Nashville SC defender Walker Zimmerman and midfielder Dax McCarty met with the media Tuesday afternoon. Watch or read their comments here.
How nice is it to be at the home facility?
“It’s great. I mean, it was a good preseason for the guys in Florida – I got there a little late – but I had a good time with them in Tampa. It’s a great group, really hardworking group, and I was really surprised with the camaraderie that was already estbalished within the first month of preaeason. Hats off to everyone for really getting along, buying into this process. It’s not easy, but I think everybody’s ready for the weekend.”
How is the team coming together?
“I think the great thing about an expansion team is that everyone comes in with a clean slate. You typically don’t have many guys that you know coming in. You’ve played against them around the league, some of them have come up from USL. It’s just a mix of guys with no egos. You’re almost forced to make friendships, and so it’s been really, really positive from that end: the camaraderie on and off the field.”
Have you been dishing out advice on how to succeed with an expansion team?
“We talked a little bit about it with some of the guys. It’s funny, because the thing that we stressed about back with LAFC was: don’t look at it as ‘we’re coming in as an expansion team’ and let that change expectations. You’re in MLS now. So that’s the message here: ‘sure, we are technically an expansion team, but hey, we’re in MLS just like any of the other teams.’ So don’t let that change our mindset, don’t let that change our mentality: we’re going to come out and compete not as a team trying to prove ourselves, but as a team that’s wanting to establish ourselves in the right way.”
First game emotions?
It’ll be really fun. It’ll be a bigger crowd than a lot of guys are used to, which I’m super-excited about. It’s what, 45,000 so far? Plus? So people are going to come out, they’re going to support, and we’ve just got to take care of our part on the field throughout this season. Whether that comes in week one – we sure hope so – but we’re going to build and try to be a successful club. I think fans are going to respond to a team that wins, so that’s our goal.”
How do you establish that winning identity?
“It’s kind of funny, because you never really know. Trainings can look good, preseason games can look good, then you step on the field and you’re like, ‘alright, here we go, let’s see what happens.’ There is a freedom to that. Especially with the group that we have and the way that we’ve been working, I think it’s important that we stick together, no matter whether we’re on a five-game winning streak or a few-game losing streak, it’s a long season, and there’s going to be ups and downs. How can we weather the storms, embrace the highs, and not get too emotional either way.”
What are the challenges Atlanta presents?
“Well it’s a really goods team: a team that’s been really successful in their three years in MLS. Won some trophies, won some championships. They have a lot of talent. Obviously, it starts with Josef [Martinez] up top. Really dynamic player, really good movement, great finisher. Then they’ve got a lot of experience throughout their midfield, throughout their back line. We’ll see. We’re excited to watch them in Champions League, it’s good for us because we get a decent scout. Other games, you’re coming into the season and it’s everyone’s first game. At least we have two games of film to look at, and it should give us a good idea of what to expect.”
Are you excited as an Atlanta native to play against ATL UTD in the first contest?
“It has a little extra meaning for me, for sure, because there’s a lot of friends back in Atlanta that are Atlanta United fans, and I haven’t had the best track record in Atlanta. So now coming to Nashville, I know some friends are coming up for the game, and it’s going to be good to kind of quiet them a little bit. Really looking forward to that opportunity. Big game for me, family’s coming up – that’s the perk of being closer to home – so I’m definitely motivated for it.”
How exciting is it to start the season with a rivalry game?
“It’s huge. It’s huge. Rivalry games are developed, and usually something crazy has to happen: some last-minute heroics, some crazy interactions between the teams. So I’m expecting fireworks, expecting everything to take place on the field. Ready for it, excited for it, and I think the rest of the group is, as well.”
What do you remember from your other first games?
“This is going to be really exciting; I actually missed the opener with LAFC in Seattle. I was kind of a gametime decision, and we decided it was best to step out, so I missed that opportunity. It was an amazing game, amazing atmosphere, so I was super-bummed about it. Now heading into this weekend, there’s going to be a lot of excitement, and the same time, with the veterans that we do have in this group, it’s a great opportunity to make sure that we take control of the locker room and make sure guys are level-headed, know what to expect as much as they can, prepare them as best we can, and let them be focused, let them be disciplined, and not get overwhelmed with the situation and the hype of what’s going on around us.”
