NASHVILLE, Tenn. - After a successful expansion season, Nashville Soccer Club is back to business.
The team’s preseason preparations began in earnest on Wednesday as the Boys in Gold look to build upon their Eastern Conference Semifinal appearance in 2020. A big theme for the team heading into the 2021 Major League Soccer season is the competition within the squad.
As captain Dax McCarty put it, “The good thing about our group is that the level of competition is always really high, and I don’t think that any one player on our team goes into any game thinking they’re a sure-fire starter unless they prove it in training the week before.”
The competition is especially important in the attacking part of the field, where rotation is more common. Head coach Gary Smith emphasized how important these battles are for getting the best out of players offensively.
“I think competition is a massive piece in that part of the field,” Smith said. “We often see that any rotation in a game or game to game often happens in that area of the field. So I never think you can have enough forwards that are pushing each other to try and raise that bar…[Players] need to be pushed. They need to know there’s someone breathing down their neck. We’re like every other team. We have players that, when they’re in that position, we’ll get more out of them.”
Adding forward depth was a key element in Nashville SC’s offseason, as the team acquired young Uruguayan winger Rodrigo Piñeiro and MLS veteran CJ Sapong to further support the core of attackers. In addition to the players brought in this offseason, striker Jhonder Cádiz and wingers Alex Muyl and Handwalla Bwana will be in their first full training camp with the team after joining during the 2020 season.
McCarty noted the benefit to having a healthy and deep offensive core.
“These are guys that, when healthy, they’re constantly pushing each other and constantly making it tough on the other guy to drop their level,” McCarty said. “When you have that kind of competition speaking mainly in the attacking part of the field, guys have to stay sharp.”
Smith also noted how important depth is for freshness over the course of a long season.
“Every player wants to play every week in week out, but I think last year was an example of how tough it can be,” Smith said. “If you’ve got the opportunity to rotate, it’s beneficial not only for the group, but also for performance. If the front line can stay sharp and it can stay active, then it certainly drags more out of the individuals and it pulls the team higher up the field. You see many times where you have fatigued forwards and the group plays too deep. Our aim as much as we possibly can is to keep that bright and buoyant and effective, and I think we’re in a much better position to try and do that and achieve that this year.”
As preseason continues in preparation for the MLS regular season beginning on April 17, keeping the competition high and continuing to build depth will be critical for Nashville SC as they aim to improve upon what was one of the best expansion seasons in MLS history.