Nashville SC Fans Celebrate GEODIS Park Opener Despite 1-1 Draw

Pictured: The Nashville SC side, arm-in-arm, singing “Never Give Up On You” with the fans after the match. Photo: Courtesy of Nashville SC

Over 30,000 fans packed GEODIS Park for the first time ever to cheer on Nashville SC who were able to secure a 1-1 draw against Philadelphia Union on a late penalty kick by Randall Leal.

Even with the slightly disappointing outcome, the passion and blistering sounds of the fans from around the stadium stole the show.

Doors opened at 1:30 as fans began to pour in. The wide concourse allowed supporters to walk freely, exploring all the bells and whistles of GEODIS Park. Parents with their children, young fans, old fans, veteran fans and newcomers all looked in awe and excitement of their new permanent home. 

After a certain age, you can’t experience to joys of waking up on Christmas morning as you did when you were a child, but for so many fans this was a Christmas morning three years in the making. Absolute bliss and joy overcame fans walking into the park, realizing their dreams had come true. Some fans were walking around, beer or food in hand, as they would if this was their 100th trip to the park. 

From the moment the Boys in Gold walked onto the pitch, the noise was deafening in the partially enclosed arena. It was something that could only be truly experienced in person.

“The crowd was magnificent,” said head coach Gary Smith in a postgame press conference. “From the very first moment they walked on the field for the warmups, [the team knew] that it was going to be a wonderful recognition of the guys being back home and in this new stadium. I really felt that the acoustics were amazing.”

Nashville SC fans. Photo: Courtesy of Nashville SC

The chants and cheers from the packed supporters section helped NSC play a brilliant first half. Right off the bat, the offense from Hany Mukhtar and Alex Muyl created great chances for Nashville but they couldn’t convert. Captain Dax McCarty had a bullet of a shot that rang off the right goalpost in the first five minutes. Muyl also had a fantastic shot but Union goalkeeper Andre Blake made a great play at the top crossbar.

Blake was spectacular all game, especially in the first half, frustrating Nashville’s offense with four saves–all being great displays of athleticism. NSC had nine total shots, including four from inside the box. They had 81 percent passing accuracy and had possession of the ball 59 percent of the entire first half. However, even with these numbers, the Boys in Gold couldn’t score.

“To see the guys start off the first half life they did was very, very pleasing,” Smith noted. “I was really disappointed we didn’t go a goal up.”

In the second half, Philly made more chances on offense while Nashville struggled to capture the energy and speed they had in the first half. Mukhtar and CJ Sapong were well defended, preventing any big chances from developing.

Goalkeeper Joe Willis had a solid game until the the 66th minute when Union forward Mikael Uhre received a pass off a counter, took the ball into the box, and placed a beautiful shot on net to give Philadelphia the lead. Nashville was caught off guard in their only poor defensive display of the game.

It wasn’t until late in the match that NSC made some moves and drew a penalty off of a Jose Martinez handball. This was a golden opportunity for the Boys in Gold to make it even which was just what they did.

Randall Leal celebrating his successful penalty kick. Photo: Courtesy of Nashville SC

Leal took the penalty and drilled it to the bottom right side of the net, getting just under Blake’s arm for the first Nashville SC goal in park history. The roar of the crowd was magnified as the penalty was scored right in front of the supporters section.

In last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals, Blake saved Leal’s penalty shot in a shootout which Nashville went on to lose. As Leal explained, this was a sort of revenge for him.

“In that moment I just took it because life always gives you revenge, always. Today it was mine. I took the ball and said to God, ‘Please heal me,’ and we scored. It’s not about me or about the goal, it’s about the team,” Leal shared.

Even though they only secured one point, the Nashville SC side locked arm-in-arm by the supporters section and sang Judah & the Lion‘s “Never Give Up On You” with the fans. They took time to recognize the fans who’ve been with the club from back in its USL days and have supported them through thick and thin.

“I don’t think we’ll do that too often when there is a tie, but we wanted to commemorate this moment,” Muyl said. ” There are some things that are bigger than results. It was the love and the support and just the overall, genuine feeling of care that we have for [the fans]. I think if had lost, we would’ve done it because it was just to say thank you to them and wrap up this wild moment.”

Nashville SC now sits in ninth place in the Western Conference standings with 12 points. Their next match is against Real Salt Lake on Sunday, May 8 at GEODIS Park. They will then take on Atlanta United FC on Wednesday, May 11 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 32.

Steven Boero