It was a rain-filled Saturday in Nashville, but no one was steered away from the inaugural game in Nashville SC history as they hosted Atlanta United at First Tennessee Park in front of over 9,000 fans. After a full 90 minutes of physical play and battling the elements, the Five Stripes emerged with a 3-1 victory to start their 2018 season on the right foot.
Head coach Tata Martino elected to start a mix of regulars of his 2017 side and some new faces for their first preseason friendly of the year, including the debuts of MLS veteran Sal Zizzo, U.S. international Darlington Nagbe and league record-signing Ezequiel Barco. With the absence of skipper Michael Parkhurst, Jeff Larentowicz sported the captain’s armband for the match. The full Atlanta United Staring XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Greg Garza (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Jeff Larentowicz (CB), Sal Zizzo (RB), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Chris McCann (CM), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Ezequiel Barco (LM), Julian Gressel (RM), and Josef Martinez (ST).
The game started off as expected, gritty and wet, but it was Atlanta who conjured up the majority of the chances in the first 45 minutes. The first of the opportunities came in the 14th minute when a beautiful build up play from Almirón and Barco led to a lay off from Gressel which saw Nagbe bang his shot off the post and just wide.
The 18-year-old Barco was electric, constantly involved in the attack in the first half. He nearly opened his scoring account with the Five Stripes after Almirón slid a pass into the opponent’s penalty area, but Barco’s attempt skipped inches wide of the far post. Minutes later he displayed his ability to create as he threaded the Nashville back line with a penetrating pass right into the path of Josef Martinez, who blasted a shot off the goalkeeper from a tight angle.
The first half ended scoreless, but the second proved to be the contrary. In the 58th minute, the weather got the best of the Nashville side as a back pass from midfielder Josh Hughes stopped dead in the soaked pitch near the penalty area. Atlanta’s Josef Martinez pounced on the mistake and curled a finish around the opposing goalkeeper for the first ATL UTD goal of 2018.
But the lead didn’t last long for the visitors as a cross from Nashville’s Alan Winn found the foot of Ropapa Mensah who hit the back of the net, notching the first goal in Nashville SC history. Even though the monsoon continued, the fans remained cemented in the stands and the home supporters went wild for their inaugural goal.
But ten minutes later the home crowd was silenced once again as Nagbe found the darting substitute Vazquez who tucked home the go-ahead goal with a one-time finish into the far side netting.
Just four minutes later, Atlanta United would seal their victorious fate as Vazquez sent a dangerous ball across the six-yard box. The clearance went only as far as forward Romario Williams, who latched on hammer home his first goal in Five Stripes – making at 3-1 in favor of the visiting side.
The final whistle blew at First Tennessee Park and Atlanta United walked off the field with a win in their pocket to kick off their 2018 preseason competitions. The red, black and gold will continue their preparation for the 2018 campaign as they travel to Charleston next weekend for the Carolina Challenge Cup, including friendlies against Columbus Crew, Minnesota United and Charleston Battery.
The club officially kicks off the 2018 season on the road against the Houston Dynamo before making their home debut against D.C. United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on March 11th. Tickets are still available for that match, so make sure you’ve reserved your spot here.