It’s been a big news week in Major League Soccer (“hopefully the only place it’s been a big news week!” he said, kicking back and opening the newspaper for the first time in 2020), with the revelation that a return to play would take the form of a tournament in Orlando, Fla., a restructured CBA has been agreed to – with many hard feelings along the way – between the League and MLSPA, and most recently, the announcement of MLS’s full resumption of team training capabilities, pending plans submitted by teams and agreed to by local and league health officials.
While there are still plenty of more-important situations unfolding around the country – with pandemics and police brutality dominating the headlines as they should – knowing that there’s a goal in sight is a relief on the soccer side of things. The Boys in Gold are looking forward to not just hitting the field for a full-squad practice, but putting that all into action in O-town.
“Now everybody’s very, very clear what they’re aiming for: what the work’s for,” head coach Gary Smith said. “The fact that we can get back to some competitive work in the not-too-distant future is just great news.”
Practice footage by Hayden Smith provided by Nashville SC.
It will be music to the ears of fans that Nashville SC will do more than just show up to play. The team intends to take the Orlando tournament very seriously. There’s no guarantee that all teams will have the same approach – indeed, some indication that many haven’t – and with a possible berth in the Concacaf Champions League on the line, NSC intend to go out and win the whole thing.
“I’ll tell you right now: not everyone’s going to take this seriously,” said defender
Dan Lovitz. “That’s just the nature of it. I think from our standpoint, it represents an incredible competitive advantage. I see the way guys on this team have been training, I understand how the coaches have been able to communicate to us, and our understanding for a long time now has been: ‘we’re prepping for this Orlando tournament, and we’re going there to win it.’ I think that’s very important to state.
“I also have been in contact with a lot of players from a lot of different teams in a lot of different markets during this whole process, and I can tell you that there are groups of guys who are not excited about going to Orlando: that’s just a fact. How that translates to the field and their competitive edge and will to play, frankly doesn’t concern me. I am more concerned about our group and what we’re able to do, and I feel really good about where we are mentally, and from a training standpoint.
Tennessee has been one of the earlier states to begin easing social distancing and other public-heath measures as the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic fades away. With NSC’s training ground located in nearby Williamson County – as opposed to Nashville proper, which has more restrictive rules in place throughout Davidson County – there’s a good chance that Nashville will be able to train in its home market earlier than some other franchises, and prepare more thoroughly prior to taking the trip down to Florida.
For now, though, simply having the opportunity to train in small groups, with individuals able to pass the ball between designated individual areas of the field, is a step in the right direction.
“Obviously still some restrictions apply,” said midfielder and captain Dax McCarty. “We still have to social distance and follow all the safety protocols and guidelines – but ultimately, being able to touch the ball again, being in a closer vicinity with some of your teammates, knowing what it’s like to feel the pop of the ball and interact with your teammates again, that’s something that’s very welcome for us right now.”
It is a slow build toward resuming a season that has still seen the expansion side play just two games at the Major League Soccer level. Of course, the abrupt stop to sporting competitions isn’t unique to Nashville SC or even to MLS: we’re awaiting the return of any major sports league in the United States.
With international leagues, such as Germany’s Bundesliga or South Korea’s K-League already playing in countries that had a more effective science-based response to the pandemic, sports are easing their way back into the zeitgeist. With MLS returning in a limited fashion (the Orlando Tournament will be televised, but played behind closed doors), the feelings of a slow approach to normalcy are creeping 8in.
“Seeing that live sporting events are back on – albeit behind closed doors or with no fans – should surely mean that we’re heading in the right direction,” Smith said. “That positive mindset, that conveyor belt if you like, is moving towards something that we recognize and can start to enjoy again. It should put everyone – professional athletes and fans – in a much better mental place.”
May MLS’s return be a bright sign not only for its own merits, but a harbinger of brighter days for all.
Dan Lovitz photo from file. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country. Smith and McCarty press conference video provided by Nashville SC.