NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Nashville SC has a tall task in its inaugural Major League Soccer season. With a group brought together from scratch, the team has to come together to not only perform, but to do so at a high level. Longtime MLS fans know that, when Gary Smith is the gaffer, that effort will start with defense. Even Nashville’s goalkeepers are cognizant of the importance of the unit directly in front of them in 2020.
The majority of Nashville’s defensive corps comes from within Major League Soccer. Whether acquired through trade (former Los Angeles Galaxy CB Dave Romney and Montreal Impact left back Dan Lovitz), expansion draft (former New England Revolution CB Jalil Anibaba), re-entry draft (former New York City FC right back Eric Miller), or some combination thereof, players new to the team but not to the league will play a key role in the squad.
They understand that on-field play isn’t the only part of their purpose with NSC.
“Just try to bring in a veteran presence,” Romney said of his duty to the team. “I know we have a lot of guys on this team who are MLS veterans, so just bringing that veteran presence, trying to be a leader, and then just leading by example.
“We have a lot of guys who are really hungry: whether it’s their first time in MLS, being drafted, or guys who’ve been playing outside the league. I think we’re going to have a lot of guys who are really amped to start preseason, and kind of start this thing on the right foot.”
Lovitz, a native of Pennsylvania, has played almost his entire professional career in Canada – he was drafted out of Elon University by Toronto FC, then moved to Montreal Impact for the past three seasons. A return stateside in MLS is an opportunity he’s looking forward to.
Being a member of a team built from scratch is a challenge that will develop over the course of this month’s preseason camp in Florida. He has a clear understanding of what he can bring to the team, and what needs to be accomplished down in Bradenton.
“I think keep it simple: work hard, be nice, be a good teammate, be someone that young guys can look to and established guys can feed off of and get the right amount of energy going in the right direction,” he said. “Preseason is a great opportunity. Not many teams are going into a similar situation like this where you’re starting fresh and with a clean slate. That alone is incredibly energizing. I think all the guys feel it, and days like this just solidify it.”
A mixture of veterans who were perhaps undervalued by their previous clubs, as well as up-and-coming youngsters, may not look inspiring to outsiders. Lovitz knows, however, that the parity of the league – and the hunger specific to this squad – could help the Boys in Gold surprise on the final table.
“Win. I think it’s pretty simple for me; I’m a pretty straightforward guy. I think if it was any other league, it’d be a taller order to step in and be super-competitive and expect accolades and to win things and trophies right away,” he said. “This is MLS: I think you could look around the league and pick a group guys and they could have a chance to win a game, let alone a team that’s put together the way Mr. [Mike] Jacobs has put it together and this club has approached it. I think we have a lot of guys here for the right reasons, looking to do the right things, and for us, it’s just the first step.”
If fans in Music City are to be pleased this season, it certainly won’t be the last step, either.
Dave Romney photo courtesy Nashville SC