Club América was founded in 1916. That means Tuesday night’s opponent at GEODIS Park had about a 100-year head start on Nashville SC.
That’d also help explain how so many Club América fans swarmed the seats, and even the field at times. They waved flags, and they celebrated a victory at one point – before reacting in disgust to a defeat. For the first time, the away team had a vocal majority of support in Nashville SC’s stadium.
But that’s not much of a sample size. GEODIS only opened last year. Before it did, Nashville coach Gary Smith noted how the club had yet to build memories in its new home.
Tuesday’s is going to top the list for a long time.
Nashville SC just barely knocked Club América, the preeminent club in Mexico if not all of North America, out of the Leagues Cup in a Round of 16 match that was so wonderfully exhilarating and yet so chaotic and controversial that it all threatened to overshadow the major accomplishment itself.
Which is perhaps why Smith did what he did when it ended. With debris reigning down around him, heaved by angry fans, Smith stood like a statue and raised both arms. Then he held up one fist and shook it in triumph. Then he did the same with the other. Such a symbolic gesture both defied the moment and acknowledged its significance at the same time.
Because it was Nashville SC’s moment – its biggest yet as a young club. Let nothing take that from them.
“A sensational evening,” Smith surmised later.
The Leagues Cup – of which Nashville SC is now part of this year’s quarterfinals – was expanded this season to include all teams in Major League Soccer and Mexico’s Liga MX. That was sure to create some intriguing matchups and opportunities. Hosting a tradition-rich club like Club América in an elimination game was a big deal for Nashville SC.
It not only lived up to expectations. It had everything.
It was already an instant classic when it went to a penalty-kick shootout with the score 2-2 at the end of regulation. That shootout ended up hinging on a critical late call that allowed Jack Maher to retake a penalty kick that had been saved by Luis Malagon. The referee eventually ruled the goalkeeper had moved off the line early to stop the shot.
For at least a few minutes, though, everyone thought Club América had won. Including Club América. Some of its jubilant fans ran onto the field, testing the endurance and tackling ability of security guards – one of whom appeared to suffer a serious leg injury in the process.
Craziest of all: The game still wasn’t over yet.
“I figured out that I needed to retake it pretty much when everybody else did,” Maher said. “It was one of the wildest scenes that I’ve ever seen on a soccer field with people stampeding onto the field.”
Maher made his second attempt. Club América missed. Daniel Lovitz made his.
And so Nashville SC won.
After seemingly losing in regulation. After surely losing in penalties.
That turnabout resulted in all the trash being thrown on the field. More fans came onto the field, too. It was an embarrassing scene. It could have been a lot uglier than it was, thankfully, given how much the stadium’s security staff struggled to restore order and keep fans away from players.
It wasn’t a good look for anyone. Not the Leagues Cup. Not MLS or Liga MX. Not Nashville SC.
Next time, all of the above may not be so lucky.
But it’s also true that the game itself was terrific and exactly what was envisioned by pairing up these leagues. For Nashville SC, a season’s worth of storylines were packed into a couple of hours.
Defenseman Walker Zimmerman scored Nashville SC’s first goal and celebrated as if he was rocking a baby. That was because he and his wife were about to have their second child – a baby girl – at any minute. According to the team, Zimmerman would be headed the hospital after the game.
“For that to be my first game,” Surridge said, “it’s crazy.”
Yeah, it was.
It was crazy. It was also unforgettable.
Nashville SC doesn’t have 100-plus years of tradition. But it has a little more now.
Reach Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nashville SC’s biggest moment yet was a spectacle – and ended in chaos