By Ben Wright.
NASHVILLE, TN - MLS is almost back for Nashville SC. With just thirteen days to go until their return to competitive play, the squad is ready to get back on the field.
"We're in a very good spot," said head coach Gary Smith. "We’ll take great delight and be very excited to take part in the opening day."
Nashville open their tournament with a match against Chicago Fire on July 8. The two sides met in preseason, with Chicago victorious by a score of 3-1. "It exposed some frailties in our group, which was good for us," said Smith. "It gave us an awful lot to work on, to reflect on. I think a lot of what got us ready for the start of the season was that defeat to Chicago."
As Metro Nashville moves into Phase III of the reopening plan, Nashville SC returned to full training last Monday, giving the players an opportunity to get several 11 versus 11 scrimmages under their belts before playing in a competitive tournament.
"There’s a lot of rust to get off, but we’re slowly getting it off," said centerback Dave Romney. "We’ve played 11v11 a good amount, which I think is good. It’s just getting back to strictly competing, and stuff that we haven’t done in three or four months."
Nashville's chances at advancing were boosted this week as MLS tweaked the format to allow the top three sides in Group A to advance automatically, as well as making the fourth place finisher eligible to advance based on performance.
"I think it’s pretty big," said Romney. "Eric Miller saw something on Reddit or Twitter or something that said we had a 20% less chance of advancing just statistically from our group, so the fact that it kind of evened up helps a lot. I’m glad that they did that." Fullback Dan Lovitz agreed. "I think everyone would agree that it makes more sense. We’re happy to see that change come into effect. It was a little bit of a strange one when we first saw it rolled out, but they amended it thankfully. I think it gives a little more incentive for more teams to know there’s an extra spot that’s going to be guaranteed."
To combat the Orlando heat, matches are schedule for early morning (9 AM eastern) and late at night (8 PM and 10:30 PM). Nashville players feel they may have a leg up on some of their competition, with the heat and humidity in Middle Tennessee already acclimating them to some of the Florida weather. "Everyone’s got swamp feet, everyone’s getting hot," said Romney. "Hopefully this is an advantage we can take to Orlando." "I don’t care to talk about weather as much," said Lovitz. "I think you just gotta play no matter what. But we get to experience that here and not have it be a shock to the system as it will be for other teams." Nashville's performance in Orlando will have effects beyond just the month long competition, with the group stages matches counting towards the regular season standings, and a berth in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League on the line for the tournament winner.
"I think the tournament itself supplies enough [motivation]," said Smith. "I’ve said it before, Concacaf inclusion in ‘21 and nine points to fight for in the league. No more motivation needed." Lovitz was more blunt with his answer. "We’re going there to win the tournament."
Quotes and photos provided by Nashville SC Communications.