They came from area universities, local semi-pro sides and nearby club teams. Some even came from much further.
Saturday at Montgomery Bell Academy, 135 professional soccer hopefuls vied for, at most, one or two roster spots on Nashville’s new professional soccer team at the squad’s open tryouts.
And Nashville SC Coach Gary Smith liked what he saw.
“I enjoyed it and thought it was a very good standard,” Smith said. “I said to the guys afterward, ‘I’ve done a number of these and they’re not all as good a level as that.'”
A pair of 70-player tryout sessions bookended a brief lunch break. The tryout consisted of calisthenics and scrimmages, all closely watched by Nashville’s training staff, which was searching for 20-to-25 standouts to summon for a Sunday callback.
“The idea is to see them in as many environments as we can – a technical environment, a small-side environment and the guys that have shown best in a full-scale game,” said Smith. “Do they offer anything for the game? Are they quick, can they cover ground, and how are they technically?”
What else was Smith looking for? Teamwork and individual ability.
“Are the guys capable with the ball and do they interact well with others? Or just individually, if you’ve got a player that is talented and has the ability to beat defenders, of course that’s going to be an asset as well,” Smith said.
Nashville has formally announced 21 signings to its inaugural squad, which will compete in the United Soccer League in American soccer’s second tier. Additional player announcements may be forthcoming, but Smith is pleased that most acquisitions are complete and he can focus on building the team’s chemistry when practice starts in just over a week.
“For me this all started [nearly] a year ago, so I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to identify the squad we’ve now got and plan in such a fashion,” Smith said. “We’ve probably got one or two more [players] to add, but not many. Some of these guys may be part of that. It’s been a good process.”
The cornerstone of that roster: A nucleus of former Major League Soccer players, two of whom — Matt Pickens and Kosuke Kimura — played on Smith’s MLS Cup-winning Colorado Rapids team in 2010.
“I needed a core of players, and I think most coaches will feel a very similar way. If you’ve worked with individuals before and you believe those individuals are, A) very good characters, and B) are capable of fulfilling what you’re asking of them within a system, then they fit the bill,” Smith said.
“We’ve got some very good young players. We’ve already got a core of players lower down the roster at this point that it’ll be their first year as a professional. They need good role models, and we’ve got some.”
Once the roster is assembled, Smith’s energies can be spent preparing for the USL’s 34-game schedule, preceded by a daunting preseason that includes tilts against three MLS opponents.
“We have a good preseason – we have seven weeks together. I would hope by the time we start and face a challenge in Louisville, which will be an extremely tough one, we’re in good shape,” said Smith.
The key to success? Smith says it’s all about amassing points on three or four consecutive matches early in the campaign.
“They’ve got to build rapport, they’ve got to find a system that looks fluid, and that’s not easy to do with a brand new group,” said Smith. “But the one thing I do know is if we can win a couple of games, it’ll help everyone and put a smile on everyone’s faces.”
Now, though, Smith is already smiling as he examines the pool of local talent from which he may add to his roster.
“There’s an awful lot of talent here,” Smith said. “I think making sure that pathway and the opportunity for them is there…is going to be the next step for a lot of these guys.”