Nashville SC

Gary Smith and Teal Bunbury meet with the media

Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and forward Teal Bunbury met with the media Wednesday. Watch or read their full comments here.

Head coach Gary Smith

“Well, nice to be back this in-between week of the Florida trips. I think all of the guys enjoy being back around their families in more-familiar surrounds. A first opportunity to be back on our own training field, and utilize some of the qualities of being in a more secluded area, and on your own. But I think all-in-all, a good couple of days that have really backed up on what was otherwise a very competitive week down in Florida at IMG, and just about everyone, I think, is in a good physical place – I mean health-wise, not just in terms of their fitness – which of course bodes well for preparation.”

Have you decided on format for upcoming friendly matches, and if you’re sticking with three 30-minute periods (as is traditional at this phase in preseason), have you figured out how you’re going to taper minutes?

“In terms of the timing, actually gone about some of the work slightly differently this year, Drake. You’re right in saying that I’ve been very much an advocate of the 30-minute periods. The guys have been in a really good place as I’ve said all along here, physically. They’ve already got through 45 minutes of flat work – albeit amongst ourselves. These games down in Tampa will consist of 90 mimintues, and then the final two games will be 120 minutes. And I’ve not done that before. I know other teams have. I’ve always been a little bit concerned about having those prolonged games for the squad, really.

“So my hope is – and I’ll hopefully answer all of your question by the end of this – by the time we get to the final two games, I’m hoping that A) we’re getting closer to what we might see as a starting group, certainly within two or three bodies, secondly, I would like to play them the best part of maybe 70-90 minutes by the final game. And that gives the rest of the group an opportunity to stay ini a decent match-sharpness state. And of course not knowing how people will be in that final week in terms of health, it means that everyone’s then in a position that they can be competing for the Seattle game.”

Is there an update on Randall Leal after he was out with stomach issues for Costa Rica’s qualifying window?

“Yeah, we’ve been in constant contact with the Costa Rican group. He had some gastric problems that were not Covid-related which had kept him out of the two games, sadly for him, and it’ll obviously be a detriment to the last game that they play tonight in qualification games.

“So I believe he’s back tomorrow. He lands tomorrow, and we’ll take stock of where he’s at. We do get quite a detailed fitness program of what he’s achieved, what work they’ve done, his load-ins, ground covered, etc. So we’ll glean from that how much work he’s actually done, and then through some testing, we’ll work out where he’s at within the group.”

How close are you to identifying what you would consider your first choice XI?

“Well, the first couple of games, we’re going to see groups that are a little bit more what you would class as younger players with senior players: mixed-up groups. I want to give everyone an opportunity that’s just come into the group to show what they’re about, to see how they fit into the group, Ii don’t want to make any or too many pre-conceived decisions on who should or who shouldn’t. And then, slowly-but-surely, I’d obviously like to get to that point where we’re getting a couple of games of what might be classed as a group that could lead into that first game.

“I would hope by the time we’re – is it Cincinnati that we play second that last game down in Tampa – Cincinnati and Philadelphia will be the two games that I’m really looking at trying to put those groups together in a more-constructive fashion towards the start of the season.”

Does the nature of travel, starting on the road, and playing new teams alter how you prepare for the season?

“Yeah, it’s a really good point. It would be, I think foolish of me and the group not to mentally and physically be ready for the demands of this first eight games. Unfortunately this year, as you’ve rightly pointed out, is the complete 180 from last year where everyone’s looking forward to a prolonged run at home, and getting off to what we all hoped would be a flying start. There are going to be plenty of competitive challenges, but I think we also want to try and put ourselves in a position where we have some targets to aim for, we have an understanding and appreciation of the challenges in front of us, and of course in the process of that, we’re getting used to some new teams, new stadia. There are plenty of things that we have got to try and really overcome in the opening stages of the season and still be in a competitive and a challenging spot in the Western Conference.

“So it seems like the first three years of our existence, there’s always been something that we’ve got to try and overcome. This year will be no different, but for very different reasons. I think if there’s any group that are capable of meeting those challenges head-on, I’d like to think it’s us.”

How are you assessing the forward group so far, particularly with Ake Loba getting a full preseason, the new additions, and the role you see for some of these guys?

“Yeah, well you’re absolutely right: there’s a real depth to that front line, and I think if you look at the most successful teams anywhere in the world, they’ve all got choices, they’ve all got competition. Those guys are constantly keeping each and every one of the others on their toes to try and force them out of the group, and that in itself can only be good for the team in general. You couple into the fact with that, that forwards do hit for the most part some real hot periods, and then they can falter, they do lose confidence. And if there’s an area of the field that is more based on confidence and belief than any other, it probably is the forward line, and you of course see the results of that when they are in a good mood and a good vein.

