2020 wasn’t the expansion year Nashville SC expected. On the field, they made a historic playoff run to the Eastern Conference semifinals, falling to eventual MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew in extra time. Just the second team in MLS history to win a playoff match in their expansion year, their success took the league by surprise.
Off the field, the season was different than anyone could have imagined. From the tornadoes that caused incredible damage to the city, to the Covid-19 pandemic putting the season on hold and forcing Nashville out of the MLS is Back tournament, to playing home matches in front of empty stands or very small crowds, 2020 was a memorable year for all the wrong reasons.
Through it all, our Casey Gower was at Nissan Stadium to photograph the best of Nashville SC’s expansion year. Broadway Sports thanks Casey for his tireless work and skill, as well as Michael Giglio and Hardison Moles, who each photographed a match this season.
Here are our favorite photos from Nashville SC’s 2020 season.
1. 59,059 fans at Nashville SC’s MLS debut
Nashville’s home opener was one of the highlights of the 2020 season, with nearly 60,000 fans packing out Nissan Stadium. The match set the record for the best attended soccer match in the state of Tennessee, and was the second-highest attendance total of the 2020 MLS season.
2. Alan Winn’s electric cameo
Alan Winn made his MLS debut off the bench in Nashville’s home opener, and was the most exciting player on the pitch. The rest of the season didn’t follow suit, but those 25 minutes were fun.
3. Walker Zimmerman scores Nashville’s first MLS goal
Nashville lost their opener 2-1, but Walker Zimmerman’s goal was one of the best moments of 2020.
4. Dan Lovitz blazes down the left wing
Dan Lovitz was one of Nashville’s best players throughout the season, and was one of the best left-backs in MLS. This shot from Casey Gower is a gem.
5. Aníbal Godoy’s rocket against Miami
Aníbal Godoy’s lone goal of the 2020 season came in style. The midfielder collected a loose ball on the edge of the box, before smashing home a rocket to the top corner with his weaker right foot.
6. Gary Smith celebrates a win over Miami
Nashville had a great record against fellow expansion side Inter Miami CF, drawing once and beating them twice, including a 3-0 win in the first round of the playoffs. Here, head coach Gary Smith and Dan Lovitz celebrate their 1-0 win on August 30.
7. Randall Leal’s first goal for Nashville
It took Nashville’s designated players a while to get up and running, but Randall Leal’s first goal was an important one, securing a 1-1 draw with Orlando City.
8. Dax McCarty and Alistair Johnston discuss the match after the final whistle
Captain Dax McCarty was the clear leader of the team, acting as a second coach on the field and helping younger players like rookie Alistair Johnston adapt to MLS.
9. Fans return to the stadium
After playing in front of empty stands at Nissan Stadium after the league resumed play, a group of 10 fans were allowed to attend Nashville’s home match on September 26 against Houston. It was the first time in 210 days that fans watched a match at Nissan Stadium in person.
10. Daniel Ríos’s hot streak
Daniel Ríos came to Nashville with high expectations, and ended the season tied as the team’s top scorer with five goals. His goal against Houston was his second goal in as many games, earning a valuable point.
11. Hany Mukhtar avoids a tackle
Designated player Hany Mukhtar was one of the bright spots of the season for Nashville, especially down the stretch. Here, he avoids a challenge from Houston’s Matías Vera in one of Casey Gower‘s best shots of the season.
12. Jhonder Cádiz’s first goal in gold
Nashville finally signed a designated player striker, with Jhonder Cádiz joining on loan from Benfica in October. His first goal in a gold shirt game in a 3-0 win over FC Dallas. The strike from distance took a major deflection on its way in, but the celebration was especially memorable.
13. Daniel Ríos wrecks the Dallas defense
Daniel Ríos’s solo effort against Dallas was spectacular, one of Nashville’s best goals of the season. Dallas defender Reto Ziegler will have nightmares about that one for a while…
14. Nashville players make a statement for racial equality
MLS’s 2020 season will long be remembered for the statements players made in support of racial equality. Here, Nashville players take a knee during the national anthem before their match against Chicago Fire.
15. Aníbal Godoy wins a challenge
Aníbal Godoy bossed the midfield for Nashville all season, winning plenty of tackles. Here, he takes the ball from Chicago’s Przemysław Frankowski in a spectacular shot from Casey Gower.
16. Brian Anunga can’t believe the referee
Maybe the face of the season here from Brian Anunga.
17. Walker Zimmerman’s last ditch defending
Nashville’s Walker Zimmerman didn’t win MLS Defender of the Year by accident. Here, the center-back blocks a certain goal from Dallas’s Ryan Hollingshead. Hollingshead ended up getting the rebound and scoring seconds later, but still… it was a great play and an even better photo.
18. Players salute the fans
Nashville’s final home match of the regular season was a 1-0 loss to FC Dallas. Here, the players applaud the socially-distanced crowd of 3,789 fans in attendance.
19. Randall Leal’s playoff rocket
Nashville won their first-ever playoff match in style, cruising past fellow expansion side Inter Miami in a 3-0 win. Randall Leal opened the scoring in style, smashing an absolute rocket to the top corner from 30 yards out.
20. First-ever playoff win
Nashville SC became the first expansion side to win a playoff match in their first year since Chicago Fire all the way back in 1998. The Boys in Gold would go on to beat Toronto on the road before falling in Columbus to the eventual champions in extra time of the Eastern Conference semi-final.