After months of anticipation and a steady drip of player signings, we finally know when and where Nashville SC will play in 2018. As our friends The Roadies and The Assembly plan their road trips, we’ve been busy calling shotgun — and analyzing the schedule for noteworthy nuggets.
Here are five things that intrigue us about the 2018 slate:
1. A chance to finish strong
Let’s start at the end of the schedule, since the final stretch may be the most important part of the slate for this team. Nashville SC will play five home games in its final seven contests — a serious chance to do late damage and improve its playoff standing.
Even more notably, three of those games are against teams that contended for the USL Cup last year: Charleston, which finished with the 2nd best record in the Eastern Conference, Tampa Bay (3rd best) and New York Red Bulls II, which advanced to the USL semifinals. Add in an always-strong FC Cincinnati side and you’ve got home-field advantage against some powerhouses to close the regular season.
2. Regional rivalries will flourish
Nashville and its fans will have a wonderful opportunity to christen some fierce rivalries in year one. The four teams Nash SC plays three times are all either from bordering states or have a strong foundation of hostility.
Louisville City won the league last year and resides just up I-65. Atlanta United Two provides fans with an early glimpse at a future MLS rival’s top prospects. Charlotte launched an unsuccessful MLS bid but has an avid fan base in the heart of the Tar Heel State.
And we don’t need to tell you how FC Cincinnati fans feel about Nashville being selected ahead of their city for an MLS bid. Or, for that matter, about how they turn out for games.
3. Road trip, anyone?
Nashville’s location in the heart of the Mid-South will make for a fun — and logistically simple — season. 25 of its 34 games will be played at home, in a bordering state or within a five-hour drive of Music City.
We have a feeling there will be scores of Nashville supporters at each match — and plenty of opposing fans at First Tennessee Park.
4. Summer will tell the story of the season
How Nashville performs in June and July will position the club for the rest of the season. The Boys in Gold play four home games in June, only interrupting the homestand for a jaunt to Tampa Bay. None of the teams Nashville hosts in that homestand contended for a USL title last year — Bethlehem finished 8th in the East and Penn FC 11th, while Indy Eleven and ATL2 are new to the league.
In July, the tables turn. Following the homestand, Nashville is on the road for four of its next six games. That includes a road trip to the Great North and road tests against always-tough Charlotte and Cincinnati. Cruelly, the league scheduled a home game between trips to Ottawa and Toronto, and those three games take place in an eight-day span.
If Nashville can thrive in June and survive July, it could be set up nicely for the home stretch.
5. This is a grind
Playing a game every five days isn’t for the faint of foot. USL teams are rewarded as much for their tenacity as for their talent. A road-weary July and six-game September will test this club as much as any opponent. The keys: squad depth, mental toughness and enough ability to outlast fellow road warriors.
Gary Smith is building a roster that aims to compete for a title in year one. We’re excited to go along for the ride.