Chuka Aruh stood out immediately.
The former Cumberland University star juked past defenders, delivered incisive passes and rocketed shots during January’s Nashville SC tryouts. He earned a callback the next day, vying for a roster spot against other standouts from the session.
Alas, Nashville SC didn’t end up calling Aruh’s name. But four months later, he received national recognition for setting up a grudge match against the USL side as a member of Inter Nashville FC. Three goals against Charlotte Eagles ushered in a Music City Derby in the second round of the U.S. Open Cup.
“I had a decent game against Charlotte and am trying to build us up for the rest of the season,” Aruh told Speedway Soccer Pod in an interview leading up to what Inter assistant coach Alan O’Connor calls “one of the biggest games in the history of the city.”
El Nashico is what the supporters are calling it.
Even though Nashville soccer fans have decades of strife to go before they can lay claim to an ounce of the fervor of the rivalry’s namesake — El Clasico, the storied rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona — make no mistake: Wednesday night will be special.
Inter Nashville FC, a fourth-division side in its second year of existence, challenges the USL club whose NPSL slot it filled when second-tier soccer became a reality in Nashville. Several Inter players tried out for Nashville SC. All would like to write their names in the annals of Music City soccer history in the squads’ first-ever meeting.
“Both clubs are a testament of the city’s love for the game and its growth with the game, and it’s exciting that we get to put on a show for the city that supports us,” said Inter Nashville FC goalie Hayden Coffman, an alum of Trevecca who returned home to play for Nashville FC during its formative years.. “Whatever happens, we’re trying to earn some respect and show that there are two teams in Nashville, not just one.”
Nashville SC v. Inter Nashville FC
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. CT
Vanderbilt Soccer Stadium
How to Watch
Tickets are still available [buy them here]
Live stream: U.S. Open Cup website
Why it Matters for Nashville SC
Two reason: pride and squad rotation. First things first, a loss to a fourth-division neighbor would be calamitous for Nashville SC in its inaugural U.S. Open Cup match. Second, this is an opportunity to provide playing time to players who need a boost — and rest for squad members who have been in overdrive lately.
One Burning Question for Nashville SC
How heavily will Gary Smith rotate the squad? You don’t want to risk defeat by playing a roster of reserves, but you also don’t want to risk injury or fatigue of your main XI. We anticipate Smith to make some changes to the XI that started against Louisville FC Sunday. We’re interested to see how many he dares to make.
Why it Matters for Inter Nashville FC
If you’re reading this, you already know.
“I was born and raised here in Nashville, and to be affiliated with anything Nashville I take a lot of pride in,” said Coffman. “When I saw the Open Cup draw and knew this was a potential [match], I knew we had to make it happen.”
You’ll hear similar stories across this roster: players who are talented enough to contend for roster spots in the professional ranks but find themselves on the smaller side for this match. Wednesday represents a chance to prove themselves against a team two levels higher but right down the street.
“The hype behind Nashville SC is something we’re proud of, too,” said Inter Nashville assistant coach Alan O’Connor. “Before this game and when this game is over, I’m a Nashville SC fan. Having said that, we’re all competitors, and that goes aside for an evening on Wednesday.”
“We’re gonna do our best to turn some heads,” Coffman said.
One Burning Question for Inter Nashville FC
Can the team sustain the pace and strength to compete for the entire 90 minutes? That’s the key to success for the NPSL side. O’Connor said it best in the Speedway Soccer Pod interview.
“Winning individual battles” is the key to success, O’Connor said. “They’re a very organized side. If you saw the Louisville game, they’re a well-oiled machine. Regardless of any tactical philosophy, you can’t get a result without work rate. We’ve got to show up with a winning mentality.”
Three Fun Things to Watch
- History in the making. Not only is it the first-ever Music City Derby, but it’s also the first U.S. Open Cup match for Nashville SC. Since the tournament is open to MLS sides, this franchise will play in it for its entire existence. Thus, Wednesday’s match is history.
- A new, but old, venue. Vanderbilt’s soccer stadium is no stranger to this club. It hosted Nashville FC matches during the team’s inaugural season. Wednesday is a return home for the USL team, which resided in Inter Nashville’s current league, the NPSL, back then.
- Grudge match. As you watch the match keep in mind that multiple Inter Nashville players tried out for Nashville SC. They aren’t just looking to win a match; they’re trying to win the attention of the Nashville training staff.
There are myriad options for Nashville’s starting lineup, but we’ll take our best stab at naming a team.
Goalie: This is C.J. Cochran’s moment. The Nashville backup keeper has USL pedigree — he played meaningful action for OKC last year — but he hasn’t broken off the bench this season. We recommend him to be Nashville’s cup keeper this year so he can stay fresh and give the wildly successful Matt Pickens a well-earned break.
Defense: There’s only one move we’re pretty confident about: Ryan James should get the nod at left fullback. The dynamic wing player hasn’t featured regularly lately but did receive a runout at the tail end of the Louisville match. Expect him to line up on the defensive flank. We like the idea of leaving in a pair of veterans on the back line. David Edgar come on as a reserve against Lou City, a sign he may rotate in for Liam Doyle. And we wouldn’t be surprised to see Bradley Bourgeois remain in the lineup at the other center spot, given his recent stability and Inter’s in-form attack. Also rotating in: Michael DeGraffenreidt, who can eat minutes on behalf of a tired fullback corps. London Woodberry has missed major time with a knee injury but has been working his way back in training. We won’t be surprised to see him play limited minutes in this match to ease his way back in.
Midfield: Who knows, really? It’s death by options at this spot. We won’t be surprised to see Taylor Washington push the pace on the left flank, and we think Josh Hughes and Ramone Howell would be good rotation options in central midfield; Hughes earned inclusion in the 18 against Louisville and Howell played ample minutes against lower-division sides in preseason. Watch for fan favorite (and former PDL player) Martim Galvao to start on the right side, where he thrived against Lipscomb in preseason action. Expect Alan Winn to wait in the wings in case he’s needed for a late offensive burst.
Forward: The forward spot provides an opportunity for some rotation. Ropapa Mensah and Lebo Moloto have achieve beautiful chemistry lately, but both players went deep into the match against Louisville and will likely take the night off. On the other hand, Nashville badly needs to develop its other strikers. Expect two of these three — Cox, Hume and Shroot — to get starting nods. Our money is on Cox and Shroot, who are pacey enough to deal with a quick Inter side, with Hume coming on late.
Projected Reserves (our predicted subs in bold): Micah Bledsoe, London Woodberry, Justin Davis, Ian McGrath, Alan Winn, Michael Reed, Tucker Hume
Final Score Prediction
Expect Inter Nashville to play incredibly hard and cause problems for Nashville’s defense, especially if it’s a patchwork unit. After scoring six goals against Charlotte, we’ll pick them to scratch the scoreboard Wednesday night. But Nashville SC’s depth and strength will prove too much in the end.
Nashville SC 3, Inter Nashville FC 1
Goals: Michael Cox (27′), Chuka Aruh (44′), Taylor Washington (63′), Alan Winn (86′)