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AP photo by Mark Zaleski / Nashville SC's Walker Zimmerman, third from right, celebrates his goal against Atlanta United FC during the first half of Saturday night's game at Nissan Stadium.

NASHVILLE — Nashville made a star-filled entry into Major League Soccer, setting a record with the biggest crowd ever to see a soccer game in the state of Tennessee.

Celebrating the expansion team's first MLS victory will have to wait.

Emerson Hyndman scored in the 37th minute of Atlanta United FC's 2-1 victory over Nashville SC on Saturday night at Nissan Stadium, the home of the NFL's Tennessee Titans.

"The crowd was fantastic," Nashville midfielder Dax McCarty said. "They were the best part of the evening. I think everyone can see that. On a national stage introducing Nashville to the world of MLS, they were top notch. Give them an A-plus. I hope they keep coming back out and supporting us, because if we get support like that every week, we're going to be really good, and I can promise them that."

Ezequiel Barco scored in the ninth minute for Atlanta, the 2018 MLS Cup champion that won both the U.S. Open Cup and the Campeones Cup last season.

Walker Zimmerman scored the first goal for Nashville off a set piece in the 28th minute, giving fans something to celebrate. A handful of NFL players also were on hand, including Titans wide receiver Cory Davis and punter Brett Kern along with San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle.

Of the record 59,069 fans, the 30,000 who filled the lower bowl of the stadium stood from start to finish.

"I've had a couple of new team openings in the last 20 years, and this one ranks as at least for me one of the most exciting," MLS commissioner Don Garber said. "I literally got chills in pregame ceremony. The crowd overdelivered as well."

Nashville acquired Zimmerman from Los Angeles FC on Feb. 11, adding the veteran with five goals in 51 MLS games to a roster with 14 players making their league debut this season. Zimmerman headed the ball, then scored with his right foot kicking the ball past keeper Brad Guzan.

The tie lasted less than 10 minutes, with Hyndman scoring into the right corner of the net for the lead.

The win was costly for Atlanta. Josef Martinez, the 2018 MLS Golden Boot winner who had 27 goals last year, was taken off the field on a stretcher in the 68th minute after going down for the second time in a few minutes with an apparent right knee injury. Martinez was seen wearing an aircast on a cart as he left after the game.

Coach Frank de Boer said Martinez would be examined in a day or two back in Atlanta and didn't want to speculate on the injury.

"You can't ever replace Josef," De Boer said.

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AP photo by Shelley Mays / Charlie and Tracy Saunier cheer before Nashville SC's Major League Soccer debut match against Atlanta United FC on Saturday night at Nissan Stadium.

Atlanta defender Franco Escobar also was hurt and was replaced at the start of the second half. De Boer said that was more a muscular problem.

Nashville had chances at a tie. Randall Leal hit the left post in the 78th minute, and the team also had a free kick on the edge of the box in the 80th. Abu Danladi had a shot from outside the box smothered by Guzan in the 90th before a frantic four minutes of stoppage time.

Nashville coach Gary Smith said he thought his team should have gotten a point out of the game, which he called disappointing.

"As far as the occasion goes, I don't think we could've asked much more of the fans that turned up, supported us," Smith said. "The atmosphere that was created, the opportunity for the players to perform in front of such a great environment and crowds, I felt as though they rose to."

This capped a long process in which Nashville went from being an afterthought for a possible expansion franchise to being awarded a club on Dec. 20, 2017, as the league's 24th team. Nashville has had some delays getting construction started on its 30,000-seat stadium at the fairgrounds and finally got Music City's third mayor since 2017 to sign off on a revised deal now costing $335 million.

Problems regarding the future stadium that will seat 30,000 did not slow down Nashville's preparations for this debut.

Nashville hired former Liverpool FC chief executive Ian Ayre as its first CEO to build the franchise from the ground up in May 2018, and he hired Smith in March 2019 as the coach hoping to tap his experience guiding the Colorado Rapids to the 2010 MLS Cup title. Smith led Nashville to a 20-7-7 record last season in the lower-tier USL Championship.

With its MLS debut finally at hand, Nashville threw a very big party, with the crowd topping the 50,232 in Nissan Stadium in 2017 when the English Premier League's Tottenham and Manchester City played.

This being Music City, alternative band Judah & the Lion performed the expansion team's new anthem "Never Give Up On You" before the start. Lzzy Hale of the group Halestorm played a Gibson guitar decked out in Nashville's blue-and-gold team colors, and Charles Esten, who starred on the TV show "Nashville" sang the national anthem.

The late Johnny Cash even made an appearance on a big flag with the Nashville logo covering up a famous picture of the country singer gesturing with his middle finger.

 

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