“So I’m absolutely delighted, first and foremost, we’ve got the players we have in the group. Teal [Bunbury] and Ethan [Zubak], the two additions up top, have been fantastic in the way that they’ve approached the work, and how they’re fitting in with the group. Ake’s come in in a much fitter, sharper, and in general more capable physical position in this preseason. And I think we’ve seen some of the benefits of that: he looks sharper in the training, he looks brighter himself in the way that he’s performing, and I think the next step for him, really, is to find a vein of form, and that connection with the guys around him, to ultimately show what he’s capable of, which is to be creative and score goals.

“I think you’ve left a couple players out of that group, in the creative world. One, of course, is away with the international group. We’ve already mentioned him: Randall. I’ve got to say Luke Haakenson and Handwalla [Bwana] have looked really, really bright in preseason, and those guys, in slightly different dimensions in the group, can also be hugely effective and supportive for what we’ve spoken about as mainly center forwards. Hany [Mukhtar] looks in a real good place, Daniel Ríos coming back off of what was an injury-blighted season, really, last year, looks in a good place. So all-in-all, we have a really strong front line.”

Have you filled the schedule with the ‘TBD’ opponent currently listed for the 12th?

“No, we haven’t. So we have Charlotte on Tuesday, which is obviously straightforward. The game against Philadelphia Union II which was scheduled for the Saturday, I believe, due to some abnormalities around their group – I think it was more about competition than anything, from what I’m led to believe – have pulled out of that game. We have tried to fill that fixture with some of the teams that are down in Florida, of course. At this precise moment, there are no professional takers. I want to leave it as long as I can, and really the picture of that weekend now will be: if something goes wrong with one of the other groups, and there’s a team available, we’ll wait to the last minute to get good competition. And if it doesn’t happen, then we’ll play an intrasquad game again. I’d rather do it that way, personally, than to try and schedule a college or amateur game at this point, and wait on for one of those pro teams just in case.”

Especially with your three international players (Aníbal Godoy, Randall Leal, Walker Zimmerman) out of camp, who’s joining Dax McCarty from a leadership perspective?

“It’s always nice to see the personalities, how they jell, how some of them step into that void that’s created when you’ve got some big characters like Walker and Aníbal away, because there is space for new personalities to step up. It’s been great to see the experience of Sean [Davis] and Teal – who’ve been in and around the league for a lot of years – at a new group still voice their opinions in a right and respectful way. The’ve been great characters to add, and they’ve verbally been able to give us a slightly different dimension and thought process.

“I have to be honest: I think the rest of the guys – whilst Dax wears the armband – guys like CJ [Sapong], Davie Romney, Dan Lovitz, Joe [Willis], they’re all very good characters. They might not always be verbally loud and outspoken, but they choose their time to say their bit, and I think more by weight of numbers instead of maybe one or two individuals, we’re getting the right outcome.”

Forward Teal Bunbury

You’ve been with the Revs for a few years, so how does joining a new group as a veteran feel and how is it going?

“It’s been a while since I’ve had to be like the new kid on the block, but you never know what it’s going to be like when you go to a new team. You always hope for the best, and immediately once Ii got into Nashville, all the guys were super supportive. Guys reached out to me who maybe Ii haven’t stayed in touch with as much – such as Dax and CJ Sapong, and even Lovitz – reached out to me to ask if I needed nay help with anything: finding a place, getting settled. So that kind of calms your mind a little bit.

“Then once we started preseason, the locker room is unbelievable. In New England, we had a really good core group of guys: some veteran guys, some younger guys, and the locker room was a special place. And in here rivals that. I think everybody is trying to help each other out. I think there’s healthy competition, but also there’s good banter between the guys, so it feels good to be in a locker room like that. Everyone’s been very helpful.”

How has preseason compared to past year, especially getting used to new team?

“Yeah, it’s a lot of differences. Taking into account, obviously, trying to find a place and trying to get my family settled here and whatnot. Things on the field, once it boils down to it, this is my 13th season so I’ve been playing for a while. I know what preseasons are like, I know what I expect from myself on and off the field. So those things are kind of the same. But what’s different is definitely the training sessions, the length of them, how intense they are, and just figuring out the nuances of Gary’s philosophies that he wants to kind of instill with the group.

“So it’s just taken me some time to kind of get an understanding of that. Obviously, I’ve been able to watch Nashville for the past couple years, so I kind of know their style. But to now be a part of the group, I’m learning more and more each day, and I feel like preseason’s been going well.”

What were your impressions of Nashville when the opportunity to join the team came about, and how has your experience compared to those impressions?

“When I first found out, I was extremely happy. I think it worked out for all parties: I feel like I had great times in New England, but I think they were kind of moving in a different direction. And personally for myself, I think I couldn’t be in a better situation right now. This organization is top-notch. For me, I didn’t really set expectations on what the organization was going to be like – the players and whatnot – I tend to not want to do that, but it’s definitely exceeded what I thought would be maybe more difficult as moving with a family into a new place that I’d never been to before. But all those things have been so easy to kind of adjust to, and now it’s just the fact of, once you’re on the field, it’s something that’s kind of second nature to you.

