Nashville SC will definitely be looking to build on a very impressive opening campaign in 2020, what do you as a fan need to watch out for?
Nashville SC stepped onto the MLS stage in 2020 alongside Inter Miami CF, and although they didn’t sign big names (aside from MLS Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman) like their counterparts, they managed to reach the Eastern Conference Semifinals, falling to eventual MLS Cup Champions Columbus Crew on the road.
Though again not much transfer business has been done, there are definitely still things that will change for the Six Strings when comparing this season to last.
The Emergence of Alistair Johnston
Alistair Johnston was Nashville SC’s selection at no. 11 overall in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft out of Wake Forest. Although he didn’t make his first appearance until August, as a substitute in the club’s first game after the MLS lockdown, a 1-0 win over FC Dallas, he quickly solidified the left back spot as his own. He would go on to finish with 18 appearances from a maximum of 23, starting the majority of those, and crucially starting all three of the club’s postseason games.
Johnston quickly became a key cog in one of the best backlines MLS has to offer, alongside the aforementioned Zimmerman, as well as Dan Lovitz and Dave Romney. This group allowed the third fewest goals in MLS, while also keeping the most clean sheets in the league.
This offseason, Johnston also received his first call up to the senior Canadian National Team, picking up 2 caps across this most recent World Cup Qualifying window, on as a substitute in the first game against Bermuda, and starting the second game against the Cayman Islands, where he picked up a goal and an assist to boot.
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The rise to the top of the left back charts in MLS for Johnston has been sudden, and you’d have to imagine the sky is the limit for the 22-year-old former Demon Deacon.
The Goals Finally Arrive
Manager Gary Smith clearly saw his attack as his biggest weakness heading into both the second half of 2020, and the 2021 offseason. Before the season was up last go around, the club signed Venezuelan international striker Jhonder Cádiz from Benfica, and traded with the Seattle Sounders for young homegrown talent Handwalla Bwana.
Cádiz showed his quality in bursts in the back half of the 2020 season, scoring memorable goals against FC Dallas, and Orlando City, respectively.
History would suggest that a full preseason, and that adjustment period at the end of last season, will only do wonders for Cádiz, and the added competition brought in by the signing of former MLS Cup Champion CJ Sapong, who has scored 73 goals in his MLS Career, should also help push the young striker.
More competition was also needed on the wings, so the club turned to Danubio FC in Uruguay to find Rodrigo Piñeiro, who was bought for a reported $1.7 million. The former Uruguay under-20 international contributed to 6 goals in 20 appearances in all competitions for Danubio last season, and could offer an extra spark to Costa Rica international Randall Leal, as well as former New York Red Bull Alex Muyl.
The Fans Finally Return In Force
The MLS world was only given a taste of the amazing supporters Nashville SC has to offer when Atlanta United came to town for the club’s inaugural match all the way back on February 29th of last year. 59,069 fans came out, and they were loud for the entire match, most importantly when Walker Zimmerman scored the club’s first goal in the 28th minute.
Nissan Stadium, the club’s home for one more season while a 30,000 seat soccer specific stadium is finished in the Music City ahead of the 2022 season, will be allowing 33% capacity when the fixtures begin, or just over 23,000 fans. This includes every one of the club’s season ticket holders, as well as some extra room for single game tickets.
On that freezing night in February, the Backline, the collective of all the various supporter’s groups for the club, unveiled their first tifo, an homage to famous Nashvillian Johnny Cash. To date it’s the only tifo the group has created, but you can expect that to change in 2021, and you can expect Nashville SC to be one of the best supported teams across all of MLS this season.