Gary Smith is looking forward to taking Nashville SC to the Colorado Rapids, his first return since his departure as coach in 2011.

Smith was in charge of the Rapids between 2008 and 2011, winning the MLS Cup in 2010. The England native has served as Nashville’s coach since the club’s inception in 2017.

“We go to Colorado in good shape and good health and looking forward to a real challenge, somewhere I’ve not been for 11 or 12 years,” Smith said.

This will be Nashville’s eighth and final match of a manic May, having won four, drawn two and losing one of the prior seven in all competitions. Its sole defeat came against the Houston Dynamo after a U.S. Open Cup win, but Smith is confident of avoiding a repeat following the latest cup success.

“I’m delighted that we’ve been able to take this game (against Louisville City) and keep our confidence and cup run intact,” he said. “It’s a quick turnaround again. I think we’re in a better place than we were when we went to Houston. There were some challenges with that game in a very similar situation. I think the whole picture of this setup was different.”

But the Rapids, already out of the Cup, have enjoyed a clear week to reflect on coach Robin Fraser’s 50th regular-season win last time out against the Seattle Sounders.

“The biggest thing that that means to me, honestly, is that I look back at the time I’ve spent here and how much I’ve enjoyed it,” he said. “And I’ve enjoyed it because of the players, the coaches that I work with, the staff here, and it’s such an incredible place to come to work every day.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Colorado Rapids – Jonathan Lewis

Lewis ended an 11-match goal drought with his winner against Seattle, netting just his second of the season. Having scored seven times in 2021, both he and Colorado will hope this breakthrough can prompt an improved stretch in front of goal.

Nashville SC – Hany Mukhtar

After 28 goal involvements last season, Mukhtar is enjoying another outstanding campaign. He has four goals and five assists in MLS play this year but has also netted in both cup matches in May. Mukhtar has six involvements in his past five games in all competitions – only failing to contribute as a substitute in that Houston defeat.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– This will be the first MLS meeting between Colorado and Nashville.

– The Rapids’ 1-0 win over Seattle on Sunday extended the club’s home unbeaten run to 23 regular season games (W14 D9), tied for the fourth-longest streak in MLS history. Colorado can tie the third-longest streak in league history (24 games – Sporting KC in 2016-17) if it avoids defeat against Nashville.

– After consecutive losses in mid-March, Nashville has lost only two of its past nine MLS matches (W4 D3). Nashville has scored twice in each of its past two matches (W1 D1), something it has never done in three straight MLS matches (including playoffs).

– Rapids games have started slowly this season, with Colorado the only team in MLS that has not scored or conceded a goal in the opening 15 minutes of a match in 2022. The Rapids make up for that in the next quarter-hour, scoring an MLS-high six goals between the 16th and 30th minutes.

– Mukhtar and C.J. Sapong scored and assisted each other’s goals in Nashville’s 2-2 draw with Atlanta on Saturday. The pair has 16 goal contributions between them this season (Mukhtar nine, Sapong seven) and at least one of the two has been involved in 11 of Nashville’s 15 MLS goals.