Consider step one completed in resounding fashion, with the Coyotes venturing to Lumen Field on Sunday night and emerging with a 1-0 win over Seattle Sounders FC behind midfielder Anibal Godoy’s 80th-minute strike.
As talented as Seattle are, boasting a starting XI ripe with international-level players, Nashville coach Gary Smith isn’t making any sweeping conclusions from these three road points.
“It’s the first game of the season,” Smith said. “Unless someone’s going to tell me we can win the league on the basis of this, we’ve just put ourselves in a nice spot and we can move toward Minnesota next week in a confident vain. Of course, it makes a tough, tough journey that much more enjoyable.”
As level-headed as Smith’s remarks were, it was nonetheless an impressive result against a Sounders team that’s into the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals and expected to challenge for domestic silverware as well. They were limited to two shots on goal, with US men’s national team center back Walker Zimmerman, the back-to-back Allstate MLS Defender of the Year, keeping danger under wraps alongside goalkeeper Joe Willis.
Nashville also debuted new midfielder Sean Davis, a free-agency acquisition from the New York Red Bulls, alongside veteran mainstays Godoy and Dax McCarty, rather than one starting from the bench. And with their only key offseason departure being defender Alistair Johnston’s trade to CF Montréal for $1 million in General Allocation Money, the core remains for these types of performances.
“In no way shape or form did I feel at any point in time that they’re taking massive control and we were in a rearguard action,” Smith said. “So, delighted with what we did with the ball, what we did without the ball. We’ve managed to find a moment. It doesn’t always happen, but tonight we found it.”
This trip to the Pacific Northwest marked Nashville’s first match in the Western Conference, after spending their expansion year and sophomore season (2020-21) in the Eastern Conference – all while earning two straight Audi MLS Cup Playoffs appearances.
That jump, as combined with playing nearly 25% of their games straight on the road, will introduce some challenges, Smith noted. But he’s confident the character of the group will handle it in stride.
“The guys have got to get back on a plane tonight and travel five hours and recover and then get ready to go again on Friday to Minnesota,” Smith said. “We’ve got to do that over and over again, and that’s like Groundhog Day. There’s no doubt when we get to four, five, six and seven and then into our last game, you can bet there’s some mental difficulties as well as physical.”
Sunday’s result at Lumen Field came without their two Designated Players – attacker Hany Mukhtar and forward Ake Loba – finding the scoresheet, as Costa Rican international Randall Leal crossed for Panama international Godoy to finish at the back post past goalkeeper Stefan Frei. Mukhtar was a Landon Donovan MLS MVP finalist in 2021 with 16g/12a, while Loba’s their club-record signing at a reported $6.8 million, acquired last summer from Liga MX’s CF Monterrey.
As Mukhtar and Loba grow into form, Nashville’s next task is Saturday’s visit to Minnesota’s Allianz Field (6 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada). This lengthy portion of their 34-game season away from Music City, before what’ll surely be a celebratory home opener, should prove rather revealing.
“We’re going to find out an awful a lot about ourselves, internally what we’re made of, what the fiber’s like deep down in the pit of our stomachs, because eight games on the road is not easy for anyone,” Smith said. “My hope is we can keep ourselves in a good position for what will be a terrific opening of our new stadium on May the 1st. But there’s a lot of hard work to be done.”
By Jonathan Sigal | MLS.com