Nashville SC, Memphis 901 FC Rivalry Should Bring out Best in Teams, Fans
NASHVILLE - For two guaranteed games in 2019, Nashville SC will have an in-state rival. Memphis 901 FC comes to town on Saturday for the first of a home-and-home set in USL Championship regular season play, and the upcoming rivalry has been building for the last few weeks.
It started with social media barbs back and forth, and has since progressed to billboards put up by each club in the opposing team's city. The teams are separated by just a 3-hour drive, but like any good soccer rivalry, nothing really gets it going like a match on pitch. Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith knows from experience that rivalries can be made quickly.
"I think the rivalry builds itself because of the proximity of the teams, if you think about how quickly competition against Louisville City FC and FC Cincinnati evolved," said Smith. "In the end, we had some incredibly good games against both [teams] and of course ended up seeing Cincinnati in the playoffs. There were some extremely tight games, there was a lot of spirit and passion about the events. I don't see any reason why that won't happen with Memphis. The difficulty to really gauge is that we've never played Memphis before, likewise them us...I would expect nothing less than a pretty competitive encounter."
While keeper Connor Sparrow is new to Nashville SC in 2019, even he is aware of what Saturday means to both teams and the players on the field.
"Two pro teams in Tennessee are going at it for the first time ever. It's very important, it's going to be a big game. Both teams are going to be fired up, both teams are going to be ready to go. It should be exciting."
While a good pro-Nashville SC crowd is expected for the Saturday night home game, it appears a healthy amount of Memphis 901 FC supporters will make the drive to Tennessee's capital giving both teams support in the stands. That doesn't surprise Smith as he expects some back and forth on Saturday between the fanbases.
"I would expect that there'll be some supporters coming down from their place," said Smith. "I know that our support will want to try and really infuse and maybe even goad their fans in whatever way they can. That's all part of the banter and personality of supporters as they're watching games. Honestly, I would like to think after a good result, where the team's at and some of the positive things around the group, that our fans will come out in good numbers at the weekend and support us in what will be not just an important game because it's a local rivalry."
The energy given by the fans in big rivalries like this one is felt by the players on the field, and both groups will want to take home bragging rights after a win on Saturday. Nashville has the edge in experience and on paper, that often is thrown out the window in rivalry matches.
"It's big for the supporters to have that feeling of supremacy, that what we're doing at this club, we're doing all the right things, that we're being successful. At the end of the day, it's going to bring the best out of both clubs. It's going to be a heated game, it's going to be competitive, very competitive. It's going to bring the best out of both teams, it's going to force each fanbase to kind of raise the level and show that we're playing the right football over here, we have the better support. Honestly, it's a challenge in both clubs in many different aspects to be better than the other."
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