Nashville SC gaffer Gary Smith met with the media on the eve of his team’s MLS launch against Atlanta United. Watch and read his full comments here.
Head coach Gary Smith
“The guys are looking in good shape. It’s been nice to get out here this morning. The field’s been relaid, it looks in good shape. It’s always good for the players to experience the stadium, the surface, the type of environment that they’re coming into. There’s a number of guys in this group that have been here before, but there’s always a beneficial angle to walking through some of the things that we’re going to have at the weekend, and just be ready for any eventuality. But we’re ready for it, looking forward to it, and excited about it.”
Did you feel more energy at practice?
“Well, there’s a lot more press here, as well. Which always bodes well: it means there’s something very important going on. Everything around the game has been ultra positive. It sounds like there’s going to be a great crowd, players have worked hard all preseason. We’re not the only team around the league that’s going to be looking forward to kickoff. The players are ready to play: they have worked hard, they’re in that zone now, and looking forward to their first challenge.”
How big is tomorrow’s game?
“I think every game’s important, and this one obviously adds a different aspect to it. It’s a huge, historic day for the club, and I would imagine there will be a lot of emotion attached to it as well. Guys are fully aware of what it means for the history books, and we certainly want to make sure we leave this field tomorrow evening when the final whistle’s blown in a decent place.”
Do you feel ready for the season?
“Preseason has offered us a glimpse of what the team’s capable of and what the squad’s capable of. We get a view of the challenge against other MLS groups. Nothing really replaces the first whistle, start of the season, points on the line, 50,000-plus people in the stadium. There’s a completely different mentality and emotion attached to that, of course. The pressure’s on – there’s stress to every game, but the pressure’s on when you’re at home and you want to start well. There’s a benchmark that we’ve seen within the group. How relative is that to what we’re going to get at the weekend? Time will start to tell.”
What has changed as you’ve prepared for the opening game?
“The group shuffled somewhat in preseason. There were a lot of players I wanted to have a look at, and there were some relationships I wanted to see. But I think everybody will have noticed that there were a core of individuals to the work that was performed at certain times, and that core will remain the same. I’m not going to give you the team right now for tomorrow – I’ll try and keep at least something under my hat for the weekend – but the guys that go out there have got a nice balance of experience, they’ve certainly got a good balance of athleticism and quality, and we will undoubtedly be competitive. What we have in front of us is a very tough challenge against an extremely good side, so we’ve got to adapt to that. We have to make sure we deal with the environment well, and use the environment as well as we possibly can.”
Are you satisfied with 50,000 for tomorrow?
“Yeah, I think everybody hoped it could be a bumper crowd, and it looks as though it’s going to be that way. Ongoing, I’d love to see this stadium as close to full as possible. It makes the players on the field, the atmosphere in the stadium, and certainly the occasion that you’re involved in that much more exciting. We have to try and get a connection with this crowd. It’s not going to be easy straight away. There will be a core of these fans that come who may well have seen us play before, but somehow, some way, they’ve got to start to find their new heroes, and we’ve certainly got to find some new heroes as well. hopefully that inspires everyone to some great things this year.”
Do you have those heroes available?
“I believe so. There’s some incredible talent in the side. There are some great individuals. I’ve always felt that each person that’s watching the game has a different individual that they want to be their hero. Someone will see a strong centerback putting his heart on his sleeve, others want to see a tricky wide player who’s got pace and creativity, and of course there’s the goal-scorers and the captains that everyone wants to see. We’ve got someone for everyone.”
What did you think of the LAFC result against Club Leon in Concacaf Champions League?
“It’s a wonderful second-leg result, there’s no two ways about it. I didn’t watch the first leg – I was more interested, as you might understand, in the Atlanta fixture, and concentrating on them – but it sounded like they had a tough time in the first leg. They’ve shown their quality again: it’s a wonderful result, it’s a great turnaround. It’s never easy against a good side who have got a decent lead. There’s an awful lot that goes into that, and you’ve got to tip your hat to them.”
How do you assess the progress from being an expansion team to a squad that actually hits the field?
“I think we’ve got some good foundations: I’m not going to get too excited, and nor is anyone else. We’ve seen some reasonable quality and some good performances in preseason, but as I’ve just said, that can sometimes leave you in a position that is not necessarily natural given how you’re competing in those early stages. I’m almost certain that in eight weeks’, ten weeks’ time, we’re going to see a different picture again, and maybe even more so in six months’ time. And that’s the nature of having a brand new team and brand new group.
“What I will say is that the players in general have found a great rapport. They have got a very good spirit, we have some wonderful personalities in the group that seem to complement one another pretty well. We now start the process of competition, which starts to, I think, instill different qualities and fibers within the group. You win games, it builds confidence and appreciation. you have tough periods in a game that you can navigates, and it instills and starts to embed some real grit and understanding of how to get through tough moments. There’s so many things that will happen over the next period of time, and this group will grow from all of those experiences.”
What were your impressions having seen Atlanta play a couple times?
“From the very outset of knowing we have this fixture, I always understood that it will be a tough task. Their talent – certainly going forward – is easy to see. I think that would be the average fan’s appreciation of that group: they are very talented and very bright going forward. The shape that they played on Tuesday night caused Motagua all sorts of difficulties, and they just couldn’t work out how to get any pressure on that Atlanta group who have really nailed down working out of the back, and some of the relationships that you need to be successful doing that.
“Our challenge is to try and get this fanbase behind us, to start off on a positive note, to not leave ourselves vulnerable to some of the things that Motagua did on Tuesday night, and to ultimately get into this game in a confident manner, and grow from that. This is our first league game; I think the game can be lost very guickly early on if we don’t get it right. We certainly aren’t going to win it in the first 10-15 minutes, but we can go a long way to feeling good about ourselves, and more importantly, getting this big crowd behind us and using that to our advantage.”
Is this first game similar to first-game jitters back in Colorado?
“That was a long time ago now, Drake: I don’t quite remember how I was feeling. I certainly felt a little bit more virile at that point, and I had more hair and less lines, as well. Listen, this will be a passionate affair. I’ve made no bones in saying that I feel very proud to be leading this team out on such an historic occasion with a city that has gotten behind soccer since I’ve been here: in 2017 and in 2018 starting USL. It’s grown, it has got so much excitement and energy about it now. I’m delighted that I’m still at the helm and leading this group out. Will I be having any butterflies, will I be anxious, will I be concerned? All of that, for sure: because I want to do well. If I didn’t, and I was sitting on the bench or standing up jumping around with no real concern about the result, then I think everybody here would question my mentality. Everyone wants to win, everyone wants to do well, we want to set a bit of a marker, so that creates, in itself, some nervousness.”