From Arsenal to the MLS Cup to Music City: Profiling Nashville SC Coach Gary Smith

Even though his grandparents grew up next to White Hart Lane, Gary Smith is a Gunner.

The new Nashville SC coach grew up in the Arsenal youth system and avidly supports the North London reds, who, as usual, are scratching their way toward the English Premier League’s top four with little hope of a title. In fact, his dad still works for the team.

Now, Smith has his cannons aimed at an eventual return to the top of the MLS table; he led the Colorado Rapids to the 2010 MLS Cup. Before that, though, he will oversee Nashville SC’s stint in the USL.

In his dual role as the team’s coach and technical director, Smith is responsible for building the team’s player personnel and staff. He has assembled nine players to date, with more to be announced soon.

So, who is Smith exactly? Golden Goal dove into the coach’s past to take a look at his chief accomplishments and how they might inform his role in Music City.

Most Top-Flight Experience in the League

When Nashville hired Smith, the team did so with the MLS in mind. Smith is the only active USL coach with full-time MLS head coaching experience — three seasons as coach of the Colorado Rapids. [OKC Energy’s Steve Cooke and Reno 1868’s Ian Russell each briefly held interim jobs in the top flight.]

In light of that fact, expect Smith to have a keen eye for second-division talent that has the potential to climb along with the team into the MLS in the coming years.

High-Octane Offense

When Smith led the Rapids to the MLS Cup in 2010, the team scored the second-most goals in the league — not bad for a middling franchise which had not reached the playoffs since 2006. The 2010 side was dominant in Denver — it was the first MLS club to win four consecutive home games by three goals or more en route to the second-best regular season in team history.

Smith lost his job following a 2011 season that saw the team sneak into the playoffs and lose to Kansas City in the Western Conference semifinals. Colorado Rapids blog Burgundy Wave provides this thorough analysis of Smith’s tenure in Denver, calling him “a mediocre coach with a somewhat archaic but usually effective preferred style of play and a pretty darn good scouting ability that shone on the rare occasion that he was able to buy players.”

Tough Test for Tottenham

As manager of League One Stevenage in 2012, Smith went toe-to-toe with his family’s favorite side in the FA Cup, holding Spurs to a scoreless draw and forcing a replay. Spurs won the return fixture in London, but not before Stevenage scored a road goal in one of English soccer’s most hostile environments.

Smith Stevenage

Gary Smith walks the touchline at Stevenage [Credit: SkySports]

Unfortunately for Smith, the team lost 14 games out of 18 the following season and he found himself out of a job — a decision that was roundly criticized by at least one fellow manager in England’s third division.

Rebuilding the Silverbacks

Nashville SC won’t be Smith’s first construction project. In 2014, he took over the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks and reconfigured the team around only three returning players.

The result? The Silverbacks went unbeaten in the first five games of the 2015 season and advanced to the fourth round of the US Open Cup.

Alas, the team ceased operations after the 2015 campaign, leaving Smith searching for a new opportunity.

Nashville is Next

Smith’s meandering career now takes him to Music City. The team announced his hire on April 12 of this year, and the new coach has spent the last eight-plus months assembling personnel he hopes will build an immediate winner. Drawing from his own MLS experience, Smith has already signed two former MLS Cup winners — defender Kosuke Kimura and keeper Matt Pickens.

Now, Nashville supporters hope their collective top-flight pedigree translates into success in 2018 and beyond.

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