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.

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