Music City Heartbreak: Nashville’s postseason history

Screen Shot 2019-10-22 at 11.29.14 AMThere are few things as ubiquitous in Nashville’s sports history as postseason misery. On the rare occasion that a Nashville team makes the playoffs, it will inevitably end in one of the saddest ways possible. While there will always be exceptions to this rule, the evidence is clear, whether it’s Kevin Dyson hopelessly reaching for that extra yard in Super Bowl XXXIV or Kevin Pollock inexplicably blowing his whistle in Game 6. When the postseason rolls around, there has almost always been a moment that will rock a Nashville fan to their core.

Nashville Soccer Club fans are new in the landscape but familiar to this feeling as well. After a dramatic end to the regular season in 2018, the Boys in Gold were off to see a record-setting first-place FC Cincinnati in the playoffs. All NSC did was play them even through 90 minutes to force extra time. After Cincy pulled ahead early, a magical Bradley Bourgeois goal leveled things very late into the proceedings and forced the match to be decided on penalties. Nashville made all five of its attempts, pushing things into overtime in the shootout as well, but unfortunately, a sixth conversion was to much to ask. The season ended and tears were shed.

At the time, my research wasn’t prepared to handle how that episode of soccer misery measured up in the city’s history, but it is now, and the numbers aren’t particularly pretty for Nashville fans. NSC, who has thrived in areas that so many of its predecessors have failed, will be looking to continue making history on Saturday.

This is well-traced territory around these parts, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that it took a while for Nashville to even taste the postseason in the first place. The Diamonds certainly didn’t in 1983, and it would take five years for the amateur Metros to get there, failing every season from 1991-1994. They finally broke through in 1995. It should come as no surprise at this point, the ending was hard to swallow for Metros fans. Playing in the now-defunct USISL Premier League, the team hit the road for a match at the Birmingham Grasshoppers on Aug. 4, 1995. After playing level for 90 minutes, Birmingham found the back of the net in the last minute of extra time.

A year later, things went much better as the Metros closed out their would-be final amateur season with a solid postseason run. In the first round of the tournament, the Metros picked up goals from Ken Hoey and Doug Schenkel to upset the Roanoke Riverdawgs. A week later, the team found itself in the divisional semifinals in Jackson, Miss., and former Metros star Pasi Kimpuri picked out Tony Siikala for the winner in a 1-0 victory over the Florida Strikers. The run ended just a day later as both Siikala and Kimpuri were back on the scoresheet in a 3-2 extra time loss to the host Jackson Generals.

Two playoff trips, both ended in extra time.

In 1997, the Metros transitioned into the professional ranks in the USISL A-League, and they made the most of it, earning a trip to the postseason, which now featured two-legged series. On Sept. 5, the Metros welcomed the Milwaukee Rampage to the Columbia Soccer Complex, and things could not have started off better for the first home playoff match in the city’s history. Tim Geltz opened the scoring just 70 seconds into the match. However, a familiar bug-a-boo was just around the corner, with the Rampage’s Nick Igel and David Marshall each finding the net in the game’s final 10 minutes to pick up the victory. In the return leg two days later, Dan Stebbins keyed a dominant ending to the series for the hosts, linking up with Myles Stoddard for the opener in the 73rd minute and then picking up a pair of goals himself in the 81st and 83rd.

A year later, things continued in heartbreak fashion as a Martin Reynders scored a pair of second half goals to force overtime with the New Orleans Storm at Columbia/HCA Soccer Complex. The Metros, who enjoyed their best-ever season, boasting of 20 wins and a No. 2 seed, looked like they had figuratively and literally weathered the storm in the added period when the team earned a penalty. However, Steve Klein, a Brentwood native (and future Christian Pulisic academy director), missed his chance to change the narrative. The Metros lost 4-2 in the shootout.

Untitled-8

Mercifully, the Metros re-branded themselves as the Tennessee Rhythm for the 1999 and 2000 campaigns and saved the sad times by just missing the playoffs altogether.

