NASHVILLE – With dates and opponents set, Nashville SC returned to full-team training on Monday ahead of the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando.
The Boys in Gold are set to face Orlando City SC, Philadelphia Union and Chicago Fire FC in the group stage of the month-long competition kicking off July 8. It’s an unprecedented competition for unprecedented circumstances, but Head Coach Gary Smith will make sure his players are ready to face whatever each opponent brings.
“We're going to go into a format that is not natural to any of the teams that are playing in it,” Smith said. “I certainly haven’t, with a professional outfit, played in a situation like this. It will be very different. I’m sure it will be for a lot of people. What I will say is we have a limited time here. Three games, we have a two-week tournament that we want to turn into a four-week tournament and unless we do well in those first three games then we could be coming home fairly swiftly and it'll feel like a bit of a whirlwind. So, we need to be ready, we surely need to be focused. In terms of planning for it, I know who we have now and I can have a lot closer look at some of the footage, albeit it limited at this early stage in the season.”
The tournament format, with a group stage leading into a knockout stage, is similar to a FIFA World Cup, but with one added caveat: the group stage matches count towards the regular season standings, as MLS plans to resume the regular season in home markets after the MLS is Back Tournament.
While plenty of Nashville SC players have experience in international cup competitions like the World Cup or Gold Cup, captain Dax McCarty thinks the regular season incentive in the group stage will bring extra energy to the group stage.
“I think there is incentive to try and win every single game,” McCarty said. “It’s up to the coaching staff to decide how they want to rotate and keep guys fresh, but as far as I’m concerned I want to win this tournament. So if you ask me, I want to play every game as much as I can, as many minutes as I can, and go on and lift a trophy at the end of this. In order to do that, you have to get out of your group and in order to get out of your group you have to accumulate points. Then the cherry on top is that those points will go towards the regular season. As far as I'm concerned, there's just so much incentive to go out every single game and try to play open, exciting, attacking soccer to try to win games and score goals and that's what we're going to try to do.”
Nashville SC enters the tournament after suffering two narrow one-goal losses to start the 2020 season before it was paused. McCarty saw a lot of positives in those two matches that give him confidence in the team’s ability to make some noise in Orlando.
“We’ve been so solid defensively in our first two games,” McCarty said. “I have been so happy and proud of the way that that our team was able to defend against two elite MLS teams, two perennial MLS Cup contenders with exciting attacking players. We were able to severely limit the amount of chances that both of those teams had. On the flip side of that, our attacking play needs to get better. That’s something we recognize and our coaching staff and attacking players have been working hard to make sure that when we get into good attacking positions, we do more with the chances that we create. There are no participation points. Obviously we realize we lost our games and that doesn't sit well with me, that doesn't sit well with our team and our whole staff. Part of the reason we’re so excited to get back on the field is to take those positives from those first two games and try to turn those into wins and into points.”
The MLS is Back Tournament kicks off July 8 in Orlando. Click here for more information about the tournament format, health and safety protocols and more.