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Catching up with Gary Smith on Nashville SC’s first season and the US Open Cup

The former Colorado head coach is looking forward to the match-up on Wednesday night.

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San Jose Earthquakes v Colorado Rapids Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Wednesday night is an important game. Anthony Hudson and the Colorado Rapids are looking to break a 7-game regular MLS season losing streak, while Gary Smith and Nashville SC are looking to prove something not just in the USL but to Major League Soccer.

“The guys have a chance to prove that they’re MLS-caliber,” Smith told Burgundy Wave today during a phone interview. “It’s a massive opportunity for my players to show exactly what they’re about. They believe the dream is still alive and that’s why they’re here.”

This is Nashville SC’s first year in the USL, and last December it was announced that the city of Nashville was awarded an MLS expansion team to join the league in 2020. The majority stakeholder for the MLS team, John Ingram, is also the owner of Nashville SC. Nothing is a given, Smith says, but one can’t help but wonder if the former Rapids head coach is on his way back to MLS.

“As a coach, you don’t get many opportunities for a blank sheet of paper to mold the style and craft of a team,” Smith explains. “There’s a trend in what comes before—if you’re really lucky, you take over a successful team—but more often than not you’re taking over for someone who hasn’t done well.” And that blank slate is a big part of why he chose to accept the head coaching position with Nashville.

“It’s been a work in progress,” he adds. “Slowly but surely we’re finding our shape and form.”

A quick look at their results shows that something is definitely going right for the Tennessee club. Just 11 games into their inaugural season, they’ve managed to earn 19 points and a record of 5-2-4. Seven of these 11 games have been on the road, and Smith says that spending that much time on the road together has been a good thing. “We have to be that much more disciplined to get a result.” Nashville is currently on a 6-game unbeaten streak (8 games if you count their two Open Cup wins) and won their last two games last Wednesday and Saturday.

When it comes to the Open Cup match vs. the Rapids, Smith and his group are feeling confident. “The guys are very excited to be in front of the home crowd,” he says. “We’ve had a couple wonderful new additions that have hit the ground running and Alan Winn [the Rapids first pick in the 2018 Super Draft] has been excellent for us.”

When it comes to playing his former team, “I’m always going to have a fond place in my heart for Colorado because of the success I had there. It was a wonderful four years.” But that doesn’t mean he’s thinking about it as any different than any other game. “It could be any MLS team. I would want to win against anyone.”

This game will be Nashville’s first non-friendly match against an MLS club. In the 2018 preseason, they lost to Atlanta United 3-1, drew Chicago Fire 0-0, and beat Orlando City SC 3-1. Nashville came into the USOC tournament in the 2nd round and won two home games to make it to the 4th round, beating Nashville FC 2-0 and Mississippi Brilla FC 3-1.

It’s no secret that both managers have a lot riding on this game. While Hudson is trying to snap this losing streak and show the fans that they are taking the Open Cup seriously, Smith sees it as an opportunity to put out their best team and make a statement about “how proud the fans can start to be of this team.”

Either way, we’ve got the makings of a good game.

The game is on Wednesday, June 6 at 6:30 pm MT at Vanderbilt Football Stadium in Nashville. There should be a stream available here on gameday, and Connor Cape and Richard Fleming are in Nashville to cover the game for Altitude950.