The 2001 season brought about the postseason coup de grâce. Playing their final professional season, the Metros scored 90th minute goals in both legs with the Milwaukee Rampage. The series, which began late due to the horrific events of 9/11, opened on Sept. 19 at Ezell Park. Steve Butcher found the net in the 30th and 61st minutes to put the visitors firmly in control. Jakob Fenger finally broke through for the Metros in the 82nd, but a minute later, Igor Soso canceled his tally out. Jaymi Bailey cut the deficit to just one as the clock hit 90. Three days later, Jeff Houser struck for the Metros, and gave the professional side its first postseason win. However, with the series tied 3-3 after two matches, things went to a shootout, and we all know what happened next. Nashville lost 4-2.

As the Metros transitioned back to the amateur ranks in the Premier Development League, they never regained a competitive foothold in their division. The Metros folded in 2012 having never qualified for the playoffs again.

The forebear of Nashville SC entered into the fold in the wake of the fall of the Metros, but the playoff success would still remain largely absent. Nashville FC’s first soirée came in 2014 with Kevin Tikhomira scoring the team’s first playoff goal in an otherwise dreadful 6-1 loss at Chattanooga FC. It would be much the same in 2015, this time with Josh Pando getting on the scoresheet for the visitors in at 5-1 loss. NFC didn’t make the postseason in its final NPSL campaign in 2016, and the re-branded amateur side Nashville SC U-23 missed the cut by the slimmest of margins in 2017.

Also in 2017, a new Nashville team entered the fold, and did so with aplomb. Inter Nashville FC avenged the city’s Chattanooga losses of previous years, going down to Finley Stadium and walking away with a 2-1 win in the NPSL’s Southeast Conference quarters over the hosts. Chaka Aruh, who scored the winner in the contest, picked up another three days later in New Orleans, as Inter earned a second 2-1 win, this time over the Knoxville Force. The next day was a cakewalk, with Inter claiming the conference title in 3-0 fashion over the New Orleans Jesters.

The following week, Inter traveled to Florida and a first-half Greg Warden goal was enough to hand Miami Fusion FC a loss and book a trip to the regional championship game. However, as this is still Nashville, all good things must come to an end. Inter lost 1-0 to the host Midland-Odessa Sockers FC.

The last two years haven’t been nearly as kind to the Antioch-based amateur club, losing 3-1 at home to Asheville City in 2018 and 3-0 in Chattanooga this past summer.

While the history is decidedly sketchy, there are, in fact, some signs that the times are a-changin’ in Nashville. First and foremost, one can’t look past the city’s WPSL side, Nashville Rhythm FC. Earlier this summer, that team accomplished the rarest of feats, knocking off the Memphis Lobos 3-1 at Father Ryan High School. It doesn’t necessarily stand out on paper and Rhythm FC still ultimately fell at Chattanooga in the next round, but they did something that all the men’s teams had failed to do before them; they won a home playoff match.

There’s also hope to be found in the men’s and women’s college programs at Lipscomb. Last year, both booked NCAA tournament trips, and they both picked up their first-ever tournament wins. On the men’s side, the tournament run, which featured postseason wins at ranked opponents Washington and Central Florida, began in earnest with the ASUN championship playoff in Nashville. Led by former Nashville SC U23 player Logan Paynter, it was the best season in the history men’s college soccer in Nashville.

This year, maybe the pro team can follow suit.

###

Two decades, two cities, a whole bunch of teams

o3iwhz11oelu5ymz44sytou29Be it music, sports or barbecue, the rivalry between the cities of Nashville and Memphis is longstanding and has roots much deeper than this first-year fling between Nashville Soccer Club and Memphis 901 FC. While it’s certainly easy to dismiss the upcoming match between the upstart 901 and MLS-bound NSC, the actual soccer rivalry between the two cities runs much deeper than many perceive, and much of it dates back to a time before a lot of players on the current teams were even born.

Both cities were marked by failed professional efforts in the 1970s and 1980s, with Memphis striking first with the NASL’s Memphis Rogues.  The reported attendance numbers weren’t considered great but seem impressive in retrospect, with the team averaging over 8,000 fans per match over their three-season run in the cavernous 50,000-seat Liberty Bowl. However, the on-field results were disappointing, with Memphis compiling a 30-62 record. There was, however, one bright spot, a run to the 1980 NASL Indoor title game, which they lost to Tampa Bay.

