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Walker Zimmerman

It will be two weeks to the day that Nashville SC played its last match before the international break when the club hosts the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday at Geodis Park.

Playing a brutal schedule in May that included eight matches in 28 days, Nashville head coach Gary Smith said the two weeks off was exactly what his side needed as it prepares for the heart of its schedule, which includes five of the club’s next eight matches against Western Conference rivals.

“Those eight games in 28 days took a little bit of a toll both physically and emotionally on the players,” Smith said. “We finished off on a great note and went into a few days of rest and recovery.

“The guys are … fully rejuvenated and looking forward to I think a very different look to the next stage of the schedule with three out of the next four league games at home. It gives us an opportunity to get on the front foot and take advantage of these home games.”

Nashville has played perhaps one of the most daunting schedules in MLS this season, beginning the year with an eight-match road trip before playing five home matches last month.

The club did well to collect road points — 11 to be exact — and found its groove after opening Geodis Park in front of 30,109 fans on May 1.

In its five home matches, NSC is unbeaten with wins over Real Salt Lake, Atlanta United and Montreal CF and two draws against Atlanta and the Philadelphia Union. In fact, the club credited the boisterous home crowd for helping it find its swagger.

Geodis Park has seemingly had an aura of impenetrability for visiting sides. Nashville has averaged 28,612 fans per home match — fourth-best in MLS — outscoring opponents 10-6 while leading the opposition in shots (71-60) and scoring chances (30-19). 

“We’re slowly but surely starting to find the benefits of the new stadium and of course the raucous nature of the crowd,” Smith continued. “I think in turn, the guys have put on some really good displays and it has been a worthwhile period of time. There’s plenty to draw on there as we go into this lot of home games. 

“It doesn’t mean that victory is a given. There’s still plenty of work to be done in every single game we play. But what we can look back on are some of the moments that give the team confidence, that inspire the crowd. We’ve seen the team go behind and recover to either win or overcome that deficit.”

With 21 matches left in the season, Nashville, which sits sixth in the West, seems like a safe bet to make the MLS Cup Playoffs for the third straight year.

However, Houston (18 points), Minnesota (18 points), Colorado (18 points) and Vancouver (17 points) are all within five points of Nashville (22 points) in the conference standings. And Seattle (16 points), Portland (15 points) and San Jose (14 points) shouldn’t be counted out either.

With two of its four matches in June and four of its six matches in July coming at Geodis Park, the next two months should be critical to Nashville SC stacking points and creating some separation in the standings.

“As we go into the meat of the season, we’ve had 40 percent of it in a good position, but this is where the job gets done now,” Smith added. “We can’t afford to rest on our laurels at all. We’ve got three at home in the next [five] and we want to take advantage of that.”

Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_