The Athletic‘s Sam Stejskal and Jeff Reuter have further details on the 18-game schedule tentatively planned for MLS after the conclusion of the MLS is Back tournament in Orlando.
First, here’s what Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith said about the plan yesterday.
“That picture that’d been created for me was a home-and-away schedule that would possibly see us play nine home games and nine away games,” Smith said. “To this point, that’s really what I’m working on. The start date for that was not set in stone, but was going to be around the middle of August if not the third week in August if possible.”
While Smith believed that NSC wouldn’t play and out-of-conference games, The Athletic reports that’s not the case: on account of each missing the Orlando tournament in the wake of several positive tests for the novel coronavirus, Nashville SC and FC Dallas would face each other three times.
With the two games prior to the coronavirus pandemic’s halt to the 2020 season, 18 in a regular-season format of some variety, and three makeup games against Dallas, Nashville SC would play a 23-game schedule in its inaugural season. While 16 MLS teams are playing more than three games in Orlando, only the group-stage games (those already completed before the knockout tournament begins tomorrow) count in the regular-season standings.
From Nashville’s perspective, the mission is to prepare for whatever format the league settles upon – especially given that the plan is not expected to be finalized until close to the end of the MLS is Back tournament.
“As far as our work and our preparations go, we’re very much into what can only be described as a third preseason for the group,” he said. “When you’re limited as we were to no work at all for three weeks, the guys went from being – what I like to think was – one of the fittest groups in Orlando to one of the most inactive groups for three weeks. There’s a lot of sharpness, match fitness, and general mentality towards the work that’s lost.
“A big part of our preparations now has to be a real building process of getting the guys’ minds back on track and focused. Physically, working through those levels and those foundations that can offer us the best possible opportunity to compete. What we do know is that, unlike most of the teams in MLS, we’ll only have played two games and that was five months ago. The rest of the teams, as we’re seeing, at the very least are playing three games, and will have trained to a very good degree down in Orlando.”
Nashville returned to the training field at Currey Ingram Academy in Brentwood Monday with nearly a full squad. While there may ultimately be additional (temporary) losses to isolation quarantine going forward, all indications are that the team is returning to full health after nine positive tests in Orlando.
“We have to test three times a week: we go in Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to cover those protocols, which allows us to train as a full group,” Smith said. “Really, the main thrust of what will be a month to prepare for the home-and-away schedule will be about making sure the foundational pieces of the group – so: what do we look like when we’re defending deep, and the group and the team as a whole, roles, and a real understanding of what their individual work is. What do we look like when we’re creating? What do we look like when we’re pressing? And what do we look like when we’re building? Really, there are four main topics – there are others – but the four main areas that most teams want to be as efficient as possible, working at those things for one week only – as you can imagine – doesn’t make anyone perfect at what they’re trying to achieve.
“I do think given some of the work of what we’ve already done, it re-emphasizes again to the players what we want to look like, how we want to approach games, and just generally that confidence within the group that they can deal with most situations in the game. It’s not an ideal world, that’s for sure. But then, not much in the last five months has been ideal for anyone. We’re going to have to try and make the very best of it. I do believe that the players have made the very best of everything that they’ve tried to be involved in at the moment. It’s just been an incredibly crazy period of time. There’s no doubt about it.”
While it doesn’t directly impact Nashville SC, there is another quirk to the return to home-market play: it’s unlikely that the three Canadian clubs will be allowed by their country’s government to repeatedly cross the border for MLS games. Because of that, Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, and Vancouver Whitecaps will likely play the early phases of the return against each other exclusively.
It’d be hard to describe the return to Major League Soccer – for Nashville or anyone – as ideal. Inadequate response from all levels of government has exacerbated that. But seeing the Boys in Gold back on the field will certainly be nice. For the first time since July 9, it once again feels realistic in the not-so-distant future.
Walker Zimmerman GIF from file.