Nashville SC defender Walker Zimmerman and Gary Smith met with the media today. Read their full comments here.
What is your excitement level about having Zimmerman on an extended contract?
Smith: “First and foremost, I’m very very pleased that Walker’s decided to commit himself to the team and to the organization. I’ve long felt that building a very strong foundation to any group, making sure that the core of your team – spine of your team – is strong, is reliable, and it’s built with characters that are going to set standards and keep people accountable. Walker at 27 years of age is really coming into the prime of his career. For that reason, not only is it great to have him around, but my hope is – and I’m sure his – is that he’s going to be around long enough to see this team mature, and to be in a position where we can be fighting for silverware, and I’m sure he’ll be an integral piece of that.”
Preparing for Dallas
Smith: “I think the guys have moved along very, very well from our return into Nashville from Orlando. There’s been a number of hiccups, and I think as a team we’ve maybe borne the brunt of that a little bit more than other groups. But if I look at the window of time that we’ve had to get ourselves ready, to mentally and physical prepare for two difficult games in Dallas at this time of year, I’m certainly pleased with the way the guys are looking. I would imagine that even given their decent physical position, the challenge of playing away and getting ourselves into a very different routine of flying in and out on a day, and really and truly finding our legs after what is it, five months without any competitive action? – there’s always going to be some wrinkles to try and iron out. As I’ve said, I’m very pleased with the work that we’ve been able to get through, and I think that’s more than anything, a testament to the mentality and the quality of the players.
“There’s a lot of individuals – having seen what I have over the last five months could – have been forgiven for maybe just downing towards a little bit, and looking at the season as a little bit of a loss. I think they’re very, very keen to get back out on the field, and this is a nice opportunity in the coming week to get two very good games under our belt.”
What is your excitement to play in Dallas?
Zimmerman: “I love it. I have a lot of really good memories from my time in Dallas. Still have friends there, former teammates there, and it’s a field that – I was saying earlier: I’ve played more games on that field that any other in MLS. So I’m excited. Excited to compete against old teammates, but I think more importantly when you play against a former team, your desire to win just goes up and up. There’s always a chip on your shoulder. I think that’s no different in this case. I’m excited that we get to return to action against my former club.”
Does getting excited for a game 48 hours away feel like you’re counting chickens before they hatch, given the recent experiences?
Zimmerman: “I think we’ve joked about it – well, nothing’s official until the first whistle blows. But at the same time, I think mentality-wise we’re ready. We’re ready to compete. You can’t be hesitating on ‘oh I wonder if this is going to happen.’ You have to commit to it fully mentally. Then if all else fails, no problem, but as long as you’re prepared.
“It’s no different for us, we’re focused, we’ve been training really hard. Hats off to all of our guys on the team. It’s not easy to work out in hotel rooms, at your houses in quarantine, and have the same mentality to push yourself along. They’ve done a really good job, and gotten us into a good space where we could come back to training and be good, and be sharp. Not it’s just a matter of getting ready for Wednesday.
“We’re excited. Sure, crazy things could happen, but you can’t think about it too much or let it affect you mentally.”
Luchi Gonzalez mentioned that this is more than a game, it’s also a reward for the work you have put in when being unable to play in Orlando. Do you see that feeling among your players?
Smith: “I completely understand where he’s coming from. This has been a period of time like no other. It’s very, very difficult to try and wrap your head around in that way. As I’ve mentioned earlier, we’ve gone through what could be described as three preseasons, hoping after each one that we were going to be able to compete and maybe string some fixtures together. I do honestly think that these opening games, when you look at the way the Orlando tournament unfolded, there were some games that we might all have looked at and said, ‘players look a little bit rusty, certainly not playing at the sort of pace and speed that you might normally expect.’ And you may well imagine that you could see on Wednesday. What I will say is: both teams will certainly be in the right frame of mind, I’m sure. And I think beyond these two games – whilst they’re for points and there’s a schedule certainly for both of us to start getting involved in – we’ll both be very appreciative of where the players are at, and what we expect out of the game, whilst also being very, very cognizant of the fact that players’ healths are at stake here, as well.
“Our guys – Nashville and Dallas – have been out longer than any other team in MLS. So, certainly an angle in the way we’ve prepared, and in my mindset will be: who is ready for 90 minutes, and who can I really stretch that far and not push too much- And then see a number of players missing for the following Sunday? There’s an awful lot to think about, that is for sure. But it’s certainly great to be back in the competitive groove again. Even thinking and preparing for matches is so different to just training days and scheduling throughout any normal week.”
Do you anticipate any new players breaking into the starting lineup?
Smith: “Firstly, the competition around the group is very good. Any of the intrasquad games we have are very very, well competed. There’s a number of guys in our group that, should they be called upon – at whatever point – are more than ready, and I would go as far as to say are very, very hungry to try and make their mark.
“Without – as you’ve said – giving too much away, we are pretty much at full health. We have some foundational pieces, I believe, to still look at at and feel good about from the opening two games. That certainly shouldn’t be forgotten even though it’s a long time ago. There are qualities that, for a brand new organization, I think will serve us well as we move down the line. But there are also areas of our game that we do need to improve. Hopefully as we get back into the swing of things, the fact that we’ve missed out on playing time and the opportunity for individuals to build relationships, and maybe find that bond and understanding that the very best front lines have: That confidence of getting our first win and points on the board, it does a world of good for players, especially forwards: hitting the back of the net regularly. We’ve been unable to see any of that because of the way that the season has been affected with this virus.
“Listen: I’m very, very happy where the group’s at. I’ve no doubt – given the schedule that we’ve all been given now, Dallas and beyond – that a lot of the guys that I’m seeing every day are going to get their opportunity to show what they’re about at whatever point that is.”