Do you have the first-game jitters?
“No, I don’t think so. I think when you play enough minutes, you can kind of know what to expect a little bit more. I know we have a lot of guys who have played a lot of minutes in MLS. So I think there’s less jitters and more excitement. You’re kicking off another season, it’s a long season, it’s exciting, it’s the best job in the world to compete and do what you love for a living, so every time you step on the field, it’s a blessing – one that’s again, recognizing that what you’re doing is your childhood dream. Any game is fun, win or lose, because you’re doing what you love.”
Why won’t this team leak goals in the way that other recent expansion sides have?
“I’m always going to believe in myself, and believe in my teammates around me. We’ve got a really, really good back line: guys that have been around the league a good bit. Obviously, I’ve gotten to play with all of them. Those are some of my friends from growing up and spending time in the league. I have really high praises for all of those guys. Almost all of them have had to work and have a chip on their shoulder because they’ve had ups and downs in their careers. So for all of us to come together with something to prove, again, change the stereotype of an expansion team that leaks some goals, we’re going to have to change that stereotype. I think that’s a challenge that everyone is definitely excited for.
You’ve talked about how the buzz is real. How much more is that the case with an actual game approaching?
“It’s really exciting. I think guys are really itching to get out on the field. Preseason’s over with. It’s always a long time away from your family. Down in a little bit better weather in Florida there, but I think we were ready to get back home and to start the real prep. You can feel that, you can feel that in training. You guys were out here to see: it’s real. Guys are competing, guys are wanting to get on the field and be a part of that historic first day in Nashville SC’s history. Yeah, the excitement is real.”
How do you evaluate where the team stands as the regular season approaches?
“We are ready. It remains to be seen how ready we are: I think with any teams in preseason, the one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t know really know who you exactly are until a few weeks into the season. You have your baseline, you have your thoughts on what you’ve worked on and where things are going to be at, but you don’t know until you get into a real environment. Preseason games are preseason games: you don’t know exactly what the opponent’s going to do, and you’re not really prepping for that, you’re just kind of focusing on yourself, and so, yeah, I’ve been around the block a few times, and I’ve been around long enough to know that our group, what we have is real. We have a real sense of camaraderie, guys have really bonded off the field. We have a sense of discipline and organization in how we’re going to play, but also I’ve been pleasantly surprised with some of our attacking players, and guys that I didn’t know much about. I’ve spoken about that going into it. I think that there’s a real sense of urgency with this group that we want to start off our first season on the right foot.”
What should fans expect on the field?
“You’re going to see a team that is really engaged and organized, and wants to win extremely bad for this first historic game. I’m not sure – we haven’t gone over exactly how we’re going to play – I think there’s a baseline to what we have, but the good thing about this group is that there’s so many good players, and so many players that are interchangeable. I don’t think the boss knows the lineup yet, and I think that’s good when you have competition and hunger for places, and guys are on their toes, and guys are staying ready, because you never know when you’re number’s gonna be called. So the fans are going to see urgency, they’re going to see energy, they’re going to see heart, desire, and hopefully they’re going to see some goals. We’ve been working on both phases of the game, defensively and in the final third attacking-wise. In preseason it was pretty good, to be honest. We scored a couple goals in preseason, we didn’t concede too many, and without getting ahead of myself too much, obviously you want to take that with a grain of salt, because it is preseason. One thing is for sure: we will be ready to play. Let’s hope the quality is as high as our energy.”
Where do you think this game will end up on your memorable moments?
“If we win, it’ll be one of the best moments, to be honest. I haven’t given a lot of thought to that. I’ve had a lot of really memorable moments in my career. Never once have I been part of an expansion team that’s going to open a season with 40- 50-thousand people in the stands. So that’s something that, as I look at it and talk about it right now, I already get butterflies in my stomach. It doesn’t matter how long you play, you always feel a little bit nervous. But you live for those games, and you live for those moments. So for me, I’m going to try to treat it like a normal game, but I know it won’t be. It’ll feel like a final in so many ways because of the nerves, because of the excitement, because of the unpredictability. You really don’t know what you’re going to get out of these first couple of games. We’ll try to approach it like we will every game this season, but obviously there’s going to be a little bit more to it, because Atlanta’s coming to town. They’ve been a really good team in MLS for a couple years now, and they’ve kind of set the bar high for expansion teams. I’m really looking forward to it.”
