First-half goals from Emerson Hyndman and Ezequiel Barco led visiting Atlanta United to a 2-1 victory over host Nashville SC at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn in the MLS opener for both teams Feb. 29. It was the first MLS contest for Nashville while Atlanta won its first season opener in four attempts. Atlanta forward Josef Martinez, a three-time MLS Best XI selection and 2018 league MVP, injured his right leg in the 63rd minute battling for the ball against Nashville’s Dave Romney. He attempted to play through the injury but was replaced in the 69th minute by Adam Jahn. Nashville outshot Atlanta 14-6 and in corner kick attempts 5-4. Atlanta led in possession 55.2 percent to 44.8 percent in the contest. Atlanta took the 1-0 lead in the ninth minute on the first official shot of the contest. Ezequiel Barco took a pass from Franco Escobar and bent his right-footed shot from just outside of the penalty area past Nashville goalkeeper Joe Willis. Nashville’s first shot in the match came from Randall Leal in the 11th minute and was saved by Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Nashville pressured Atlanta’s defense through the next stanza of play included David Accam’s attempt in the penalty area in the 15th minute blocked by Atlanta’s Anton Walkes and Dominique Badji’s shot pushed just wide of the net in the 24th minute. Nashville’s efforts were rewarded in the 28th minute when Walker Zimmerman scored the team’s first goal in MLS history to tie the score 1-1. An initial free kick by Nashville was headed down in the penalty area by Zimmerman who pushed his right-footed shot past Guzan. Emerson Hyndman’s goal in the 37th minute gave Atlanta the 2-1 lead heading into halftime. He took a deflected ball off his chest and hit a right-footed shot past Willis. Nashville outshot Atlanta 5-4 in the first half. Atlanta led in possession 61.6 percent to 38.4 percent and in corner kicks 2-1 through the first 45 minutes. Laurence Wyke entered the game for Atlanta replacing Franco Escobar to start the second half to make his first-career MLS appearance. Alan Winn entered the contest for Nashville replacing David Accam in the 65th minute and his shot attempt in the 67th minute was saved by Guzan. Nashville’s best scoring opportunity in the second half came in the 78th minute when Leal’s shot attempt in the 78th minute hit the near post. Jeff Larenowicz entered the match for Atlanta in the 81st minute replacing Pity Martinez. Winn’s cross attempt in the 85th minute caught by Guzan in the penalty area. Nashville also saw Hany Mukhtar’s shot attempt go high in the 87th minute and Abu Danladi’s attempt saved by Guzan in the 90th minute. Willis received a yellow card in the 94th minute for playing a handball outside of the penalty area.
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.
The Sports Inquirer attended the presser of Atlanta United player Fernando Meza following his team’s practice Feb. 27.
Topics included Atlanta facing Club America in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, playing at Estadio Azteca, adjusting to Atlanta United and learning English, working alongside Pity Martinez, Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco and preparing for the team’s MLS opener at Nashville SC Feb. 29.