Nine days remain until Nashville SC takes the pitch at Nissan Stadium in the club’s home opener against FC Cincinnati, and Head Coach Gary Smith is getting a final look at his side before the start of the 2021 regular season.

Here’s what stood out in Thursday’s training session.

Crunch Time

JW: You can really start to see the team shift from preseason mode into regular season mode. The intensity in drills and the sharpness in small-sided games have picked up noticeably. There is less teaching going on from Coach Smith at the beginning of a drill or session, and it’s more about execution of the ideas he and his staff have put in place over the past month or so. It’s really fun to watch players like Tah Brian Anunga continue to grow in his role. He’s ever-present defensively, and he’s a lot more present in the attack. You can tell he’s really thriving having all-star caliber players like Dax McCarty and Aníbal Godoy to learn from in front of him.

Home Stand

TH: It’s a case of making the most of home comforts for the Nashville roster now. They won’t leave market until mid-May with the MLS season presenting the Boys in Gold with four straight home games to kick off the season. While the first road trip is a way off, there’s also pressure for the group to make the most of this time working at the training ground and playing at home. For now, there’s a good spirit around the place, no suitcases need packing for an away day anytime soon and they can do all their best work in their own office.

Final Test

JW: What I think counts as a success on Saturday night in Nashville SC’s final preseason match against Birmingham Legion FC will be seeing noticeably more chances created in the final third from the attack. I want to see the group pressure the Legion’s backline from the start; force them to play faster than they are comfortable doing. If they can sustain pressure, they can win the ball back higher up the field and create chances to score. Execution of those chances matters starting next week, but this week would build a ton of confidence to rattle the back of the net a few times. Confidence can have the team riding high into the home opener next weekend.

TH: Most coaches will have their preferred lineup in mind at this stage of preseason, with maybe just one or two questions still outstanding, depending on fitness and form. I expect Gary Smith is no different. Against Birmingham it’s likely to be as strong a starting lineup as possible and it will be interesting to see when, and how many changes the Head Coach wants to make during the 90 minutes. I’m sure many in the group will look around Nissan Stadium and be picturing the sights and sounds they’ll witness on April 17, and they’ll be desperate to be a part of it. That’s as good an incentive as any to perform well this weekend.

For midweek musings and more Nashville SC talk, follow us on Twitter @TonyHusband and @JamieWatson77.

Nashville SC kicks off its second MLS season on Saturday, April 17 at Nissan Stadium as it takes on Eastern Conference rival FC Cincinnati at 7:30 p.m. CT. Limited tickets are still available for next Saturday’s home opener. Click here to purchase.