Last Saturday was a cold night, made even colder by the lack of creativity Nashville Soccer Club showed for long stretches of its semi-final game (and loss) against Indy 11.
While our history with this rivalry would have predicted little else but a dreary match, it still wasn’t what I expected. A combination of the win streak we had been on (including some marvelous goals and great play overall) and the way other results were lining up our way (specifically, the Pittsburgh and Phoenix losses) had me giddily visualizing a final in Nashville. Indeed, the fact that Davey and I had been so happy to cancel our flights to Phoenix, where we expected Nashville to play the final, made me dream big that we would get to watch the final live anyway, just at home rather than away.
It wasn’t to be. Hats off to Indy. They played well and constantly kept multiple men behind the ball. While I have never been great at judging if the losing team’s poor performance was more of their own making than the play of the opposition, I can definitely say that Indy outplayed us in most facets of the game. (My editor will surely correct me if I am statistically wrong*).
At any rate, I’m never one to linger too long on the negatives of any situation, and I don’t want to do that here. Fortunately, for all of us, there are enough positives that it makes it easy to look forward to next season. Here are some of the reasons why:
1. The Backline’s multiple modes of growth: What is now the Backline has become something rather impressive. In my very first column, I criticized the supporter sections for what I saw as a lack of creativity. And while I got a lot of kick back from those who were in the supporters’ section (as well as a few bits of praise), I would still stand by what I said at the beginning of the season. I used to cringe a little because from where I sat, all I heard were the mumblings of chants and drums that I could hear in stadiums all across the world. And when I say mumblings, I mean that. Yeah, my ears are older than some of yours, but unless I knew the song (and I knew all of them), I wouldn’t have known what they were singing.
What a difference a season makes. Both at Nissan and at home—especially during that final match—the supporters section was larger than ever, louder than ever and, importantly, more Nashville SC than ever. Some of you told me to be patient, that rituals and original ideas would come with time. You were right. What I didn’t expect was the rapid growth in enthusiasm. The other night, while there were more empty seats than I would have liked to see, the Backline looked larger, and sounded larger, than ever. Even when I’m at my most curmudgeonly, I can’t help but be impressed.
2. The Alabama Guy: A trio of us had purchased SRO tickets for this game, not because we’re cheap, but because, for the last several games, we’ve had a great time watching while wandering around the stadium. It’s a fun way to watch the game, visit with friends and take in a variety of perspectives. In the second half, I was standing next to this guy who was clearly there by himself. After a conversation about the officiating (what else?), I introduced myself. He turned out to be named... well, I’ve forgotten, but he turned out to be a guy from somewhere west of Huntsville, who had driven 90 miles to come see the game. This was his second game, with the other playoff being the first. I talked about his motivations for coming, and he was genuinely excited and regretted that he hadn’t started coming up earlier. Alabama Guy routinely makes the trip up to watch the Preds and thought NSC was giving him an entirely new experience, a new reason to make the journey.
Now, I’m not excited just by the fact the one additional person was attending these games. I took heart in the fact that he seemed to be having such a good time, even at such a miserable game. We get more people to be sharing that sentiment, we’ll have a lot more people to contend with at the games.
3. The Game Day Tribe: While the crowds may have levelled off, my sense as the season went on was that we all got more familiar with one another. It’s not that I know everyone by name or face—there are way too many people for that. It’s more that it became a routine, and we knew what to do, how to go into it. It became more real, more a part of the fabric of our lives. By season’s end, I really find myself getting more and more excited on game days to be there with the entire NSC tribe. I can’t quite put this into words, but there it is.
4. The Gratefulness Factor: When I returned home that night (and, yes, I stayed the entire game), I went onto social media expecting to see a lot of complaints and normal post game whining. And there was some of that, to be sure. But what was remarkable was the greater number of posts and comments I saw of fans who seemed genuinely grateful and touched by the experience this season. The number of posts I read that went something like this, “While not the result I wanted, I am incredibly grateful for _____ or happy with ____“ or whatever. That is, the focus, after a hard loss, was on the meaning of the family itself, and the prospect of an MLS future. That is precisely the type of fan culture that is addictive and generative.
5. The Past and the Future: In one of the most recent episodes of the HBO series Succession, character Logan Roy is asked if he hates the past; he claims he doesn’t but admits that there is just so much of it, and the future is what is real. I was really moved by this statement, but when I think about it in terms of NSC, I’m just thrilled that we’ve already built two years of USL experience (not even counting the Nashville FC days before that). We’ve built stories to tell one and other in the future. We’ve seen goals and matches that we’ll be talking about far, far into this “real” future. History binds us, and we are starting to build that history.
Season 2 is a wrap, then, but I sure as hell look forward to following this road to the next level.
*Editor's note - on paper, Nashville were the better team, but Indy more than passed the eye test.