As the Rogues moved to Calgary for the 1981 campaign, the Nashville Diamonds entered the fold for the 1982 season. The disaster of that year is chronicled at length on this site.

The fallout from the loss of the Rogues wouldn’t last long, however, as the Memphis Americans took their place and enjoyed a modestly successful three-year stint as an indoor team before moving to Las Vegas. In 1986, Memphis Storm entered into the picture, also as an indoor team. After some success in the early years, including a top finish in the standings in the regular season in 1988, they took on the Rogues identity in 1989, and a year later, Memphis and Nashville would finally have their first showdown in soccer.

The two sides first met playing indoor, as the Metros maiden voyage into soccer began with a road trip to play Memphis and the Arkansas Diamonds. Not much is known about the individual matches the indoor iteration of the Metros played, but this much is true, it wasn’t pretty. Nashville’s first Sunbelt Independent Soccer League match was a 13-4 loss to Arkansas, and it didn’t get any better as the Metros finished 0-10 while getting outscored by 80 goals.

Memphis went on to be the class of the conference in the outdoor season in 1991, going 12-4, and the Metros were markedly better in their inaugural season, ending 7-9 with a much more respectable -5 goal differential.

The Rogues then experienced yet another name change, calling themselves the Memphis Survivors during their final indoor campaign in 1991-92, and then re-branding as Memphis United Express for the 1992 outdoor season. Both teams finished mid-table, and then Memphis underwent another name change, channeling their inner C.J. Clegg to become the Jackals, a moniker they’d continue to hold until folding in the aftermath of an eighth-place finish in 1994.

The Nashville Metros also underwent a bit of an identity crisis in the following years, moving up to the professional ranks in 1997 and then becoming the Tennessee Rhythm for two seasons before reverting back to the Metros name in 2001. A year later, they moved back to the amateur ranks, which was just in time to welcome a new Memphis team, the Express.

Coached by a former Rogues, Americans AND Jackals player, Antonio Carbognani, the Express were contenders immediately, topping the conference in year one and then advancing to the national semis the following year. Unfortunately, like the Memphis teams that came before, the brilliance was short-lived, and after limping to a last-place showing in 2005, the team folded. The Metros kept on trucking through the aughts before meeting their ultimate end in 2012.

The soccer rivalry was once again renewed in 2016, as Nashville FC, in its final year in the NPSL, welcomed Memphis City FC to the Southeast Conference. MCFC fired the opening salvo in the short-lived rivalry in heart-breaking fashion, taking home the first meeting with 1-0 on a Cameron Woodfin 89th-minute winner, but NFC had the final laugh, winning on a second-half own-goal in Memphis a month later. It marked the final meeting between the two teams as NFC became the current NSC.

In 2017, MCFC and Inter Nashville squared off twice, and that would be the last of the rivalry as Memphis changed leagues for 2018 and then folded.

Earlier this year, the new Memphis 901 FC and Nashville SC met for the first-ever professional soccer meeting between the two cities. Matt LaGrassa and Ropapa Mensah both scored in the final 12 minutes as the Boys in Gold grabbed the 2-0 victory at First Tennessee Park.

The second chapter begins tonight, and then with NSC set to move to MLS next year, the future of the rivalry will once again become an open question.

###

Back to the Future: Tucker Hume

0524 Fury5.JPGEvery week around these parts, the Nashville Soccer Archive will be looking to put Nashville Soccer Club’s upcoming match into some historical context. This week we’re going to look at a central figure in the recent history of both Nashville SC and Ottawa Fury FC, Tucker Hume.

A towering forward in his second year in Nashville, Hume has enjoyed the kind of soccer story that’s easy to get behind. Initially a star for Division II Rollins College with his twin brother Walker, the Texas native first grabbed attention with his play in the summer of 2013. Playing in the same league that was once occupied by the Nashville Metros and the early incarnation of the Ottawa Fury, Hume established himself as an important player with the Austin Aztex. While under the direction of Paul Dalglish, the son of Liverpool legend Kenny, and alongside future No. 2 MLS SuperDraft pick Khiry Shelton, the Aztex ran rampant through the league, finishing the regular season 11-2-1 with an eye-popping +30 goal differential. Austin then went on to out-score their opponents 10-1 in the PDL playoffs, earning the club’s first and only title in the process.

