What do Nashville SC need from their next head coach?

It’s been 18 days since Nashville SC fired Gary Smith. With four matches under interim head coach Rumba Munthali (one win, two draws and one loss), the club heads into a two-week international break before they resume play on June 15.

As general manager Mike Jacobs searches for a permanent manager, we’re looking at the qualities the next head coach needs to take the club into what Jacobs dubbed “Nashville 2.0”.

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1. Alignment with the front office

This is the big one, and the obvious one. Whoever Nashville bring in has to be on the same page with Jacobs and his staff, both in terms of transfers as well as the overall tactical approach.

Jacobs and his staff have developed a clear framework and approach plan for identifying and acquiring talent, and while they aren’t afraid to spend, their time in MLS has been characterized primarily by domestic and under-the-radar signings, betting on their ability to make the sum more than the parts. While there’s reason to believe that approach will be augmented and begin to evolve, Nashville’s next manager has to be able to operate successfully within that framework.

Unfortunately for Smith, several high-profile signings made by the technical staff didn’t work. Jhonder Cádiz was moderately successful before his production faded and never recovered. Aké Loba and Rodrigo Piñeiro were unmitigated disasters that hinted at a disconnect between the scouting and coaching staffs. Nashville need to eliminate that disconnect with this hire.

2. A multi-faceted attacking approach

This was Gary Smith’s biggest shortcoming. During his tenure, Nashville were generally one-dimensional in attack. While effective in transition, they were predictable in buildout. Nashville struggled to create danger moments from Zone 14, the central area of the pitch just outside the penalty area, and instead resorted to crossing as their primary means of chance creation.

In general their rotations were stale and they struggled to maintain consistent patterns of play. Hany Mukhtar and Sam Surridge too often occupied the same positions, and instead of drawing defenders away from each other to open space, their desperation for touches pulled the defense in on both of them.

Whoever Nashville hires has to have a track record of creating and maintaining a varied attacking approach. The Coyotes are too predictable going forward, and need a more modern approach.

3. A history of developing young players

This one’s easy. Gary Smith didn’t give minutes to young players. Nashville need and want to develop young players. Their academy is beginning to roll out pro-ready talent that needs to be developed to the MLS level.

Nashville also need to expand their transfer pool. Under Smith, they were limited to signing mostly veteran or in-prime players that had already been developed. The majority of signings (with a few notable exceptions) didn’t take significant steps forward after arriving in Nashville, and the technical staff stayed away from signing young attackers because they simply wouldn’t play. The next manager has to have a history of playing and developing young talent.

4. Tactical flexibility

This was a sometimes underrated quality of Smith that needs to be expanded upon. Smith was able to shift formations, although he tended to be more reactive in his changes and stick with a system until after it was no longer working.

Nashville’s next manager needs to be able to make tweaks to personnel and formation within his overall philosophy and develop a game model that is flexible enough to handle multiple types of opponent.

5. Defensive stability

This isn’t something that needs to be changed, but rather maintained. Gary Smith’s teams were truly elite defensively, and with the high-end defenders already on the roster, continuing to be hard to break down is paramount. It can’t come at the expense of improved attacking play, but continuing to be among the best defensive sides in MLS should be a minimum expectation.

6. Multi-cultural appeal

This goes hand in hand with front office alignment and developing young players, but Nashville’s next manager has to understand and appeal to players from all over the world. Too often, Nashville’s recruitment pool was limited to primarily English-speaking players. Jacobs hinted at this after Smith was fired.

“We have to take advantage of the things that our league allows us to do,” he said. “Whether that’s utilizing players in the U22 Initiative, whether it’s being able to identify players from areas of the country and parts of the world that will generate high resale value, we have to make sure that we’re malleable and we’re flexible ourselves.”

Other than Aníbal Godoy and Randall Leal, Nashville haven’t been able to successfully bring in and utilize players from South and Central America. They’ve tried and failed multiple times, and several of the players that I already mentioned went on to have success after leaving Nashville. This has to be a priority with their new manager. As the rest of MLS continues to develop and improve their scouting and transfer networks in nearby countries, Nashville can’t afford to be left behind.


What do you want to see from Nashville SC’s next manager? Let us know in the comments.

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

Comments

  1. Amar Sejdic’s shot from zone 14, in the loss to the revolution, was a prime example of what we’re missing. Hany is the only threat from this area that we have and he is usually well defended. I agree with your #2.

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