Saturday, Nashville SC didn’t quite break an attendance record for second-division soccer in the United States – despite the expectation. 18,922 fans saw the Boys in Gold drew the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in a scoreless outing.
That was slightly fewer than the previous record for a debut (and fewer than the 20,000-plus tickets that were sold) of 20,231 by the 2014 Sacramento Republic – that was a full house for the Republic, so fortunately NSC had the opportunity to beat that record by moving its debut into a larger venue in Nissan Stadium, but the weather conspired to prevent records from falling.
Despite that, the fans who made the trip were appreciated by the club.
“This was what we like to see as professionals playing a professional sport,” said goalkeeper Matt Pickens. “You want to see people come to the game that are into the game, that come to see us put on a performance. In a way, we feel like we let them down a little bit not getting three points, or not giving them a goal that they really wanted. They were really lively today: every time we got forward, every time we got a corner you could hear them going. Even at the final whistle, you could almost hear them, go [sigh], because they wanted more. That’s great to see. You want to play for people that care. I think they showed that today for us.”
“If I could just add to that, I thought the support was terrific,” said Gary Smith. I’ve said all along there needs to be a relationship that’s built between players and the fans. Today went a long way towards that. I think the players felt – as Matt said – the feelings that were i the crowd, they got behind us when we got on top, they tried desperately to raise the group, which was fabulous. When Matt was keeping the ball out of the other end, the got behind it – there was a great reaction. They really tried to help us out in some difficult times. That relationship hopefully as we move forward, will create a bond as we go back to First Tennessee Park that can make a real difference, and create an environment that we can be more successful in.”
FC Cincinnati’s record for a home opener (not in a club’s debut game) of 23,144, and NSC will have to wait until next season for an opportunity to crack that one.
What are some other relevant records the club can strive to reach? The regular-season USL record is 30,417, another FC Cincinnati mark, which they established Sept. 16 against New York Red Bulls II. The overall record for a USL side (not just in a league game) came in a US Open Cup match against the parent club, with the MLS Red Bulls helping draw 33,250 to Nippert Stadium.
While we’re at it, the record for a soccer game in Nashville is 56,232 set at last Summer’s International Champions Cup friendly between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur. That broke a record set less than a month earlier of 47,622 during a Gold Cup match between the United States and Panama. Both of those marks are out of the realm of possibility, if we’re being realistic here. The previous record of 29,059 – for a 2011 friendly between the United States and Paraguay – is a stretch, but possible.
If NSC had seen 22-23,000 through the gates yesterday (as expected), it’d be much more realistic to expect some of those records to fall.
What will it take? There’s only one more game this season scheduled for Nissan Stadium. That’s against US Open Cup (and USL attendance) darlings FC Cincinnati July 7. That FCC has been a successful squad certainly adds an incentive to make it out to the game… that Cincy’s fans are notorious poor travelers doesn’t help.
First of all, a nicer display of soccer Saturday would have helped. That’s not to say the team was poor (though Smith, Pickens, and Lebo Moloto might say they let the fans down), but the casual fan likes to see goals. There were a lot of first-timers in Nissan Stadium. Enjoying themselves and seeing excitement helps draw them back for future contests, and the extra-casual fan would have been happier with scoring.
More importantly, though, the club needs to continue seeing success. They currently sit 11th in the table. FCC sits sixth. There are 13 NSC games (Cincinnati has 16) between now and July 7. If both teams are able to move toward – and then stay at – the top of the table, this becomes a far more important match in the USL East with a palpable buzz involved.
That the game takes place shortly after the conclusion of NHL season (for reference, the final game last year was June 11, which you may recall as the same day the US Men’s National Team earned a result in Azteca (what happened over the rest of qualifying? For some reason I can’t remember)) is a boost as well. We’ll be in just the sweet spot when fans are looking for a local team to support.