NASHVILLE, TN - Nashville SC's training was open to the media for the first time in 2020, and Speedway Soccer's Jonathan Slape was on hand at Currey Ingram Academy to get a look at the squad ahead of their Major League Soccer debut.
Head coach Gary Smith had his squad split into two groups for a post-training scrimmage, and the core of his "first choice" group was on display. Playing in their typical 4-2-3-1 formation, Smith's side lined up against what looked to be the second choice group.
It should be noted that the second group was set up in a back three, likely to give the starters a taste of Atlanta United's side, who have toyed with playing in a 3-4-2-1 at times under Frank de Boer.
GARY SMITH: "It's great to be back around family, the general environment that you connect with, and the players are getting used to this new facility and what will be their home for the next couple years at least."
SMITH: "It was important for everyone that we had one last what could be classed as a 'natural match situation'. There are things within maybe my mind for this starting group towards the weekend that I can consider after today's work, and there are players that have maybe been on the fringes that felt as they ain't had quite as much of a chance, or just feel like they have an opportunity to show a little bit more, and today was a good day for that."
SMITH: "I think all of the guys will be inspired by the crowd that's going to be there [at Saturday's season opener]. It's a big, big day of course in the history of club. I would say that pretty much every player to a man has come here to an expansion side to experience that... This is a group that is still developing in terms of their relationships and quality of play, but I think we're in a good place, we've laid a good foundation for that. As far as the weekend goes, I think everyone who steps on the field is going to get another 10-15% out of themselves just from the emotion."
SMITH: "I do believe that our style of play and our identity over the last two years has connected very well with the fanbase that we have, and I would expect nothing different over the next couple of years."
SMITH: "I feel as though we've put ourselves in a decent place... All in all, the guys are forming a real spirited appreciation of each other, and I would expect nothing less than a very upwardly-mobile and positive display on the weekend."
SMITH: "[Atlanta] are a very good side, and they've already established history and won silverware. They're always going to be a tough task. Can we impose ourselves upon the game for periods? I believe so. And in those periods, we'll be able to define if we're going to win the game or not."
SMITH: "I'm honestly unsure as to how the guys are going to connect and appreciate the environment they walk into for the very first time. It's a field we haven't played on a lot. And there will for sure be periods in the game where we have to endure some pressure... It's in those moments that you start to see that core, that inner strength of the group start to grow."
SMITH: "Tactically, the very first game of the season will be a difficult one to judge. I can say that I'm very please with where this group is at, both aerobically and in terms of their fitness. Their appreciation for some of the foundation of our group, both with and without the ball, is good. So we're in a good spot."
WALKER ZIMMERMAN: "It's a great group, a really hard working group. I was really surprised at the camaraderie that was already established in the first month."
ZIMMERMAN: "The thing that we stressed back at LAFC was, 'don't look at is like you're coming in as an expansion team and let that change your expectations.' You're in MLS now. That's the message here. Sure, we're technically an expansion team, but we're in MLS just like any other team. Don't let that change our mindset, don't let that change our mentality. We want to come out and compete, not as a team trying to prove ourselves, but as a team trying to establish ourselves in the right way."
ZIMMERMAN: "I think the fans are going to respond to a team that wins. That's our goal."
ZIMMERMAN: "[Atlanta United] is a really good team. They've been really successful in their three years in MLS. They've won some trophies, won some championships, and have a lot of talent. Obviously it starts with Josef [Martínez] up top, a really dynamic player, really good movement and a really good finisher. And then they have a lot of experience in their midfield and across their back line. We'll see. We're excited to watch them in Champions League. It's good for us... We have two games of film to look at and it should give us a good idea of what to expect."
ZIMMERMAN: "It's huge [to start the season against Atlanta]. For a rivalry to develop, usually something crazy has to happen. Some last minute heroics, some crazy interactions between the teams. I'm expecting fireworks. I'm ready for it, excited for it, and so is the rest of the team."
ZIMMERMAN: "I've got a really good backline around me, guys that have been in the league for a bit. Almost all of these guys have a chip on their shoulder. For us to come in here with something to prove, to change the stereotype of an expansion side that leaks in goals... We're going to have to change that stereotype. I think that's a challenge that everyone's definitely excited for."
DAX McCARTY: "Guys are really itching to get out on the field. We were ready to get back home and start the real prep. You guys are out here, you've seen. It's real. Guys are competing. Guys are wanting to get on the field and be a part of that historic first day."
McCARTY: "I think we're ready. It remains to be seen how ready we are. One thing I've learned is that you don't really know exactly who you are until a few weeks into the season. You have your baseline. You have thoughts on who you're going to be, but you don't really know until you get into a real environment... I've been around long enough to know that our group, what we have is real. We have a real sense of camaraderie. Guys have really bonded off the field. We have a real sense of discipline and organization in how we're going to play. But also, I've been pleasantly surprised with some of our attacking players and guys that I didn't know much about. I think there's a real sense of urgency in this group that we want to start our season off on the right foot."
McCARTY: "You're going to see a team that is engaged and organized and wants to win extremely bad for this historic first game. We haven't gone over exactly how we're going to play, but I think there's a good baseline. The good thing about this group is there's so many good players, and so many of them are interchangeable, I don't think the boss knows the lineup yet. I think that's good when you have competition and hunger for places. Guys are on their toes... Fans are going to see urgency. They're going to see energy. They're going to see heart, desire. And hopefully they're going to see some goals. We've been working on both phases of the game, defensively and in the final third... in preseason it was pretty good. One thing is for sure: we will be ready to play. Let's hope the quality is as good as the energy."
McCARTY: "It doesn't matter how long you play, you always get a little nervous. You live for those moments... It'll feel like a final in so many ways because of the nerves, because of the excitement, because of the unpredictability. We'll try to approach it like another game, but obviously there's going to be a little more to it."
McCARTY: "You only get one chance to make a good first impression, and we hope to do that on Saturday."