When Nashville SC officially takes the field for the first time Feb. 29 against Atlanta United, nobody will have played a competitive MLS game for the club. However, there are plenty of player with MLS experience. Maybe more importantly, there are some key figure with leadership experience.
Plenty of that experience is concentrated in central midfield – perhaps the most important spot on the field under a defensive-minded coach such as NSC headman Gary Smith. The leadership role should come naturally to MLS veteran Dax McCarty, who has been a team captain in each of his past three stops within Major League Soccer.
“I feel like I’ve been brought in to take on a little bit of a leadership role, but also to use my experience to try to help guide us through the process of this first expansion season,” the 31-year old said. “It’s a challenge that I’ve never had in my career, and it’s one that I’m really looking forward to.
I’ve played on some winning teams: I’ve played on good teams and I’ve played on some not-so-good teams, and I think that I know what it takes to win in this league. I’m going to try my best to use that and try my best to help guys get acclimated that haven’t played in MLS before, and obviously be a mentor to the young guys.”
McCarty’s midfield partner at the beginning of the year will likely be a fellow MLS veteran, former San Jose Earthquakes standout Aníbal Godoy.
Coming into an entirely new club, the Panamanian knows that there’s more to team success than just on-field chemistry. The group has limited time to come together – first convening Jan. 18 in Nashville before heading to Bradenton, Fla. for training camp – in advance of that all-important game against Atlanta United.
“Everybody tries to stay like family,” Godoy said. “This is the most important thing: if you don’t feel like family inside the locker room, everything is no good. We need to work in different areas, outside the field, because that’s important also.”
The travel schedule in the league is far more strenuous than almost any other globally, particularly so for Nashville, which will spend at least one season as the Easternmost member of the Western Conference.
“The MLS is difficult because you travel a lot, more if you play now in the Western Conference, for us it’s more difficult,” Godoy said with a knowing grin. “Sometimes you have two games in one week, and you play in Vancouver, for example, and we need to travel like six hours after you play, Saturday in Miami you come back and you have to cross the whole country. This is difficult.”
There will be no excuses when the season rolls around, though. The goal of this team is simple: merely showing up and collecting a participation trophy (“the FC Cincinnati,” as it should be known) is not acceptable. They plan to win, and compete for the postseason from day one.
While the goals may seem lofty – only four of the 10 most recent expansion teams in the rapidly-growing league earned playoff bids in their first season – Godoy sees no reason to play at all if you don’t intend to compete for the greatest prizes.
“We want to be competitive, we want to be within the greatest of the league. There are no small teams in the league: it’s a league of parity. This squad wants to not just participate in the league: if you don’t compete, and be a competitive team, to fight to be the winner… we want to fight to be that.”*
The 2020 season is important. Perhaps even more so is setting the Boys in Gold up for success in the years to come.
“I think it’s incumbent upon all of us at the club now,” McCarty said, “to really lay a good foundation for success going forward.”
*Godoy gave this answer in Spanish. I have translated it for the audience’s understanding.
Aníbal Godoy photo by Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country