Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith met with the media at the beginning of his team’s gameweek preparation for their MLS Debut. Watch or read his full comments here.
What are the feelings as you enter gameweek?
“It was great today – yesterday it was a completely different story: rain was coming down sideways, and we found it pretty difficult, I think, coming back from a much better climate. But it’s great to be back around normal surroundings – I say “normal,” it’s a brand new training ground, but family, the general environment that you just connect with – and the players are getting used to this new facility, new field, and their new home for the next couple of years at least.”
Is the team coming together on schedule?
“I think so. We were hoping that we could get on the Titans’ stadium today, which was unfortunate, but it was important for everyone that we had one last, what could be classed as a natural match situation. There are things within maybe my mind for the starting group towards the weekend that I could consider after today’s work, and there’ll be players that maybe have been on the fringes that have felt as though they haven’t had quite enough of a chance, or just feel as though they’ve got a little bit of an opportunity to show a little bit more, and today was a good day for that for all of them.”
What’s your approach to Saturday night?
“I think all of the guys, when they get to that point, will be inspired by the crowd that’s going to be there. Big big day, of course, in the history of the club. I would say pretty much every player – to a man – have come here as a new expansion side to experience that. A group that’s still developing and growing in terms of their relationships and quality of play, but in a good place, and I think we’ve created a good foundation for that. As far as the weekend goes, I’ve said to a couple of people: I would think that anyone that’s out there that steps on the field is going to get another 10-15% out of themselves just given the emotion of the occasion.”
How does starting a club basically from scratch present a unique challenge?
“You’ve got to think about pretty much everything that any team that exists at the moment has. They have an identity, they have a home that maybe they’ve played in for X amount of years that they can understand, and appreciate, and get the best out of. Everyone wants a homefield advantage. I would say not a brand new fanbase because we had a nice core of fans last year, but if we’re expecting upwards of maybe 30-40,000 at the weekend, there’s a hell of a lot of fans there that watched certainly a Nashville SC team play – certainly not an MLS team – and there’ll be those expectations: ‘what are wee seeing? How can we be that extra man, so to speak, for the group when they need it?’ and of course, the connection between the players and the fans: how do we get the best out of them, ongoing? What do we need to be offering as a group, certainly on a positive front, to inspire the fans, and to create an atmosphere that not too many teams want to come into? So there’s an awful lot that goes into it, but I do believe over a period of time, as we’ve seen in the last couple of years, that our style of play and our identity over the last two years has connected very well with the fanbase that we had, and I would expect nothing different over the next couple of years.”
What does it mean to start the year with a rivalry game?
“It’ll be really tough: there’s no two ways about it, I can’t sugarcoat that. They’re a very, very good side. The opportunity to play a couple of extremely competitive games in Champions League before they meet us. They’ll want to try and stamp their authority on the rivalry, and we’ll certainly want to get off to a very good start if we possibly can. A lot fo that comes down to our preparations. I feel as though we’ve put ourselves in a decent place, you see the work that’s put in this morning, there’s a nice balance to this group – up until I changed it, of course: that was for a reason. All in all, the guys, I think, are forming a real spirited appreciation of each other, and I would expect nothing less that a very upwardly mobile and positive display at the weekend.”
Do you feel like you’re catching Atlanta at the right time?
“I would have to say that any time that you play against a side as good as this group is going to be a tough time. Yes, they might have one or two players that are either available or not available, but they’ve got a good squad. They’ve also got some history to draw on as a group. They’ve already won silverware: that inspires teams, it builds a fiber within the group that you can’t get unless you actually win silverware, or you are a good team and are winning titles, and they’ve done that. They’re always going to be a tough task. Can we impose ourselves upon the game, four periods? I believe so. And in those periods, we’re going to be able to define whether we’re going to win the game or not.”
What’s the biggest unknown you have going into Saturday night?
“I mean, I’m honestly unsure as to how the guys are going to connect and appreciate the environment they walk into for the very first time. It’s a field that we haven’t played on a lot. We certainly as a group have not played at the Titans’ stadium before. There will be, for sure, some periods in the game where we have to endure some pressure, where Atlanta takes advantage of the ball and the situation; It’s in those moments that you start to see that core, that inner strength of groups start to grow. Part of the reason for changing things around this morning was for that reason: they had to endure 20 minutes this morning of being under pressure, the group that were there, and are they capable of doing that? Can they work out how they can stay in the game or win a game when the tide’s turning? Good teams can do it, and we have to find a way to make that happen, and under a bit of pressure at the weekend.”
How much of your tactical approach is installed?
“There are a couple of things that go into that. The first one is: are my group as efficient in the way that they’re going to play as they possibly can be? The answer to that, of course, has to be ‘probably not,’ because we’ve only been together nearly six weeks. The second part of it is, what will Atlanta do? Do they play a back three? Do they play a back four? They’re capable of doing both. So tactically, very first game of the season, it’ll be a difficult one to try and judge. What I can say is that I’m very pleased where the group’s at, both aerobically in terms of their fitness, their appreciation of some of the foundational pieces of our group with and without the ball are good. Can we improve? Yeah, of course. But we’re in a good spot, and I’m hoping, as I’ve said previously, that playing in front of a big crowd, the very first game, the inspiration of the opening fixture for MLS Nashville SC.”
What do you feel are the strengths of the team? Any disappointments so far?
“I do believe that, in terms of the competitive group, there’s been a lot spoken about it in the press just recently, I think the core and the spine of our group is very capable, is strong and experienced, which will serve us well. SO it’s always a nice foundation to work from. I’ve actually been most impressed with the way that the group has managed the ball – not necessarily creatively, but how we’ve set about our business in possession, and some of the choices that are made. I have to put that down an awful lot to some of the experience within the group and the players that are going to influence that, which you can see are gonna be guys like [Anibal] Godoy and Dax [McCaryty], amnd Hany Mukhtar. Those guys are able to just take a second or two to evaqluate far better than maybe some of the less-experienced guys.
“As far as disappointments, I think everyone’s always disappointed with the amount of goals that they’re scoring. We had a pretty decent return in preseason, but there were one or two moments I certainly felt as though we could have taken advantage of. For sure, the weekend’s game will be different to any one that we’ve played up until now. We’re going to find a lot about ourselves, I think, at the weekend.”
How would you gauge the mood of the team?
“Completely pumped about the weekend, the opposition, the inaugural game for the MLS group. Just being part of that, for any player, as I’ve said to one of the guys here, it’s why a vast majority of them have joined the club or wanted to be part of the club. It’s a big day, it’s an emotional day, and to be part of that for any player, I’m sure, will be inspiring.”