Photo courtesy EM Dash Photography/Louisville City FC
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It will be an historic moment in the Music City on Saturday night as Nashville SC hosts its inaugural USL home regular-season game, taking on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC at Nissan Stadium (6 p.m. ET | Match Center). That moment is something both fans and players have been looking forward to for a long time.
“The atmosphere will play a huge part with us on the field. We have over 17,000 people coming and I’m excited for the boys to put on a good show for them,” sad Nashville defender Taylor Washington. “It’s not everyday you get to play at Nissan Stadium in front of 17,000 fans. Even playing in front of 10,000 at First Tennessee is a great opportunity, but there is something special when your cleats hit that metal here. The pitch is massive, in a good way. I think this suits our style. It will be a great test, and we will feed off the crowds energy.”
Despite home advantage Nashville's opening home contest won’t be easy. Riverhounds SC possesses a new-look side under Head Coach Bob Lilley, an offseason appointment at the club, and didn’t play last week, leaving less footage to work with for scouting. That is something that Nashville Head Coach Gary Smith is acutely aware of as his side heads into this match making sure to take nothing for granted.
“I honestly don’t think you can look at records from last year. Pittsburgh didn’t have the best of seasons and there’s a lot of changes there. New coach, six or seven players brought over from Rochester with him that will understand his style and appreciate what the coach wants out of the team,” said Smith. “They’re a side that’s starting their season. This is their first game, bye-weekend last weekend, and any team that come in a brand new season has aspirations of doing well. In the first game, if you’re not going to get a group of players that are going to give everything, they’re going to chase, shut down, they’re going to fight for every ball and they’re going to want to stay in the game. They’re going, as much as possible, walk away from it with something.”
STEEL FC LOOK TO KEEP FORM: After both teams came out with good wins to open the 2018 season, Saturday’s match between the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Bethlehem Steel FC is set to be a barn burner in the Rowdies' home opener at Al Lang Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET | Match Center), with a sellout crowd expected to provide a raucous atmosphere.
After Steel FC's home win last week against the Richmond Kickers, this road test is on a different level, against a team that also made the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs. After their experience facing the Rowdies last season Steel FC Head Coach Brendan Burke knows his side is in for a strong test.
“The quality of their individual players is excellent, probably at or near the top of the league in terms of experience but also quality and it really flows through their whole team,” said Burke. “There is not going to be anything easy about going to their place.”
Despite that difficulty, Burke remains confident in his team’s passing style that was key to last week’s big 4-1 win against Richmond at Goodman Stadium. There may be opportunities for Bethlehem to exploit and those will have to be taken on Saturday against a Rowdies side that was clinical in taking its chances in its season-opening victory.
“They were pretty well organized and probably sat a little deeper than they wanted to at times and the game became a little wide open in transition moments but I think for them to go away and win 3-1 at North Carolina FC and to be coming home to very big crowd sets us up for a very difficult game,” said Burke. “I don’t think we change our approach at all but I do think there is going to be a lot more critical moments in the game than there were last weekend.”
Playing against a team in its home opener can be difficult and with the Rowdies expecting a sellout the atmosphere will be electric, making it an even tougher scenario. But proper management of the game can help that and the Bethlehem players are already working on bringing the right mentality.
“It will be there home opener so I think they will try to come out and come after us early in the game. I think if we can take it in chunks and get settle into the game within the first 15 minutes, that we’ll be fine,” said Steel FC defender Matt Mahoney. “Like every game, they are just players and we’re just players and we know that we can compete with them.”
INDEPENDENCE AIM FOR CANADA DOUBLE: After managing a big 4-1 win against a Canadian side to open up the 2018 USL regular season last weekend, the Charlotte Independence will seek to do the same on Saturday night as they welcome Toronto FC II to the Sportsplex at Matthews (7 p.m. ET | Match Center).
But despite the outstanding result against Ottawa Fury FC that saw Trinidad & Tobago international Cordell Cato notch a pair of goals in his debut for the club, Independence Head Coach Mike Jeffries is determined the side doesn't get ahead of itself and expect a similar result in the second week.
“Based on the first week, I think Toronto seems to have a little bit of a different mentality [to Ottawa] in terms of how they approach the game,” said Jeffries. “I thought they gave a really good accounting of themselves against New York and had ample opportunities to get a result and even win the game. I think we go in knowing it's a tough weekend early in the season. For us going into this weekend, it's important that we're sharp, ready and we can manage to continue putting good plays together.”
It's natural for fans to get excited after a big win, and there’s definitely been plenty of hopeful talk from the Independence fans. But Jeffries is keen to narrow the focus down, with talk of the latter stages of the season being very premature.
“I think the big-picture questions, we don't worry about that in the terms of where we want to go. It's an important game, because a) there are three points at stake, b) it's an early home game, and c) we need to establish ourselves and push the envelope from what we did in the first game in terms the soccer and consistency with our ability to stay organized on both sides of the ball,” said Jeffries. “Those end up being more of the focus than where we are in the standings after two games. That doesn't come into play as a major focal point.”
There is one big memory looming over the Independence, a 3-2 loss to Toronto FC II on August 26th last year. Despite 2018 being a new season with new faces on both teams that loss still stings for the returning players in Charlotte's squad as they look forward to this match.
“It's a new season, but we still remember that game. It was a different kind of game, but we just need to be aware and remember the games are played in 90 minutes, not just in the first half,” said Independence forward Jorge Herrera.