On Wednesday, Geodis Park will host the first friendly in the history of the club. Mexican powerhouse Club América will take on Nashville SC in a showcase for next summer’s Leagues Cup.
Certainly, it’s not ideal to have a friendly in the middle of the season, particularly with just two matches left to play in the regular season. How Nashville and Gary Smith handle the match (fielding a squad that meets MLS’s expectations without risking injury to core players) be a key talking point.
What is the Leagues Cup?
Starting in 2023, Major League Soccer and Liga MX will pause their seasons for a month-long tournament between all 47 clubs from both leagues. The tournament is set to be played in a World Cup-style format, with teams sorted into groups before narrowing down to a knockout round competition.
It’s an interesting experiment, and it remains to be seen how clubs will approach the tournament. Tonight’s friendly is a test run for next year’s tournament, and a small taste of the event for both Nashville and Club América.
Current standing: 1st (Liga MX Apertura) | 35 points | 11W-2D-3L | +20 GD
Club América are one of, arguably the, biggest club in North America. One of just two sides to never have been relegated from the Mexican top flight, they’ve won the most Liga MX titles (13), the most Copa MX cups (six), and hold the record for the most Concacaf Champions League titles (seven). Summed up, they’re a juggernaut.
In terms of market share, they’re even bigger. According to several studies, they’re the most supported non-European team in the United States, not surprising given Liga MX’s consistent domination of MLS from a TV ratings perspective. According to FiveThirtyEight‘s Global Club Soccer Rankings, Club América are the 73rd strongest team in the world, behind only Brazil’s Flamengo for the top team in the Western hemisphere.
With a whopping 4.4 million Twitter followers (for perspective, MLS as a whole has 3.3 million), it’s hard to overstate the viewing power and fanbase that Club América holds.
Currently at the top of the Liga MX table, Club América come to Geodis Park in fantastic form. Their last loss was on July 31. Of their following 11 league matches, they’ve won 10, outscoring their opponents 31-17 in that stretch.
Club América won’t be at full strength in Nashville. Top scorer Henry Martín, goalkeeper and club captain Guillermo Ochoa and center back Néstor Araujo are all with the Mexican national team in the final round of pre-World Cup friendlies. Likewise, playmaker Diego Valdés and midfielder Pedro Aquino are in camp with Uruguay and Peru, respecitvely. Additionally, center back Sebastián Cáceres was not listed on their roster for tonight’s friendly, despite being Araujo’s preferred partner in defense.
Even with several stars absent, this is still a formidable squad, with several familiar names to MLS fans. Winger Brian Rodríguez has made four appearances since joining from LAFC this August, while Jonathan dos Santos has quickly turned into a core player since leaving LA Galaxy in 2021. Midfielder Alejandro Zendejas came through the FC Dallas youth academy and spent time with the US at the U15 and U17 levels. And Miguel Layún has been a stalwart for the Mexican national team, representing them in the 2014 and 2018 World Cups.
Club América are the best team Nashville have ever played, and it’s not particularly close.
Current standing: 4th (MLS Western Conference) | 35 points | 11W-2D-3L | +20 GD
Other than Walker Zimmerman (on international duty with the United States), Aníbal Godoy (injured) and Joe Willis, Nashville have listed a full strength squad for tonight’s match. How much of that strength Gary Smith uses remains to be seen. “Will we see some faces that we haven’t seen before?” he asked in yesterday’s press conference. “Probably.”
Nashville brought back four players from loan, with Koze Donasiyano and Bryan Meredith set to remain in Nashville. Handwalla Bwana and Josh Bauer will return to Memphis 901 FC and Sacramento Republic, respectively, but will be available to play tonight. It’s hard to see either traveling back to Nashville for a handful of minutes off the bench.
While Smith may field a fairly strong lineup, he’s been vocal about wanting his stars rested in previous friendlies. If he rolls out anything close to a regular XI, it’s almost certainly because of external requirements from MLS. And you can expect his core players to be on the field for as little time as possible.
Aké Loba is finally healthy again. While it seems clearer every week that his opportunity to break out in Nashville is gone, it’s worth remembering that he made his name in Liga MX against similar competition. Smith may use tonight as a Hail Mary attempt to get him up and running, as well as not risking Hany Mukhtar.
Teams: Nashville SC vs Club América
Date: Wednesday, September 21
Time: 8:06 pm CT, Geodis Park, Nashville Tennessee
TV: ESPN, Univision, TUDN
Forecast: 96°/71°. Sunny. 2% chance of rain.