Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and midfielder Michael Reed met with For Club and Country after the team’s first 2019 practice today. Watch and read what that had to say here.
- The team was slightly shorthanded: new striker signings Daniel Ríos and Cameron Lancaster were participating in their MLS physicals (they are signed to Nashville’s MLS side and will be loaned to the USL team), and won’t join training until tomorrow. International players Ropapa Mensah and Ramone Howell are expected to arrive this week.
- Other new signings, including forward/winger Kharlton Belmar, midfielder Malcolm Stewart, defenders Ken Tribbett and Darnell King, and goalkeepers Connor Sparrow and Danny Vitiello were present.
- Midfielder Lebo Moloto, who missed the end of last season with injury, fully participated in the session.
- Multiple trialists went through training with the team. Former Lipscomb University standout Logan Paynter and NAC Breda (Netherlands) product Vinnie Vermeer were among those trying to impress to earn a role with the club.
Are you expecting better chemistry with a returning core of players instead of starting fresh like last year?
“For sure, I would suspect that those players that have been in and around the club for a year now, they’ll feel so much more comfortable. We had a welcome meal on Sunday, and I remarked to some of the staff how the atmosphere just felt kind of different. Not necessarily better, but the players looked more relaxed. Of course we have some new faces, but there’s no doubt everybody will be more comfortable and understanding of players and staff.”
How have the new faces looked?
“It’s great. Everyone will be feeling their same on their first day back to work. Offseason’s a long period. We’re all at a point where we’re ready to be back out on the field and working. It’s lovely to see the new guys in town, and interacting and working with the other players. Just generally, it’s just great to be back working, and the players getting some of that energy out of their system. Within two or three days, they’ll be probably wanting a day off [laughs]. At the moment, there’s a lot of exuberance.”
Are there positions at which you still see a need to add depth to the roster?
“I don’t think anyone would ever say, ‘I certainly couldn’t.. there might not be some help needed at some point.’ But when I look at the group, it may well be because of ill health, issues surrounding injuries. I’m more than comfortable with the group that we’ve got. There might be the odd player added, but I wouldn’t think many now. We’ll keep a rather smaller group. There’s more experience in this group from top to bottom anyway, and I certainly wanted the players that are here to be fighting for that, if not the 11, being in the 18, and I want everyone to see a breakthrough to that.”
Is the plan to remain tactically consistent and count on added talent to improve the goal-scoring?
“I think there’s a couple of things that may help us towards that. Every team wants to improve year-on-year if they can, and we’re no different. You’ve already alluded to the fact that we’ve got players who will have a year under their belt. I suspect those players will be in a much better place for us to see a little bit more out of them. There were lots of things I felt we did very well last year: defensively, in possession, creatively. Of course you can always improve, and the one area that we fell short was actually hitting the back of the net. That played uppermost in my mind and Mike’s mind when we were talking about additions. I think a lot of teams try to add a way of adding goals.
“If you look at Cameron’s track record, it’s very good. Daniel, a tad more difficult to maybe judge, but he’s a very very talented young player, and had a wonderful season last year at our level. I’m sure he’s only going to get better. Kharlton also, it’s easy to see his track record. Therefore, you’d like to think that come what may, we’ve added some goals to the group. If we can maintain the sort of development that we saw last year in the rest of our play, we should be in a good shot.”
What are the team’s realistic goals for the year?
“Everyone wants to be in the postseason. We certainly should be holding ourselves accountable for improvement. There will be other teams around the league looking at us, and setting a bar that has nothing to do with us. There are comparisons that will be drawn – just purely for the fact that we’re going into MLS – with Cincinnati, but I think it’s crazy to be comparing yourself to any other team. We’re a second year team. We’ve, I think, done a very good job in our first year, but without a shadow of a doubt we’ll want to improve on that. What that improvement is will depend on a lot of factors. As I’ve already mentioned, can we keep players healthy in a small group,. can we improve year-on-year with the players that have stayed, and probably as importantly as anything, are the players that are coming in, are they going to fulfill the role that we maybe lacked a little bit of last year. There’s so much that can affect where you finish, but for sure we want to improve, and we certainly want to be competing with any other team in our league for any silverware that’s on offer. Anyone that’s saying they don’t want to be top, they don’t want to win the championship, at this stage of the season, there’s no point in even starting, is there? Everyone’s in the same spot.
What do you try to take away from the first day of training?
“The things that strike me most when players come back is, have they kept themselves in a reasonable shape. Some of the testing will give us an idea of what they’ve been doing in the offseason. They all go away with programs. The new guys that’ve signed are given programs. If we can, I like to be in front of the game – and when I say that, I want to be in a better spot than just using preseason to get fit. We, I felt, did a very good job in preseason last year – or the players did – of coming in in good shape, and therefore we can push on a little bit more. There’s work that we can do with the group, less time needed to recover because their bodies are in a better place. And when I look around the group today, admittedly we’re missing still a couple players like a lot of teams will be, everyone looks like they’re in very good shape, and that should bode well for the preseason.”
How has it been to reconnect with the teammate?
“Seeing the guys, whether they have a belly or not off the break – No [laughs]. First days are always great because everyone’s enthusiastic, passionate in everything that has to do with want you want out of soccer. It’s a great game, and it’s nice to see everyone fresh. We’re all happy, it’s all nice, and it’s a lot of fun on the first day, that’s for sure. We’re all good, guys are professional off the field which is great to see, and it makes life easier as we go through preseason.”
What is the chemistry of the team?
“I think you build a culture in the locker room that everyone can kind of agree on. I think we have that, and it makes life a lot easier whenever you have a stable culture, a stable environment, and we’re all on the same page, so we know what to expect of each other. It’s just a smooth engine: everyone’s running on the right cylinders, and we’re driving along nice right now. It makes life easier for the new guys, as well. They come in, they see everyone doing it. It’s not like they follow like sheep, but ‘OK, this is what we want to be a part of, how can we build on it,’ and go from there.”
Does that established culture shine through on day one?
“It’s an identity for the first day. Now that this is round two, it’s just exciting. We just keep picking up from last year, and keep moving forward. I think that’s the goal, and we progress into a more successful year, and I think that’s what everyone’s on the same page about.”
How have the new signings looked through just one training session?
“It’s funny, because the touch there. It is there, but guys are a little rusty, including myself. It’s just knocking the dust off, so everyone’s passionate right now. It’s fun; it’s a good environment, and that’s what we get to look forward to throughout the preseason.”
What do you aim for on the first day?
“It’s getting guys together: off the field is one thing, on the field’s another. It’s this thing with business, and what we’re trying to create. It’s just nice to kick the ball around with the guys, and play some footy, and enjoy the soccer while you can. I think that’s what we’re doing right now.”
What are the realistic goals for the season?
“Just like anyone else, you look at the previous year and you’re gonna want to do better. I think the goal is to be better than we were yesterday, and to keep moving forward.”