What does it mean to you that the club has placed faith in you – beyond just on the field – with a long contract extension?
Zimmerman: “I’m proud of that, honestly. When I look at any time that a team commits to you – and we talk al lot about on-the-field stuff, but certainly off the field, as well – I love trying to get out in the community; being a role model for young kids in Nashville is another goal. I’m trying to be relatable: I don’t want to be kind of standoffish or be someone that people tfeel like they can’t have a conversation with, or come and approach. So I want to be that kind of person off the field, and hopefully inspire with my play on the field.
“Those are small ways that I try and challenge myself every day, to make sure when all is said and done, when we look back, hopefully a decade from now, we’re like, ‘yeah this was an amazing fit, and I was a big part of our club.'”
How has the team managed to stay psychologically engaged?
Smith: “They’ve been through an awful lot emotionally. I think I said a little bit earlier, ourselves and Dallas have had to contend with somewhat more than the other teams even though the whole league have been through an awful lot. Emotionally, I think this is presenting something that none of us have ever seen before. For most players, they’ll do a preseason to get themselves fit and ready. This season, as I’ve said, we’ve entered into what would be our third period of preparation – and when I say preparation, I mean getting the players into the right physical condition, which is never easy. Every play that you want to talk to will tell you: Once you’re into the games and you’re playing regularly, you’re in a much better place to cope with the minutes that you’re being asked to. We’re having to get through some of that serious physical work in our training sessions. That’s very demanding for players, and it can be quite overbearing at times.
“They’ve done a wonderful job of staying very upbeat. There have been questions along the way towards these two Dallas games as to what might take place and how it would take place. So, a real big challenge – and I think a quality that our players have shown above a lot of others – has just been their adaptability and their qualities to just be ready whenever called upon. As Walker alluded to, the players have kept themselves in very good condition under immense circumstances.
“We’ll find out on Wednesday night just where we’re at. I think what we’d all agree is: we’ve navigated some really troubled waters at this point, and we’re now on the cusp of playing our first game again in five months. I think a lot of adrenaline and positive emotion, come what may, will get us through this first game. Some of the conditioning I hope will prepare them to recover and be ready for Sunday’s game, and further on.”
What is the importance of the talent in your middle four of centerbacks and central midfielders?
Zimmerman: “I felt like in our first two games, we did a really good job of limiting opponents’ chances. A lot of that is through the guys in the middle, and then also the cumulative work of everyone around us. But you know, with Dax and Godoy and Dave, you’ve got three guys who’ve had a lot of experience in MLS. They’ve played a lot of games in those specific positions. We’ve gotten a lot of reps in training over the past two and a half weeks since we’ve gotten back. Again, the fact that there is so much experience there helps a lot in terms of getting back into a rhythm quickly, and more than anything, understanding how we want to play, especially in those positions. I’m excited to get back out there, to compete with those guys, and I certainly hope that we can continue to limit opponents, and also be the ones who begin to initiate our attacking movements.”
You expected to be playing teams that you’d have footage of from Orlando. Does playing another team that missed the tournament affect the way you can prepare?
Smith: “Both teams will have footage of those first two games. I think it really does depend on what sort of credibility you want to look at within those games five months ago. I have no idea where their group’s at, who’ll play. We’ll have a rough idea of each group. That’s why I said earlier on, whilst there’s points on this game – and of course on Sunday’s – and we’re very very keen – as I’m sure they will be – to get points on the board, and get going in a positive fashion, I think there’ll be a lot learned in this first game about both teams.
“It’s rare that you play back-to-back games against the same team. You often see it sometimes in league and cup competition – whether it be here in the US or around Europe – but it’s rare in league play that you’ll see two away games against the same team. I expect that we’ll learn quite a big about them as they will about us, and vice versa they will about us. There’s nothing quite like being on the field, competing, and in the same arena to really appreciate the qualities of an opponent.
“There’ll be fitness, sharpness, excitement, energy, competition. There’ll be loads and loads of things going on Wednesday for both of these teams that they haven’t seen for so long. And I would probably leave you with the fact that, if you come back and talk to me, or anyone in their group in five or six games’ time, that we’ll both be saying that these couple of games, and certainly the couple beyond have lent itself to what you now see. It’ll be a different picture: we both know that, I’m sure the teams down in Orlando are now feeling that. The guys that are in the final tomorrow night will have played six games, and I bet they feel a hell of a lot different going into this final than probably the first game that they had.
We’ve got some rust and some cobwebs to shake off – both teams – but one thing is for sure: we’ll all be looking forward to getting going again.”
How important was the ability to host three home games in the next phase?
Smith: “Now that we’ve seen that there is a phase one of the home-and-away schedule, I thin kit’s mentally for all of us that are out in the playing field every day, knowing that we’re going to run into some more home games is something to look forward to. If you look at our schedule right now, we go to Dlalas trwice, and then we have two immediate away games in the first part of the home-and-away schedule.
“That in itself is never too exciting. You always want to be at home, preparing in the best possible way, and in the most exciting of circumstances, there’ll be supporters in the ground. I think the big hope for everyone at the club is that by the time we get to that point, there may well be – fingers crossed there would be – an opportunity or a solution to allowing fans to be part of that fixture again. there’s nothing quite like – as we’ve all seen – watching a game and having no supporters, no fans, and certainly no supporting in the way that only they can give you. We’ll get through these games, but we’ll – without a shadow of a doubt – be looking forward to being at home, and I think as part of that process, getting some more games at the Titans’ stadium, as well. We’ve had one game there. The players have really got to find their feet at Titans Stadium as well, and a big part of this process as we start to play again will be finding a way to make that stadium as difficult for opponents as possible.
“Looking forward to it immensely.”