This is a guest post by Clay Trainum, Vice President of the Roadies, the creator of Nashville Soccer Archive and a host of the Pharmaceutical Soccer podcast. He is pictured above center, flanked by fellow Pharma hosts Stephen Robinson and Valair Shabilla.
It was hard to sleep last Wednesday night. After more than a year of waiting, I was making my first MLS road trip on Thursday, and despite my best efforts, I woke up constantly before it was finally a respectable-enough hour to hop in the car and head to the airport.
In 2020, this writer and a handful of others were mere hours away from beginning the trek to the Canadian border to watch Nashville Soccer Club play its third-ever MLS match. The Boys in Gold were slated to take on Eastern Conference powerhouse Toronto FC. NSC had played well in the first two matches but came up short, and the hope was that the third match would be the charm, much in the same way it was for the first-ever USL season.
Then it happened.
On March 12, Major League Soccer announced a 30-day suspension of the season due to the outbreak of COVID-19. That postponement would, of course, get extended several times. The end result? After traveling more than 23,000 miles in two seasons of supporting Nashville SC, I was now sidelined from traveling for even a single road match in 2020. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that this sort of loss pales in comparison to the incalculable toll of The Cursed Year on so many, but it was still a heartbreaking development.
As many Nashville fans know, I take a lot of pride in flying the proverbial Nashville flag on the road. Traveling for soccer matches has been a staple of my summer since college, even well before I had a local team to support, and the second that we were awarded a professional team here in Nashville, I had something to build my vacations around. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I was probably the first fan to book a ticket to Salt Lake City, as I had a flight and hotel locked up within minutes of the schedule release.
I’m not used to traveling with more than a couple of people. When it came to the long trips, on more than one occasion I found myself as the only traveling supporter in the away end. I’m certainly proud of that of course, but it’s always more fun when you have folks to yell and scream with and someone to hug when the ball finds the net. I’ve missed that. I think most of the soccer world has missed that over the last year.
I was at first a little concerned that our first away trip was such a long haul, but heartened to learn that more than 20 of us ultimately made the trip to Utah last week. I was among the first to get there, landing Thursday afternoon and making my way through the labyrinthine Salt Lake City Airport before checking into a hotel on the outskirts of downtown. After a brief excursion into the city, I put my feet up in the hotel and waited to be joined by the rest of Nashville’s traveling party.
I’m someone who values time to myself on every road trip. I want to get out and get lost and find something weird that I can reference annoyingly for years on end. In the past, that has led me to places like the giant Superman statue in Illinois or Virginia’s Dinosaur Kingdom II, which commemorates a totally-true Civil War-era battle between soldiers and dinosaurs. This time around, I woke up early on Friday and got ready to spend a few hours hunting down breakfast and the Joseph Smith sphinx at Gilgal Sculpture Park. I made it back to the hotel in time to meet up with a few more Nashville supporters, and we made our way to lunch as well as the Great Salt Lake just outside the city.
In some ways, it’s easy to scoff at the very concept of Utah. It’s not often considered among the sexiest of vacation destinations for MLS fans, but having now taken two trips to Salt Lake City, I’ve grown to appreciate it. A city more progressive than one may assume, it boasts a fantastic transit system, an impressive collection of restaurants, and a level of natural beauty that can’t be overstated. Everywhere one goes throughout the city, the presence of the mountains that surround it is felt. As we settled into our seats at a minor league baseball game between the local Bees and the Tacoma Rainiers on Friday evening, I constantly found myself staring at the mountains beyond left field. I love living in Middle Tennessee, but we simply have nothing that can compare to that.
I can’t speak for everyone, but my match day once again started with more early exploring, beginning with sampling vegan biscuits and gravy before taking advantage of a few more photo ops around town. By this time, most of Nashville’s traveling party had finally made it to town. Following a much-anticipated stop at a German restaurant called Siegfried’s Delicatessen, perhaps the exact opposite of that vegan stop from before, our bar-hopping began in earnest a couple of blocks away at a local establishment called The Green Pig. I made a brief detour to save my legs at the hotel, and we coordinated a trip to get all of the Nashville supporters in the same train car on the way to Rio Tinto Stadium in nearby Sandy, Utah.
Traveling into enemy territory can be unpredictable at times, and there’s usually a bit of feeling out before folks get fully acquainted. Typically, everything goes down quite well, but it’s not necessarily always a joyous occasion. That being said, many Utahns were more than happy to welcome us into their tailgates and their stadium. The city is not the easiest place to travel to, and one gets the sense that they understand that. There were many surprised reactions that so many of us made the flight from Nashville. Our reception was nothing short of exceptional.
Many of us wish the quality of the match could have been.
We didn’t get a chance for that elusive post-goal elation. It’s always the risk when you travel. However, as we were making the long walk back to the train station, an RSL fan stopped me and asked if we really all flew in from Nashville. He thanked us. He was excited to have us in Utah, he assured us that he was vaccinated and then he offered us that long-awaited celebratory hug.
If you’re a travelin’ fan and interested in guest-posting about the away-day experience, drop me a line on social media or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.