Walker Zimmerman: it’s time for Nashville SC to “continue to evolve”

NASHVILLE, TN – “Any time that you lose a manager or a coach, it’s not easy. It’s a big shock to the group sometimes.”

Nashville SC captain Walker Zimmerman was blunt when speaking to the media after head coach Gary Smith’s departure last week. Smith was fired following an extended period of poor results.

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“I think the nature of it happening right after the game, after the win, was a little surprising for us,” he continued. “But at the same time, it hasn’t been an easy year for us. I think players, staff, they were starting to have a growing sense of we probably need to start putting together some results or else there might be a change.”

“… You always feel bad for the families and the personal lives and situations like that anytime anyone loses their job. So obviously condolences to those Guppy and Gary and their families. But for us as a group, I think this is where we have to rely on the experience, the maturity, the things that we have developed as a team, our relationships, and rely on those and look only ahead and move forward and take on this next challenge.”

In some ways it’s hard to envision Nashville SC without Smith, whose seven-year tenure covered the entirety of the club’s existence and who firmly stamped his blueprint on the team during his 239 matches at the helm. But for Zimmerman and the rest of the team, there are still games to play. After being informed of the news in a team meeting early Thursday morning, perhaps with time for a quick commiseratory call or text to Smith, it was back to work.

Zimmerman was matter-of-fact. “[We move on] in the same that we tackle our jobs every day – it’s with professionalism, it’s with enthusiasm. And there are times where we want to challenge ourselves. We want to grow. We want to evolve… We still have our sights set on bringing a trophy to Nashville. That is our number one goal here as players, as a club, as a staff.”

“At the end of the day, us as players, we feel responsible for results on the field,” Zimmerman admitted. “I’m sure Gary was taking accountability for those results on the field. The positive is, it is May. There is a lot of time left. There’s a whole lot of time, a lot of games to get back to the place that we want to be, which is obviously about the playoff line. Can we get to the home playoff game? Can we make a push for MLS Cup? All those things are on the table.”

“It’s not panic mode. It’s not that this is a move made out of completely fixing the ship. It’s not leaking. It’s just maybe a little off course. Can we get it back in the right direction? So for us, we’re excited. We’re so focused on moving forward and achieving the goals that we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year. And again, it’s not something that we need to just blow up completely.”

Rumba Munthali is the man tasked with righting the ship, at least in the short term. Nashville’s Director of Player Development, the 10-year pro will serve as interim manager while Nashville’s sporting staff conduct their search for a permanent manager. Zimmerman says the transition has been seemless.

“I think the biggest thing is obviously working on a new formation, something that can give us more opportunities to progress into the attack,” outlined the captain. “Moving from the back five that we’ve been playing the last couple of games to a back four, playing with true wingers in that 4-3-3 shape, and looking for pockets and spaces to play forward quickly.”

“And think about those passes,” he added. “As soon as we win the ball, it’s not just about keeping it. Can we hurt the opponent as soon as we win it by playing forward, teaching guys how to drift into pockets to be able to combine in good spaces? Those are just some of the few things that he’s really focused on, is what we look like in that new shape. How can we play forward quickly, and if we don’t, how can we manage the ball in an effective way? Not just passing to pass, but passing for a purpose. I think it’s been good.”

Despite the significant upheaval this week, Zimmerman is confident that Nashville can not only continue to compete, but will take a necessary step forward in their evolution as a club.

“We are not out of this. We still have our goals that we want to achieve as a team. And none of that has changed. I think Gary did a great job, giving us a foundation for these first four-and-a-half, five seasons. Now it’s time to try and continue to evolve and move this process forward.”

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids. Mastodon

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