Crumbling Titans? Stumbling Preds? Hey, Nashville SC: This is your moment | Estes

Crumbling Titans? Stumbling Preds? Hey, Nashville SC: This is your moment | Estes

The Tennessee Titans, suddenly, are crumbling. The Nashville Predators may be, too.

Attention, Nashville SC: This is your moment.

When its new Major League Soccer season begins Saturday, Nashville SC will open as one of the league’s favorites. As of Thursday, DraftKings had Nashville’s odds fourth to win the 2023 MLS Cup, behind only reigning champ Los Angeles FC, last year’s runner-up Philadelphia Union and New York City FC – Saturday’s opponent at GEODIS Park.

The 3:30 p.m. game will be televised nationally on Fox. It’s opening day, and Nashville SC is hosting the prime matchup. If that doesn’t tell you enough about the club’s aspirations for this season, just ask their players.

“The next step for us is probably challenging for trophies, being in the running, whether it’s the Supporters Shield (league’s best record) or MLS Cup or even the (U.S.) Open Cup,” defender Shaq Moore said. “You want to start filling the trophy rack.”

“That’s been our expectation,” fellow defender Walker Zimmerman added, “definitely this year more than others. We know we’ve had a good team. How can we be a great team that’s competing for multiple trophies?”

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Fresh off representing the United States at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Moore and Zimmerman sound confident. They are two reasons to think Nashville SC is primed to win big this season. Another is star attacker Hany Mukhtar, last season’s MVP and leading goal-scorer in MLS.

Another is that timing – finally – is Nashville SC’s friend. Now in its fourth season in MLS, this is no longer an expansion newcomer biding time in a temporary home. The long-awaited move to GEODIS Park from Nissan Stadium happened last year. No more COVID-19 issues and empty stadiums, as was the case at first.

“They deserve this moment,” Nashville SC coach Gary Smith said, “which is a normal season.”

Or as Zimmerman put it: “No excuses for us.”

In fairness, they haven’t needed the excuses they’ve had. Winning hasn’t been the issue. Winning big – at the biggest moments – has been. That has kept Nashville SC still largely in the background, locally and elsewhere, limiting the club’s ability to grab attention beyond its die-hard supporters and into a wider audience.

Only winning big does that. And while Nashville SC has made the playoffs in each of its three MLS seasons, it hasn’t advanced past the conference semifinals once there.

Unless you closely followed those three seasons, you may not have heard much about them. You probably wouldn’t realize that Nashville SC right now is the city’s leading big-league pro performer. That it has only lost about a quarter of its games. That Mukhtar is a show-stopping talent and the best player in the league, while Zimmerman became an American sports celebrity while starting for the U.S. during the biggest tournament on the planet.

“It’s a pretty weird feeling,” Zimmerman said, “knowing that you might get recognized anywhere you go. … Whereas it would happen every now and then in Nashville, now it’s definitely more in Nashville but also in other cities. That recognition shows the exposure of the World Cup in the U.S. and how many people actually pay attention.”

Nashville SC’s returning trio of Mukhtar, Zimmerman and Moore gives the club the star appeal – in domestic soccer circles, at least – that we haven’t often experienced with our city’s pro franchises. The Titans and Preds, historically, have tended to be gritty overachievers.

However, the Titans and Preds have done something important that Nashville SC hasn’t yet. The other two made deep and memorable playoff runs. The Titans reached a Super Bowl soon after getting here. The Preds reached the Stanley Cup Final.

Until Nashville SC does the same, it won’t be acknowledged in the same breath.

Plenty of passionate, devoted soccer fans in our city don’t want to hear that, but it’s the truth. Others who’d say – and there are a lot of these people, too – that Nashville’s sports fans will never widely embrace a soccer team would have likely said the same about hockey before the Preds’ 2017 Cup run.

Even if Nashville wasn’t an NFL town or a hockey town and still isn’t a soccer town, doesn’t matter.

Here’s what it does love: A winner.

An experience. A celebration. A unique moment of pride.

The Preds proved it, and you know what? Most MLS playoff games – including its Cup final – are hosted by the teams with the best record.

Nashville SC has a chance to make memories in 2023. No better time to get started.

Reach Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.