Why was Gary Smith fired now?

For the first time in Nashville Soccer Club history, the manager has been sacked.

Following a 2-0 win against Toronto FC, the club announced that Gary Smith, their first and only manager to this point, and assistant coach Steve Guppy had been relieved of their duties.

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An inevitable outcome

For a vocal portion of the Nashville fanbase, this was always the inevitable outcome. Before games, there were many in the Supporter’s Section who booed after Smith’s name was announced as the head coach of the team. The style of play had also become stale.

Frequently after the team would take the lead in a game, a seemingly conscious decision was made to make defense-oriented substitutions and park the bus, sitting back and playing only defense until a prime opportunity to play offense presented itself. Too often, this left Nashville with a draw or a loss, allowing opponents to take control and force their way back into the game. The result was that wins were few and far between:

Why now?

While the manager’s firing seemed inevitable due to a dull play style and, most importantly, consistently poor results from before the team’s run to the League Cup final against Lionel Messi and his Inter Miami squad, the timing of the move is the most interesting part of the saga.

If we rewind to when the announcement was made, it was once again following Nashville’s multi-goal yet unconvincing midweek victory over a Toronto side that was missing many of its starters, whether it was due to injury or suspensions from the previous match. But the big focus was the upcoming Saturday game against one of, if not the club’s biggest rivals, Atlanta United, and the return of one of the most beloved players in Nashville’s young history, Dax McCarty.

Fortunately for Nashville in this immediate managerial transition to interim Rumba Munthali, his first match was against an Atlanta United that isn’t the Atlanta side we’re used to seeing in years past. They have struggled so far this season, coming into the match against Nashville with a 3-3-6 record, and drew 1-1 at Geodis Park.

But the question still to be asked is, why was the decision made midweek following a win?

A downward trend

One reason the timing seems odd is that there were plenty of other chances for Smith to be released by Nashville following games that ended in much more “embarrassing” fashions. The draw against the San Jose, who are the second-worst team in MLS, only three points ahead of the bottom spot, after giving up a 1-0 lead, comes to mind. The 1-0 loss against Charlotte FC on the road, where they generated a grand total of 0.15 expected goals, is also a fixture that leads the charge in the “matches where the manager could have been fired” category. Or the 5-0 loss to LAFC, the worst loss in club history.

Instead, it was a 2-0 win and Smith’s 100th win with the club in all matches that did the job. It’s certainly a hazy line of thinking to go down because there isn’t a way we will ever know the true reason why this happened when it did. However, a large part of the rationale is that, despite the poor start, Nashville is still in the playoff picture, and there are plenty of matches remaining for the ship to be put on the right course.

Options open

Another reason this decision may have been executed at this point is due to the end of the season for teams and leagues in Europe. If Nashville management is looking across the pond to find a solution for their problems (sorry, everyone, but it’s probably not Jürgen Klopp or Mauricio Pochettino), firing Smith at this time becomes more understandable.

For players and for managers, the summer window is the best time to acquire talent in the global game as the top leagues around the world begin their offseason. Not only does this provide time to create a shortlist of managers who may be out with their respective teams in Europe, but it also provides time to search for managers they may want and create an outline of what they’re looking for.

And time is always a hot commodity. Being proactive in a search is as important as anything else, and looking for someone who fits the outline of managerial experience and tactical intuitiveness that Nashville’s technical staff wants is just as important as lining up the timing correctly to fit well with the end of the season in Europe. Being the first team in MLS to begin their managerial search means that Nashville won’t immediately have to compete with other domestic teams for their top candidates.

Could this have happened earlier? Absolutely. Should this have happened earlier? That’s more up for debate, but considering the consistency of the results this season and prior to it, I think there’s certainly an argument for it.

No matter how questionable the timing of this decision being made was, the results were not suitable enough for Nashville’s management team or those who buy tickets to matches. Now, it’s time to focus on the bigger task at hand: finding a replacement who can produce strong results with a roster that could be a legitimate threat in the postseason if they play the right style and, most importantly, win back the fans who are turned off by the predictable style that was being played before.

This team and this fanbase needs new life, and finding the right manager is the first step to building a true Cup contender.

Author: Jeff MiddletonJeff is a sophomore at Miami University double majoring in Journalism and Sports Leadership and Management. He is just stepping into the soccer writing world but has been writing about sports for four years. From writing about the NHL (Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche) to MLB (New York Yankees) and the Miami University hockey program, he has gained valuable experience writing about sports, learned from the best writers in those media markets, and continues to learn as he builds his soccer portfolio

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