“I’m extremely happy to be a part of this group. Nashville SC’s got a lot of fun things coming. One of the foremost things is obviously that new stadium, it’s going to be unbelievable getting the fans involved – I know that’s going to be an exciting time. I think it’s a perfect timing for me to join this group and help in any way that I can.”

What are your first impressions of how you’ll be deployed in Gary Smith’s system?

“I think you hit on it: I can play any of those top three forward roles, whether it’s kind of coming underneath a little bit more, being a little wide getting forward, or being kind of that focal center forward. So any of those roles, I feel comfortable with. And I think right now, it’s been the first two, two-and-a-half weeks, and just still trying to figure that out. But there’s a lot of attacking pieces in this group, which makes it exciting. You need that healthy competition. You really need that to try to get the best out of you. It’s definitely bringing the best out of me, where I want to improve each session and show what I can do. But I’m also trying to learn as I go, just because it’s a different type of style of play, so I’m just trying to soak in as much as I can. And I think that it’s going well, and I’m just going to try to take it day-by-day.”

How does your experience in the league help the team going forward?

“I think each season is a new challenge, and obviously I want to try to score as many goals as I possibly can, get as many assists as I can, but ultimately Ii want to work hard for this team. I know a lot of people might say that, but I really mean that. For me, it’s about the work I can do in training and then once the time comes for me to step on that field on gameday, I’m going to do whatever it takes. I want to win games, and that’s what it boils down to. Obviously, in this league, in this profession, it’s about winning games. So whatever my role is, I’mm going to make sure I’m a professional, and I’m doing it to the best of my abilities. I cam bring that veteran experience, and try to uplift guys, try to pump guys up, and I think that’s important for any team.”

What lessons can you bring from a Supporter’s Shield-winning, record-setting campaign?

“The biggest thing about most teams in MLS is everyone hears about the parity in this league, so when you have a team that has a few special players, that helps, obviously. I can name a bunch of players with Nashville. But the biggest thing is working for one another. I think that’s really what stuck out in New England: if someone was messing up, someone was there to kind of pick them up, or take care of maybe that mistake that they made. Having accountability, as well. Making sure that the next thing isn’t a mistake. I think those are really key things. A lot of players might think about ‘oh, it has to just be the technical side, or the movement, or…’ but I think for me, it’s the relationships you have with your teammates. Whether you’re starting, whether you’re coming off the bench, hoe prepared you are for the games: I think that’s some of the bigger areas that I feel like teams should be focusing on. How well they can work together.”

How excited are you for the opening of the new Nashville SC stadium?

“It’s really exciting. Playing with New England, obviously we were playing in Gillette Stadium so that was a bit different. But now coming here, and having a brand-new, state-of-the-art stadium. Right now I’m kind of holed up in a hotel close by where the stadium is. I drive by it going to the facility every morning, and coming back. It’s fun to see. I think once it gets a little closer, there’s going to be this buzz about it, you know? I think it’s exciting times. I feel like the fans deserve something like that, and I think that’s a testament to the ownership, and Mike Jacobs, and Ian Ayre, and what they want for this organization, for the community. I think it speaks volumes.”

You are a former US Men’s National Team player. Has your Canadian dad (Alex Bunbury is No. 8 all-time in CanMNT caps and No. 7 in goals) talked a little smack about how Concacaf World Cup Qualifying is going?

“No, no. No smack-talk. I am proud of what Canada’s doing. I think that’s good for just the rivalry between Canada and the US. I think that’s what needs to continue to happen. They have a lot of talent there, and obviously the US is in a great position as well. I know everybody wants to be up in arms about them right now, but they still are in second place in qualifying. Whether they’re looking the best or not, there’s an exciting game again tonight, in kind of my hometown in Minnesota. I wonder how that’s going to go [Narrator: it went well!], because those temperatures are not fun to play in.”

Are you planning to be as involved in the Nashville community as you were in Boston?

“I absolutely have thought about it, and actually we had a meeting today with Brandon Hill, who heads our community outreaches. What I was able to do in New England was do a back-to-school program, and then a Teal’s Turkey Club. My goal is to bring both of those here. A couple years ago, I was able to start the Teal Bunbury Foundation with my wife, and our ultimate goal is to share God’s love with people. It’s just about me now having and finding the right connections here in Nashville, but there’s so much I feel like we can do as players if er have a certain platform to try and help out the communities of some underserved cities or communities that might just need a little bit of help. I think we all at one point or another needed help from others, so I definitely will be doing some community outreaches. That’s something that’s going to be heavy on my heart, and something that I’m going to be trying to do.”

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