The Hume twins returned from that summer to make an enormous impact for Rollins, with Tucker scoring 10 goals and assisting another six. Not to be out-done, Walker earned the league’s defensive player of the year award. Both then left the Sunshine State for a more traditional soccer power, the University of North Carolina. While each enjoyed successful, if staggered first years, with Walker contributing to a successful 2014 campaign and Tucker earning team MVP in 2015, it seemed as if things were lining up for a storybook ending for their senior year in 2016.

As each brother had felt the pain of NCAA tournament eliminations already in their career, Tucker proved the catalyst for a deep tournament run. After scoring a first-half equalizer, he headed home a 105th-minute winner to guide the Tar Heels past Florida Gulf Coast in the opening match. On the heels of a 1-0 win away at Syracuse, Drew Murphy sent UNC to Houston and the College Cup semifinals with a 102nd-minute strike to beat Providence. The Humes, who had played together at two different colleges and three different PDL teams, would now be ending their senior years playing in the College Cup. In Texas.

bbab9e06-f1fa-446c-ba97-83320033cda8.sized-1000x1000Unfortunately, standing in the way of the brothers was defending national champion Stanford. Fresh off a Jordan Morris-led College Cup win in 2014, the Cardinal were rolling once again, but the Tar Heels didn’t go without a fight. Both teams battled to a scoreless draw. UNC even made its first nine penalty kicks. However, Stanford made its first 10.

From there, the path of the Hume brothers diverged. Walker was a second-round draft pick by FC Dallas the following January. Tucker, well, his phone wouldn’t ring for a few more days, but it was a familiar voice was on the other side. As the Humes began making waves at UNC, their old coach, Dalglish, had moved up to the professional ranks to take a job with Ottawa Fury FC, and he was in need of another striker.

“I’ve worked with Tucker before and he scored huge goals for me when I was in the PDL with Austin,” Dalglish said of the signing. “He did the same throughout his college career, he always came up big in key moments. He’s a big target striker with a good habit of scoring goals at a key time and he has the type of character we want in our squad.”

Ottawa, which was set to play its first USL season after a spell in the tumultuous NASL, got an immediate return from Hume, as he found the back of the net an astonishing four times in their first preseason match. However, he’d only go on to score three in the regular season. Although true to Dalglish’s word, nearly every goal was of consequence. His first came in a 4-3 victory over New York Red Bulls II on May 20, and sure enough, just seven days later, he netted a 73rd-minute winner against Richmond. In July, he rescued a point with an 89th-minute equalizer against Rochester. However, things weren’t going so well for Dalglish, as he would resign from his position as coach and general manager in August.

Hume’s time in Ottawa done, he signed with upstart Nashville SC, and while he may not have been on the same team as his brother anymore, he was ultimately joined by former UNC roommate Alan Winn, who had spurned a deal with the Colorado Rapids of MLS to join him in the Music City. While his playing time was decidedly limited at times, Hume’s reputation for big goals continued as he grabbed his first with an 85th-minute equalizer at FC Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium. With his height and Nashville’s all-yellow strip, Hume had previously been called “Big Bird” by FCC fans, and that continued throughout the match. After the goal, in what may have been the most memorable celebration of 2017, the lanky Texan put his arms out and flapped in the direction of the Cincy supporters. It was a breakout moment for Hume, who went on to score six more goals over the final 10 matches, closing his account with a fifth-minute tally against Cincinnati once again.

This season, Hume has scored just one goal so far, a 67th-minute strike on April 6. It happened in Ottawa.

 

Back to the Future: Connecticut vs. Nashville

Screen Shot 2019-06-12 at 9.24.28 AMThis marks the first of a new feature here at Nashville Soccer Archive, in which the upcoming week’s match-ups are looked at in a historical context. This week, Nashville SC hits the road to take on Hartford Athletic.

As I work on a website like this, timelines and years can sometimes run together, and occasionally one can lose sight of what happened when or if two teams from a league ever actually played against each other, which didn’t always happen in a number of these minor league soccer seasons. So as I was contemplating Nashville SC’s match with Hartford this upcoming Sunday, I couldn’t help but try to remember if a Nashville team had ever played one from Connecticut.

