Dax McCarty on Return to Play, 6.10.20

NASHVILLE – Practice now has a purpose for Nashville SC.

On Wednesday, Major League Soccer unveiled the MLS is Back Tournament taking place in Orlando, Florida from July 8 to August 11. While Nashville SC is still conducting small group training before eventually moving to full team training, having something concrete to look forward to is adding a new dimension to those small group sessions.

“We have a date now,” captain Dax McCarty said. “We have a goal in mind. We’re not just training to stay in shape, we’re training to get better and be ready to play when the opportunity comes. Obviously it’s exciting for us to know that we’re going to be stepping on the field and competing against MLS teams again in the very near future. So that’s something that keeps us all motivated to train hard and make sure we’re ready to go.”

From a coaching perspective, Head Coach Gary Smith is excited to have a plan finalized and he’s noticed a new attitude in training from his players.

“It makes all the difference in the world,” Smith said. “We’ve just gone through a period of negotiation, and now everybody is very clear on what they’re aiming for, what the work’s for and the fact that we can get back to some competitive work in the not-too-distant future is great news. Players’ mentality is different, there’s better focus, they’ve got a light at the end of the tunnel and they know what they’re training for now, whereas before it was a world of uncertainty for all sorts of different reasons.”

The MLS is Back Tournament will feature all 26 MLS clubs playing at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World Resort. The format is a World Cup-style with 54 matches, including a group stage and knockout stages. The group stage matches will count towards the regular season standings, as MLS hopes to play regular season matches in home markets following the tournament. The winner of the tournament will receive a spot in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League and a $1.1 million bonus prize pool for the players.

With matches coming in just a few weeks, the Boys in Gold are looking to quickly regain the chemistry they had been building before the league shut down in March. Even small group training is important for doing that.

“Just getting the feel for your teammates again,” McCarty said. “Making sure we’re on the same page, getting reintroduced to what a guy’s tendencies are, how he likes to touch the ball, how he passes the ball, different little movements you can garner from being in close proximity to these guys is definitely something that will help us moving forward when we go to full group training.”

That short turnaround also means the players have to regain their chemistry while also regaining the level of fitness needed to play competitive soccer in the Florida heat. It’s a tall task, but McCarty thinks the team is ready for the challenge.

“New level of intensity from the players, a new level of intensity from the coaching staff, the technical work is short and sharp, and then you still have to work on your fitness base,” he said. “You still have to get that fitness base back because it’s going to be a very shortened preseason, we’ll have to go through all of it again to make sure we’re fit and ready to go, and we’re going to have to try and minimize injuries as much as possible by being fit.”

Stay tuned to NashvilleSC.com for complete coverage of Nashville SC’s return to the pitch in Orlando.