I guess I don’t need to tell you how one of Nashville SC’s players made an impact for the United States in Monday’s World Cup match in Qatar.
If you were watching along with the rest of the world, you noticed.
You saw Nashville defenseman Walker Zimmerman make the deeply regrettable decision to tackle a Wales player with his back to the goal. You saw how bad the handling was. You saw how the referee awarded a penalty. Then you saw Gareth Bale convert that penalty to save Wales.
I can’t say that Zimmerman’s foul cost the USA the game, because the Americans didn’t lose. It just felt that way. The 1-1 draw was a disappointing result after they led for around 45 minutes of football before conceding a penalty in the 82nd minute.
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And so, at GEODIS Park — where I joined Nashville SC fans in gathering to watch and cheer Zimmerman on, which they’d been doing with pride all afternoon — the atmosphere was muted.
Sports can be like that.
More than ever, it showed how Nashville has a piece of this World Cup like never before.
Zimmerman is on the US men’s national team along with Nashville SC teammate Shaq Moore, who did not play against Wales.
When Bale made his MLS debut last summer for LAFC, it was in a game at Geodis Park. We knew then that Bale would lead Wales against the USA in a World Cup match enthusiastically anticipated by every side.
The USA did not qualify in 2018, which meant that the last time our men’s national team appeared at the World Cup was in 2014.
Just look at what’s happened in Nashville since then.
We have a Major League Soccer franchise. We have a new football stadium at the Fairgrounds, and as a result, there are a growing number of local residents getting to know the beautiful game.
At that stadium this Monday, fans showed up in USMNT and SC Nashville jerseys. Friday’s gathering for the USA-England game, I’m told, is already sold out.
In attendance to watch USA-Wales was Nashville SC majority owner John Ingram, the man responsible for the existence of that team and stadium.
“I wanted to come. “I’m a fan too,” Ingram said at halftime. “… A combination of our club and people paying more attention around town to soccer in general and two of our players being on Team USA makes it more interesting when someone you know or watch play participates.” You feel a greater ownership and a greater connection to her.”
At one point during the Wales game, the sight and sound of the American fans at the Qatar venue flashed across the television screens, clapping, faster and faster, to a rhythmic USA chant. Those at GEODIS Park picked it up, clapping and cheering along with those on the other side of the globe.
It was a moment. Team USA was back on the world’s biggest stage, and Nashville was a part of it.
Team USA also played well. Because the Americans controlled most of the game. The fans in Nashville jeered the refs as if they were there. They collectively roared when the USA took a 1-0 lead and were growing nervous as the USA hung on for a win and three points that would be huge in their bid to advance from the group stage.
Then it happened, of course.
In Zimmerman’s home stadium, his tackle was immediately met with gasps, along with the grim realization of which US player was responsible. A difficult scene. Mixed emotions. Because here, Zimmerman has such a reputation for being a really good friend in addition to being a good MLS player.
Seriously, the Washington Post ran an article about it a week ago.
“Walker is a really good guy,” Ingram said at halftime. “Our dressing room is full of good guys.
Zimmerman was a cornerstone of Nashville’s three years as an expansion MLS team. He scored the club’s first MLS goal. He was named MLS Defender of the Year twice.
None of that changed with Monday’s error.
If anyone is going to be rooting for Zimmerman moving forward, it will surely be those die-hard fans back in Nashville. If nothing else, they’ll be rooting even harder for him this World Cup. This city’s soccer fans were emotionally invested before, but even more so now.
Zimmermann’s fine performance against England on Friday won’t hurt him, though.
Reach Tennessee sports columnist Gentry Estes at [email protected] and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.