The Metros, a major focus of this website, were the second professional soccer organization that played in or around our beloved Music City. A team often dealt setbacks, both structurally or financially, they somehow survived year-after-year for more than two decades, and what’s often lost in the cloud of their ever-shifting leagues and sometimes even team names, is that they spent five full seasons playing professional soccer under the same umbrella that has become the modern-day USL. Amid what would be their final professional season in the A-League, the team welcomed another oft-forgotten squad to Ezell Park, the Connecticut Wolves.

Neither team was particularly great that season, with both teams finishing the middle of the pack of their respective conferences, but the match proved competitive. Thanks to the reporting of The Tennessean‘s Harold Huggins and The Hartford Courant, we know that the New Britain-based Wolves spent the majority of the match on the front foot, going ahead on a Temoc Suarez goal in the 27th minute. The Wolves would stay the aggressors throughout, ultimately out-shooting Nashville 21-9, but luck was on the side of the Metros as Nashville head coach Brett Mosen would admit after the game. Jaymi Bailey fired in a deflected equalizer in the 69th minute, and former Lindsey Wilson College star Jakob Fenger capped the comeback with an 83rd-minute strike to put the Metros on top.

Nashville, which entered the contest with a modest 6-7-2 record to that point, caught fire following the result and went on to win seven of the ensuing eight matches to book a spot in the playoffs. Unfortunately, that would be all the team could muster from its final professional season, falling 4-2 on penalties to the Milwaukee Rampage in the first round of the A-League playoffs.

The Metros dropped to the amateur Premier Development League in 2002, where they would stay until their demise following the 2012 season.

Dan-Gaspar-and-Ronaldo-e1426052406251

Dan Gaspar and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo

Connecticut, which had been on track for a memorable season that featured a 3-2 Open Cup victory over Carlos Valderrama’s Tampa Bay Mutiny, saw the remainder of the season go into a tailspin. The Wolves would win one of their final nine matches to end fifth in the Northern Conference. It marked the last year for the Wolves in the A-League as well, as they dropped to play one final campaign in the USL D3-Pro League before folding in 2002.

While the Wolves may have seen their moment in the sun end, the same can’t be said for their head coach, Dan Gaspar. A veteran assistant coach under current Colombian national team coach Carlos Queiroz, Gaspar followed him to stops with the Portugese youth national teams, Portugal’s Sporting CP, the New York/New Jersey MetroStars of MLS and Japan’s Nagoya Grampus Eight before settling back in his native Connecticut for stints with Central Connecticut State and the Wolves. Later, Gaspar would once again join forces with Queiroz on the Portugese national team staff from 2009-10 and then with Iran from 2011-17.

###

A Gem of Program

Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 11.21.11 AMA little late night eBay never hurt anyone, and in this case, it resulted in the acquisition of a very cool piece of Nashville history, the game program from the Diamonds’ first ever match, which was a 2-0 victory over the Carolina Lightnin’. So, in the interest of furthering the cause here, I’ve scanned and uploaded the document for everyone to thumb through. This is the first piece of real Nashville Diamonds memorabilia that I’ve ever actually put my hands on, so I’m pretty excited about it.

Click here to browse online and here to download.

2018 Inter Nashville FC year-in-review now available

2018 infc review coverMuch like last week’s publication for Nashville SC, I’ve put together the available information to this point on the 2018 Inter Nashville FC campaign into an easy-to-navigate PDF. This information will gradually move to web form too as time goes on. Due to the lack of widely available information on NPSL and Open Cup statistics, this should be considered incomplete, but the important bits (i.e. lineups, goals scored and results) have been compiled as completely as possible. There should be more updates to come with this project! You can check it out and download it here.

Clay

2018 Nashville SC statistical year-in-review now available

2018 nsc review coverPart of the mission of this website is providing a comprehensive history of soccer in Nashville, and while much of the focus is on teams like the Metros and Diamonds, Nashville SC is also a huge part of this history. NSC also the easiest in which to compile statistics, so I’ve done just that in a simple easy-to-navigate PDF. You can check it out and download it here.

Clay