VOL. 42 | NO. 10 | Friday, March 9, 2018
Leader of the pack: Nashville SC seeks a captain
By John Glennon
London Woodberry, shown here playing for the New England Revolution, is a prime candidate for the role of captain for Nashville SC. The 26-year-old defender from Texas has played in more than 50 MLS games in five seasons. -- Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire Via Ap Images
In the early days of the expansion Nashville Predators, one of the team’s top priorities was finding a quality captain – someone with experience, leadership qualities and the ability to serve as a bridge between players and coaches.
They found him in Tom Fitzgerald, the hard-working son of a Massachusetts longshoreman who wore the “C” proudly for the better part of four seasons.
A couple decades later, Nashville SC finds itself in a similar search on the United Soccer League front.
It’s one that should end any day now with the selection of defender Justin Davis, midfielder Michael Reed or defender London Woodberry – or perhaps even some combination of those three – as the first captain in club history.
His role will be especially important for at least a couple of reasons.
The first captain, given the fact Nashville SC is an expansion club, will share in the responsibility of creating chemistry and forging bonds among teammates playing together for the first time.
In addition, the first captain will likely serve as the face of the franchise – considering the public isn’t too familiar with the team yet – until other names begin to emerge.
“You’ve got a team that is slowly, but surely building an identity, and hopefully, down the line a reputation, so a captain should really encompass all of the qualities that the group is all about,” Nashville SC coach Gary Smith says.
“He should be a leader in every sense, and somebody as well that the fans can look at – not just to relate to, but to see the qualities that this person has to lead the team.”
Smith said a couple of the captain qualities most important to him are honesty and genuine character, the kind of traits that make players believe in the example he sets.
Second, Smith wants someone who won’t get so caught up in his own performance that he forgets about the team.
“I want someone who, even when things are not going especially well for them – because that happens sometimes – they can still have the fortitude and the attitude to guide others around them,” Smith adds. “They’re still doing the right things and they keep the group well-organized, and it doesn’t affect what they do for the team.”
Still, the captain will have to impact the game on a regular basis.
“You want somebody that may well be playing fairly regularly, somebody that has got a good performance level – not a nine out of 10 (rating) one week and three out of 10 the following week,” Smith points out. “Because other players are going to look at that and see a lack of consistency.”
With those guidelines in places, here’s a look at the three top captain candidates, as well as a couple other players that will take leadership roles:
A 29-year-old defender, Davis served as vice captain of Minnesota’s Major League Soccer team last season, so he has leadership in his background.
Years earlier, Davis had been one of Minnesota’s first two signings when the then-expansion team began play in the North American Soccer League. So Davis is also familiar with what it takes to introduce professional soccer to a new city.
“That was one of the factors that brought me here in the first place is that I liked the idea of the new project,” Davis points out. “Having been a part of the same thing with Minnesota, I was able to learn a lot – good and bad – about how the transition works.
“We have – whether for a year or two years in the USL – the opportunity to help build a foundation of what the club can be.
“I think these first few months or years are extremely important in creating a good reputation for the group, how we’re viewed in the public.
“That’s something I really learned in Minnesota – on the field, focusing on getting the results, but off, trying to grow our brand in the community for the better.”
Davis wore the Nashville SC captain’s armband during a couple of the team’s preseason games in Florida, and as one of the squad’s more experienced players, he knows he has to set an example on the field.
“I think I play an important role in determining the identity of the team as a defender, like a blue-collar worker,” Davis adds.
“That’s the kind of identity we want to build with being a new team. We’re going to work our (butts) off, and we’re going to try to put a great product on the field for the fans. Hopefully, those things lead us to a bunch of wins.”
A 30-year-old midfielder, Reed served as captain of San Antonio FC’s USL team last season, helping steer the team to a second-place finish in the Western Conference.
Nashville SC made Reed a priority during the offseason, as he was the first player acquired via transfer – a process similar to a trade.
Reed understands that an expansion-team captain carries exceptional responsibilities.
“Yeah, I think it can,” Reed says. “But a bigger thing for us is just creating a foundation, because with a first-year team, there’s a lot of expectations. So it’s more the maturity of the guys.
“Can we get them on the same page? Can we create something special from a leadership standpoint, from a character standpoint?”
Reed, who wore the captain’s armband in Nashville FC’s preseason opener against Atlanta, has a couple things working in his favor: He’s played with at least four of his current teammates in the past, and he also played for Atlanta’s NASL team in 2015 when Smith was the coach.
“Being on the same page with the coach is huge as far as anyone who’ll be a captain on the team,” Reed adds. “Gary’s communication is obviously going to be a positive for anyone in a leadership role.”
Whether or not he’s named captain, Reed expects to serve as a leader.
“I think a lot of guys could have that captain-ship, but a lot of guys will have that leadership role also,” Reed explains. “To be one of the older guys, (leadership) is not a responsibility – it’s just part of my job. To help with the younger guys and make this team succeed, we’ve all got to be on the same page.”
A 26-year-old defender, Woodberry is the youngest of the three captain candidates, but he has the most MLS experience.
The Texas native played in 54 MLS games over the past five years, including a combined 41 starts for the New England Revolution during the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
“He’s still a younger guy, so the leadership qualities he has and his composure on the field is pretty incredible for that age,” Davis notes of his teammate. “He handles his business like a true vet. He shows up every day and just does things the right way.
“I think that is what you want when you’re looking at leaders in a group. It doesn’t have to be guys that are the loudest in the locker room, but they just go about their business in a professional manner.”
Like Davis and Reed, Woodberry has also seen time as Nashville SC’s captain during the preseason.
“London is in the prime of his career,” Smith says. “With over 50 MLS appearances already to his name, he has excellent experience.”
Two veteran Nashville SC members – 33-year-old defender Kosuke Kimura and 35-year-old goalie Matt Pickens – will serve in player-coach roles this season.
Both Kimura and Pickens started under Smith in 2010, when the Colorado Rapids won the MLS championship. Kimura played in 171 MLS games from 2007-2014 and Pickens played in 156 MLS games from 2004-2014.
Kimura has played alongside outstanding talents like former U.S. National team midfielder Pablo Mastroeni and international star Thierry Henry, so he has plenty to share with his younger Nashville SC teammates.
“We are capable of helping all those younger guys, setting the tone and setting the rhythm in the games – decision-making and technique and calming the game down, all sorts of things,” Kimura says. “We want to play with our tempo.
“The worst thing that can happen is to play defensively most of the time. Everybody hates that. Because you have to defend with the opponents’ rhythm. You want to dictate the game and have the power to control their game.”
Reach John Glennon at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.