Atlanta United player Jeff Larentowicz
Photo credit: Atlanta United Communications

By E. Marcel Pourtout

Nashville SC makes it Major League Soccer (MLS) debut Feb. 29 when it hosts Atlanta United at Nissan Stadium.
Nashville has spent the previous two seasons in the United Soccer League (USL) in preparation for its stint in the top professional soccer league in the United States. The team enters MLS as an expansion franchise.
“You’ve got to think about pretty much everything that any team that exists at the moment has,” manager Gary Smith said according to the Nashville’s website. “They have an identity, they have a home that maybe they’ve played in for x amount of years that they can understand and appreciate and get the best out of. Everyone wants a home field advantage. I would say we don’t have a brand-new fanbase because we had a nice core of fans last year, but if we’re expecting upwards of maybe 50,000 at the weekend, there’s a heck of a lot of fans there that maybe haven’t watched a Nashville SC team play, certainly not an MLS team.”
Nashville acquired several MLS veterans this past off-season including defender Walker Zimmerman from LAFC and midfielder Dax McCarthy from the Chicago Fire.
Atlanta enters its fourth year in MLS coming off of a 2019 campaign which saw it post 58 points in the regular season and advancement to the Eastern Conference finals in the playoffs.
“We have to wait and see how Nashville plays,” Atlanta manager Frank de Boer said about preparing for a first-time opponent. “For them it’s something new and they may be a little nervous. We have a lot of respect for them to put together something nice together on the pitch because it’s their home first game. There will be a lot of attention so we have to be prepared and play our own game.”
Atlanta returns four MLS All-Stars in midfielders Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco as well as goalkeeper Brad Guzan and forward Josef Martinez. Atlanta won the second leg of its first-round CONCACAF Champions League match against FC Motagua 3-0 Feb. 26 ahead of its MLS opener.