During the global pandemic that remains a killer of nearly 2,000 Americans every day,* it’s easy to consider soccer a back-burner issue. That’s true in Nashville, as well, where the hometown team has played just two games at the MLS level.
Today’s return of the German Bundesliga shows that, where handled properly, the virus can be controlled to a degree that should allow for the return of sports at some point in the not-so-distant future. When Major League Soccer does return, Nashville SC will be looking up the league table at just about every team.
However, General Manager Mike Jacobs stresses that – given two one-goal losses to top opposition – it’s not the time to worry about starting over with the roster. Especially given we don’t know what the 2020 season will look like if and when it returns, the timing is not yet right to assume we know NSC has work to do in building its squad.
“A lot of what we’re doing right now is kind of hurry-up and wait,” Jacobs explained. “It’s hard for us to assess the future until we get a better idea about the present, what guys can and can’t do.
“I just feel like, for us right now, where we are into May now, we’ve only played two matches, and maybe for the staff’s perspective, it’s important for us not to hit the panic button or look at trying to blow things up.”
That said, there aren’t many opportunities to improve the squad as-is. While players have returned to individual training at the team facility, there’s no real chance to build on their technical skills, tactical approach, or chemistry within the team structure. What little activity is available has mostly revolved around the future.
In a sport like soccer, the future means not only development of the individuals already on the roster or in the academy system (Nashville SC will play in the MLS academy league, and while precise plans may be up in the air until the end of the pandemic is within clearer sight, the intention had been to add U13-15 squads to the existing U-12 group), but also recruitment on a global scale. With games on pause in the world’s largest leagues, that’s meant plenty of film study.
“There have been some things that we’ve been able to do as a group: i.e. looking at prospective players and future recruitment,” head coach Gary Smith said. “Lots of time to look at video footage and be more familiar with some targets, and to try and unearth some others.”
“Where it’s been frustrating to be off the field,” Jacobs added, “I think this time we’ve had during this moratorium has allowed us to dedicate more time to watching players, domestically and abroad, and prepare short-term for the 2020 season, and primarily to get ahead for 2021.”
For the most part, though, it’s important to keep in mind that Nashville SC isn’t in a hurry to pick up new players for the remainder of the inaugural season in MLS. As Jacobs stressed, the majority of the recruitment is happening as the team prepares for 2021. Given the likelihood of a truncated 2020 season, a relaunch with a reloaded roster could be on deck for Nashville SC.
As with every other aspect of life in the age of COVID-19, though, that means dealing with plenty of unknown. Jacobs and his staff – led by Assistant GM Ally MacKay and Chief Scout Chance Myers – are taking a look at players whose contracts were set to expire in June, as well as those that they weren’t expecting to be available until next offseason.
“The players we’re talking to, guys who are scheduled to be free come Summer window in other countries, clubs that have players under contract – potential transfers – we have to just kind of keep going along as we normally do,” Jacobs said. “I think just try to be proactive in our approach to that. At some point soon, we’re going to find out from FIFA and from the league what we can and can’t do. I think for us, it’s where we kind of set up these different scenarios: scenarios one, two and three, when it comes to adding some of these players whether it’s now or later.”
NSC’s issues have primarily revolved around goal-scoring: the Boys in Gold have just a single goal on 1.81 Expected Goals (xG) through two contests, and have allowed three on 0.55 xG against. However, with several attacking players either earning limited time or yet to even be given the opportunity to show their stuff in-game, the idea is to let the squad put more than two games’ worth of evidence before making a panicked move.
As is clear, there’s a thorough plan and thought process when it comes to the squad – for both the present and future.
* Stay inside! Wash your hands!