“We are here to try and win trophies with the club. For us, it’s the most important game we have in the four year history of the club.”
Aníbal Godoy summed things up succinctly for Nashville SC. Speaking to media ahead of the Leagues Cup final, in which Nashville will welcome Inter Miami and Lionel Messi, Godoy, Hany Mukhtar and Gary Smith all relished the idea of winning the first trophy in Nashville SC’s short history.
“I think to lift a trophy is always something special,” pondered Mukhtar. “You train your whole career, or you train since you were a three year old or a four year old kid, and the real thing you want to achieve is to win something, right?”
Like they did in their wins against Club América and CF Monterrey, Nashville will go into Saturday’s match as underdogs in their own stadium. Miami are a juggernaut, scoring 21 goals in their six Leagues Cup matches. The world has noticed, as well as Vegas. Nashville are at +255 to win heading into the final.
“I think we all understand the excitement wrapped around Lionel Messi, one of the greatest, if not the greatest player ever to play the game”, Smith replied when asked if Nashville feel disrespected heading into Saturday. “I think we all understand the way people offer their opinions is that Miami are the favorites, Lionel Messi, Busquets and Alba are going to be too much for us to deal with, and it sounds like in a lot of people’s minds it’s a foregone conclusion. We’re certainly there in the race tomorrow to try and prove people wrong.”
Proving people wrong will be no easy task. With Sergio Busquets pulling the strings in midfield and Jordi Alba overlapping down the left, Miami have two Spanish World Cup winners to compliment Messi, as well as a resurgent Josef Martínez, a reinvented Robert Taylor and a dangerous array of young talent.
The Herons have breezed past plenty of MLS sides, including a 4-1 win over Philadelphia Union in the semifinals. The usually disciplined Union looked lost and disorganized, and gave Messi acres of space. They paid for it.
“There seems to have been maybe a little bit of a standoff and being in awe of Lionel Messi and what he’s capable of,” Smith remarked. “I also think at the moment, there’s a bit of a protective shield around him. And I understand that too. The position that the league’s in, the investment that’s been made in one individual, I get that to a point… I hope that tomorrow when we go out there, in that competitive arena, the referee just officiates the game as he normally would.”
“We have to trust in our abilities,” added Mukhtar. “The most important thing is that we win this game, that we are fighting and that we are not being shy or that we have regrets when we step off the field… That’s what we all wanted, to win a trophy, and to win a trophy is never easy. And then you play against maybe the best player of all time, it will be not easy. You have to overcome that to win a trophy.”
For Nashville, that first trophy would be confirmation that their model has worked. More importantly, it would be vindication that Music City is, in fact, a soccer city.
“It’s hard to imagine after three-and-a-half year of playing soccer, to be in our first final,” reflected Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre. “Nobody thought this was a soccer town, but it absolutely is. Tomorrow we’ll blow the roof off the place.”