Concluding a grueling six-week preseason in Florida, Nashville SC is feeling confident with the regular season just days away.
The last preseason friendly, a 6-3 win over FC Cincinnati, allowed Head Coach Gary Smith and the Boys in Gold to get one more competitive performance ahead of Saturday’s 2023 MLS season opener at GEODIS Park against NYCFC. Tickets are still available here.
Smith said he was happy with the performance and how the group wrapped up preseason against an Eastern Conference foe, having moved back into the conference this season.
“A very productive way to end what has been a very challenging, hardworking and very positive preseason,” he said. “Cincinnati were an excellent test, and again, a local rivalry foe who we're going to run into a couple of times back in the Eastern Conference this year.”
The substitutes coming off the bench continued to bring momentum and energy throughout the match.
“I thought the guys that came on to see out some minutes and to extend their preseason work were absolutely dominant in the way that they went about it and took us into what was a very nice 6-3 victory to finish on a wonderful note,” Smith said. “We’ve made some very positive strides each time we've played throughout this preseason.”
Energy and Creativity
Smith mentioned the importance of scoring for the team and the key moments throughout the match.
“What was as encouraging as the goals were the other moments that were created in what we could class as our last dress rehearsal for the weekend,” Smith said. “Fafà [Picault] looked very bright, Teal [Bunbury] got himself into some good positions, Jacob [Shaffelburg] obviously got on the sheet, so there was a real edge to the game.”
The continuous work of the wingers on the flank created space and opportunities in the final third.
“We have some very effective wide players now in our group, and a lot of pace, so that can only be good for the group,” said Smith. “It helps stretch the game out and offer, you know, more pockets for the likes of Hany [Mukhtar] and Randall [Leal].”
According to Smith, Leal is set to take on a central role this season on the offensive end.
“If you think about some of the qualities that a central midfield player, a creative central midfield player would possess, you're really talking about Randall,” said Smith. “He's got a really competitive streak, he's got great energy, he loves the ball in tight areas. I think one or two things that he does possess that we don't always see in a match day for us is that he's capable of driving with a ball, breaking lines and certainly being more productive in that manner.”
New Season, Up to the Challenge
With the season debut around the corner, Smith believes the addition of an experienced, versatile player like Picault raises the bar.
“I do honestly believe the addition of Fafà has been not only dynamically to the team but in terms of competition,” he said. “He is versatile enough to play on both flanks. He has a commodity to the modern game, which can be devastating, in his pace. If you look at his record, he actually chips in with a nice portion of goals and has done so throughout his career from those wide areas.”
Smith’s key to success on the field in 2023 lies in one word: competition.
“The competition daily is the key to keeping the group in a very competitive position,” he said. “But the competition in itself will, I think, spur these guys on to what will hopefully be a better season than any we've had before.”
The Boys in Gold return home Saturday for the MLS Season Opener against NYCFC. Wear Black to the match as we celebrate the Man in Black Match with the new Man in Black Kit honoring Johnny Cash. Purchase the remaining tickets here. The match will also be televised on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV and FOX. Subscribe here to MLS Season Pass so you don’t miss a single match in 2023.