What is that moment going to feel like looking at that crowded stadium?
“In my old age, I have learned to try to enjoy those moments, because they don’t come around often, to be honest. You only get one chance to make a good first impression. We hope that we do that coming Saturday. I will take a moment, I’ll try to soak it all in, try to find my family in the stands and give them a wave. But then once the game starts, once you’re in between those white lines, it’s all business. Hopefully we can give the fans what they deserve, which is a victory, against a very good team. No matter what happens, it’s going to be Nashville SC soccer from here on out going forward. I think everyone is really excited about what that’s going to look like, not just on Saturday but going forward as well.”
How important is the midfield to this team’s effort?
“To me, this is going to sound biased coming from a midfielder, but the midfield, for me, is where games are won and lost. That’s the spine of your team, that’s the engine of your team. That’s not only the creative hub of where most attacking phases of the game are built, but also defensively. If your goalkeeper doesn’t have much to do, that means your defenders are doing well, and if your defenders don’t have much to do, that means the midfield and the attackers are doing their job defensively. So, it’s all 11 guys plus the subs on the bench that are gonna contribute to make us a good team. But obviously that midfield, I know we have a lot of quality. We have a lot of quality, we have a lot of high-level players that have played at the highest level now for a couple years. That’s going to hopefully be the pulse of our team; that’s going to make our team tick. So you’re going to rely on the guys that you just mentioned, you’re going to rely on our attacking players to create magic and to score goals, and to get fans excited and out of their seats. If we can do that at a high level, I think we’re going to have a really successful first year.”
Do you feel like you have an advantage seeing Atlanta play on film in a competitive game in CCL?
“Certainly. That’s a big advantage, To be able to see them in not just one, but two competitive games. Seeing how they want to play, seeing the style of play that they have at home and on the road. I know they’re dealing with a couple of injuries right now, which who knows how those injured guys are going to recover before the weekend. But it is definitely an advantage to be able to see them play, and to be able to see what they’re all about. It’s no secret what they did last year with Frank De Boer. Going from Tata Martino to Frank De Boer, they went through some changes, maybe a little growing pains if you will, but they still won two trophies. So this is a team that knows how to win, and they’ve done it ever since they’ve come into MLS. We want to give them the proper respect, but we also want to find some weaknesses that they may have and take advantage of those.”
How does a younger player prepare for a game without the experience you have?
“The best advice I can give a young guy going into a game like this is just to play with no fear. They’re going to be on the field for a reason. Obviously, we have a number of players that have a lot of experience, like myself, like Anibal Godoy, like a Walker Zimmerman, but we also have a lot of younger players that don’t have as much experience. So the best advice I can give them is to play with no fear, because games like this don’t come around often.”
How do you remember the early days of your career and what have you taken from all the way back then?
“I was never a part of a game like this early in my career. I didn’t play that much my rookie season; it was a really tough year for me actually, so thanks for bringing that up. I actually didn’t even get my first minutes until probably halfway through the year. A quick little five-minute role off the bench I think, I was put on to kill the game off I believe. I made my debut against Chivas USA, rest in peace. It was something that I’ll always remember vividly, but it was very unspectacular.”
How about your first major action, does that bring lessons for this weekend?
“To be honest, no, because this is an expansion team and what we’re going to do, this is the first time we’re ever going to step on the field in MLS. So it doesn’t resemble that, but ultimately, every time you step on the field in a big game, the feelings are always the same: nerves, butterflies, lot of excitement, a lot of jittery feelings when the game starts. But once the game kicks off and once you get that first tackle, first pass, first header, everything starts to come back and you start to remember, ‘hey, I’m on the field for a reason, I’m a pretty good soccer player.’ So now it’s just 90 minutes, try to win your battle, and hopefully the game, as well.
Dax McCarty and Walker Zimmerman photo by Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country.