nashville SC. However, it won’t be for long. Nashville has already bought in to MLS looking to join around 2019 or 2020. This is just another reflection of the growth Nashville has seen over the last few years and will continue to see for at least the next few. Becoming a city with three major sport teams is no easy task but the city has parsed them out to maximize the fan base. The NFL, NHL, and USL (MLS) all manage to avoid stepping on each other’s toes when it comes to drawing in crowds. A Nashvillain, if you will, can successfully root for and see each team when they’re playing at home with little to no problem. This factor is one often overlooked by the soccer pundit crowd when the always enjoyable and speculative topic of expansion comes around.
For me living in far western Kentucky, Nashville is the nearest pro team. The US soccer edict of ‘Support Your Local Team’ means I’m going to have to embrace the blue and gold of Nashville SC. I don’t mind this for several reasons. First, Nashville really is a great city. Second, I’ve friends who love soccer and live there. Third, driving two hours to get out of the county backwater where I live is something I’m always down to do. Fourth, Gary Smith is a manager I admire and his assembled team features a player I have always loved, ex-Minnesota United leftback Justin Davis.
I hope to see Nashville SC in their home opener, which will happen in Nissan Stadium to a potential record setting crowd. But Nashville’s debut was this weekend against the defending USL champions Louisville City. It would have been no small feat for Nashville to come into Louisville and walk way with points. Louisville manager James O’Connor has created a squad of role-players and relative unknowns into a finely tuned machine where team weaknesses are compensated for without detracting from its strengths. Entering 2018, Louisville City is among the favorites alongside Tampa Bay Rowdies and FC Cincinnati for the conference title.
However, Gary Smith’s system is one not much seen in USL or even MLS for that matter. It is a 5-3-2 that is fluid enough to turn into a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 depending on situation on the pitch. Calm and defensively minded, Smith’s system can also suddenly burst with goal scoring. Fans of US soccer will know this from Smith’s time at the helm of the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks and Colorado Rapids, with which he won the MLS Cup in 2010. The trick, of course, will be getting the personnel he needs.
To this end, Smith brought in Michael Reed, a journeyman (Minnesota United, Atlanta Silverbacks, and San Antonio FC) box-to-box central midfield, as well as veteran wingback Kosuke Kimura (whome Smith managed at Colorado and Atlanta), NASL All-Star fullback Justin Davis, and the stalwart goalkeeper Matt Pickins. Outside of this veteran starting core, it may be a matter less of know quality and of who most wants to prove themselves.
I have major doubts about the effectiveness of NSC’s attack. This weekend against Louisville on what had to have been one of the worst pitch conditions ever at the pro level, NSC did not look at all threatening. However, the team was able to absorb the opposition’s attack. The final score of 2-0 doesn’t reflect just how good of a job the central midfield and defense did in keeping City’s attack outside. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any creativity or meaningful intent generated by NSC’s attack allowing City to continually harangue NSC’s defense until it leaked goals.
It is likely this coming weekend’s home opener against the always underwhelming Pittsburgh Riverhounds will feature the same line-up. On a better field surrounded by thousands of supporters, NSC stand a very good chance of making their home debut memorable.
Sites to check out to find out more about Nashville SC
Speedway Soccer Pod (@SoccerSpeedway )