I guess it goes without saying how one of Nashville SC’s players made an impact for the United States in Monday’s World Cup game in Qatar.
If you watched with the rest of the world, you saw it.
You saw Nashville quarterback Walker Zimmerman make the deeply regrettable decision to tackle a Welsh player with his back to goal. You saw how weak the fight was. You saw that the referee awarded a penalty kick. Then you saw Gareth Bale convert that penalty into a game-saving goal for Wales.
I can’t say Zimmerman’s foul cost the US because the Americans didn’t lose. It just felt that way. A 1-1 draw was a disappointing result after leading the football for nearly 45 minutes before conceding a penalty in the 82nd minute.
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So at GEODIS Park — where I proudly joined Nashville SC fans all afternoon to watch and cheer for Zimmerman — the vibe was muted.
That’s what sports can be, y’all.
More than ever, Nashville has shown that it is a part of this World Cup like never before.
Zimmerman is on the US men’s national team with Nashville SC teammate Shaq Moore, who is not playing for Wales.
When Bale made his MLS debut for LAFC last summer, it was at GEODIS Park. We knew at the time that Bale would lead Wales in a much-anticipated World Cup match against the USA.
The USA failed to qualify in 2018, which means our men’s national team last competed in the World Cup in 2014.
Here’s a 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 more and more locals are being introduced to the beautiful game.
This Monday, fans in the same stadium were seen wearing USMNT and Nashville SC jerseys. I’m told the Friday lineup for the USA-England game is already sold out.
John Ingram, the majority owner of Nashville SC to watch the USA-Wales team, was the man responsible for the existence of the team and the stadium.
“I wanted to come. I’m a fan too,” Ingram said during the break. “… The fact that our club and people in the city are paying more attention to soccer in general, and the combination of two of our players on the US team, and having someone you know or watch play, makes it even more exciting. You feel more ownership and more connected to it.”
At one point during the Wales game, the sight and sound of the American fans at the venue in Qatar flashed across the television screens, clapping faster and faster into a rhythmic USA chant. Those at GEODIS Park picked it up, clapped and cheered along with those on the other side of the world.
It was a moment. Team USA returned to the world’s biggest stage and Nashville was a part of it.
The US team was also playing well. Because most of the game was controlled by the Americans. In Nashville, fans booed the referees as if they were there. They booed collectively when the USA was up 1-0 and frustrated as the USA depended on a crucial win and three points in trying to advance from the group stage.
Then it happened, of course.
In Zimmerman’s home stadium, his tackle was met with immediate groans and a grim understanding of which US player was responsible. A difficult scene. Mixed emotions. Because Zimmerman here has such a reputation for being a good MLS player as well as being a really good friend.
Seriously, the Washington Post ran an article about this a week ago.
“Walker is a really good guy,” Ingram said at halftime. “Our locker room is full of good guys.”
Zimmerman has been a cornerstone of Nashville’s three years as an MLS team. He scored the club’s first goal in MLS. He was named MLS Defender of the Year twice.
None of that changed with Monday’s mistake.
If anyone is going to stick with Zimmerman’s progress, it will surely be those die-hard fans back in Nashville. If anything, they’ll be stronger for it this World Cup. Football fans in this city used to be emotionally invested, but now even more so.
Zimmerman’s fine performance against England on Friday wouldn’t have hurt.
Reach Tennessee sports columnist Gentry Estes at [email protected] and @Gentry_Estes on Twitter.