This Sunday, Nashville SC opens up its League Cup debut with the Colorado Rapids coming to town. The Boys in Gold will follow it up with a visit from Liga MX’s Toluca. It will be the first competitive match for Nashville against a foreign club.
Being a brand-new competition, at least in this iteration, it is understandable that some may question the importance of the competition. I have seen some call Leagues Cup “meaningless” or the “wrong thing” to emphasize.
But I am here to disagree in the strongest way possible. Nashville SC needs to make a full-throated run at the competition. Let me outline my reasons why.
Pursuit of silverware and more
Nashville isn’t in the position to flippantly dismiss competitions. Let the club put something in the trophy cabinet before we start ranking the quality of one trophy versus another.
This past week, Nashville squandered whatever hope they had remaining to mount a challenge for the Supporters’ Shield. With that trophy no longer in play, Nashville’s only other hope at silverware in 2023 won’t come until the MLS Cup playoffs in November.
Sitting around idle for three-and-half weeks following a quick exit from Leagues Cup will not improve their chances in the playoffs. So, why not chase a chance at the club’s first trophy?
The Leagues Cup winner also gets more than just a shiny piece of silverware. Regional bragging rights, prestige boost, legitimacy in the eyes of locals, and a spot through to the Round of 16 in the Concacaf Champions Cup (the re-branded Concacaf Champions League) would also come along with a midseason championship.
It may be a new tournament but there is a lot to play for in Leagues Cup.
Moreover, Nashville should push all-in on Leagues Cup because they hold a significant home-field advantage throughout the tournament. Both of the Coyotes’ group-stage matches will be played at GEODIS Park, which inherently makes NSC a favorite to win or at least progress out beyond the group stage.
In the knockout rounds, the winners and runners-up from the Central groups will play each other through the quarterfinals. With Nashville SC ranking higher than the other top-seeded Central clubs (Columbus, Minnesota, and Cincinnati) based on last year’s results, the Boys in Gold control home-field advantage for the first three rounds of the knockout stage.
If Nashville survives and advances all the way to the semifinals, there is still a considerable chance that they could host the semifinal and the Final.
Nashville, of course, has hosting priority over all Liga MX sides as this tournament is played entirely in the United States. Above Nashville, only eight MLS sides hold hosting rights ahead of the ‘Yotes. However, a sizable chunk of those higher-ranked clubs have serious problems of their own. This season, CF Montréal, NYCFC, New York Red Bulls, and the LA Galaxy all find themselves below the playoff line. Additionally, the two higher-ranked Texas teams, Dallas and Austin, have struggled to replicate their 2022 form. It would surprise many to see any of those clubs make their way to a semifinal given their current state of affairs.
If Gary Smith’s squad can navigate around some tricky opponents and advance to the semis, it is quite plausible that they will do so hosting at GEODIS Park. With that home-field advantage, the club and supporters alike should push all-in on a Leagues Cup run.
The closing title window
For the second-straight season, Nashville SC has fielded the oldest team in MLS. This season, 15 squad members have played at least 500 league minutes. More than half of that core group of 15 are in their thirties.
Age may be just a number, but Father Time is undefeated. Nashville will need to begin turning over its roster in the coming years. This is especially true in the midfield where Dax McCarty, Aníbal Godoy, Sean Davis, and Ján Gregus have all reached the big 3-0.
With Hany Mukhtar and Walker Zimmerman healthy and still in their primes and a core around them with limited remaining shelf life, Nashville cannot afford to punt on any chance to etch their name in the history books. Becoming inaugural champions of this ambitious two-league tournament will cement the legacies of these stars and Nashville as a whole.
The final reason why Nashville SC should take Leagues Cup seriously speaks to the heart of sports.
Above all, the desire to win and the pursuit of excellence are at the core of sports. Fans do not want to pay hard-earned money to see a lackluster performance from a B squad against opponents like the Colorado Rapids. Losing, regardless of the competition, simply sucks, and Nashville should aim to win every match and competition possible.
Embracing the Leagues Cup aligns perfectly with the essence of sports—striving for victory and leaving a mark in the annals of history. By going all-in on the tournament, Nashville SC can set a precedent for future successes and provide its passionate supporters with the thrill of victory that sports are all about.