Definitely hoping to play on this rocky outcrop again. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country
With Nashville SC’s inaugural MLS season under three months away, let’s shift our focus to what happens before that: preseason friendlies. Nashville SC played six of them last year, and seven in 2018 (they added Chattanooga FC and Lipscomb University contests to that group).
That’s pretty typical of an MLS team’s preseason volume, as well. Those clubs participating in the Concacaf Champions League (Atlanta United, LAFC, Montreal Impact, NYCFC, and Seattle Sounders) will have fewer because they’re locked in to competitive fixtures Feb. 18-27, but Nashville will want to prepare as much as possible to jump into the deep end of a new level of play.
Who should they play?
Preseason friendly trip to Florida
This isn’t necessary, per se. However, Nashville has held a preseason camp at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. in each of the past two years, and it would not surprise me to see that trend continue.
The 2018 Boys in Gold played Chicago Fire (MLS) and Ottawa Fury (USL) at IMG, and made the short trip to Orlando for a closed-door friendly against Orlando City SC (MLS). Two teams at a higher level of play and one from within Nashville’s own league, all of them domestic – or technically so, at least, considering Ottawa was playing in Nashville’s domestic league at the time. The 2019 edition took on Montreal Impact (MLS) and Louisville City FC (USL Championship) in the Bradenton area, with the Impact game at IMG, and the LCFC friendly just up the road in Lakewood Ranch.
Should Nashville make the trip in 2020, expect it early in preseason. Training camps can begin Jan. 18, so seeing the first week in Bradenton with friendlies against a fellow MLS side and two USL sides (or vice versa) late in that week would be the guess.
There are other similar versions – with more formalized tournament structures – hosted (sometimes intermittently) by Charleston Battery, Orlando City, and Phoenix Rising, among others.
MLS opponents to play
With Nashville SC playing in the West, there are a few obvious options that it’d be nice to see them play in the preseason: namely, those Eastern Conference teams that are past rivals – or assumed to be future rivals – and will appear on the regular-season schedule a maximum of one time.
Atlanta United is a known 2020 opponent, and will be the first team Nashville takes on in the regular season. That early-season matchup probably makes a preseason friendly unlikely.
However, FC Cincinnati is the second-closest MLS team to Nashville, and was something of a rival during the teams’ lone overlapping season in USL, with a preseason matchup, three regular-season contests, and a playoff meeting between the sides. There’s no guarantee FCC will be on the regular-season schedule, but even if they are, the other half of a home-and-home matchup could be nice – or the teams may participate in an early-preseason event.
Similarly, fellow expansion team Inter Miami is in the Eastern Conference as well, so there’s no guarantee of a regular-season matchup with them, either. While it seems likely that one is scheduled, another meeting between the teams may not be a bad idea. Given IMCF’s location, it would not surprise if one of the preseason tournaments in their state is an option for a preseason game with Nashville.
Chicago Fire and Montreal Impact have each been on the preseason schedule once in the past couple years. There’s some familiarity and perhaps camaraderie between the franchises. Again, with both of them inhabiting the East (particularly Chicago, which seems to have been granted a reprieve from a one-year stint in the West by Nashville), they make sense to get on the preseason schedule particularly if they aren’t on the regular-season slate.
USL Opponents to play
There are a few obvious choices here, essentially all of them on the basis of geography and rivalry considerations:
- Birmingham Legion FC
- Louisville City FC
- Memphis 901 FC
All are within about a three-hour drive, and Nashville has played all but Memphis at least three times (including preseason games). Playing against the local sides from the next division down also strengthens soccer in the region.
There are a couple other options that make sense for different reasons: Austin Bold, Charlotte Independence, Sacramento Republic, and Saint Louis FC are all USL teams that will compete with (or be replaced by) MLS franchises in their cities in the next three years. Getting some familiarity with the cities or fanbases in road games, or the club personnel in the cases where there’s overlap with the future MLS team may be a smart idea.
Teams from outside the top two flights
MLS teams play NCAA sides less frequently than Nashville SC has – only a small handful of MLS/NCAA friendlies last year, whereas NSC played Lipscomb University each of the past two preseasons. However, if the Boys in Gold want to play a University team, I’d recommend a step up in competition. While Lipscomb has been solid in the recent past, a step up to one of the consistent teams nationally – Indiana, Kentucky, or Louisville, for a few local-ish examples – would be a cool opportunity for those kids and perhaps a better stretch for the Boys in Gold.
A team from USL League One, such as Chattanooga Red Wolves or Greenville SC, or from NPSL or whatever other league (Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC) could be a nice test, too.
Something that Nashville SC didn’t do while playing in USL was play an international club team in preseason. There are a number of opportunities to do that, though (and MLS teams regularly take that opportunity).
Mexico’s Liga MX and most Central American Leagues will be wrapping up their Winter break between the Apertura and Clausura seasons, and teams from those leagues sometimes take part in MLS friendlies. Sweden’s Malmö and Japan’s Vissel Kobe both toured the United States last preseason, and teams from their leagues (Scandinavian leagues often have a loooong winter break for obvious weather-related reasons, while Japan is on a USA-like summer schedule) could be options, as well.
Getting that sort of test could be an interesting way for Nashville SC to prepare for the MLS preseason.
Who would you like to see Nashville SC play in preseason friendlies?