Nashville SC gaffer Gary Smith and two of his players met with the media in advance of the team’s rematch against Louisville City FC. Here’s what they had to say.
How difficult has the road stretch been?
“It’s not over yet either, is it? We’ve still got two very very difficult games after this one. I think I’ve said before, we look to this stretch in a particular way. Certainly, hopeful that we can pick up points on the road and keep ourselves in a position to strike as it were, as we come into a better home run of games. We’re doing a reasonable job of that. I’d love to have been two points better off. I’m almost certain that the two games just recently away from home, we could have converted into a win out of one of those, given the chances we had. But we are where we are.
“We’re very, very pleased to come back home. Only one game at First Tennessee Park in our first eight, so it’s brilliant to be there and be back in front of the fans, and I’m sure everyone will be absolutely revved up to get behind the team because they just haven’t seen them for so long. What we know is, there’s plenty of work to do beyond that, as well. It couldn’t be a more straightforward saying than, ‘we’ve just got to take every game that comes ‘round.’ If I’m looking at Open Cup, Pittsburgh, Charleston away from home – who themselves are in good form – then I think we run the risk of really overlooking good teams. We’ve got a very good team in front of us at the weekend. There’s specifics in our team that we have to nail down and perform well in certain areas, otherwise the game will get away from us again.
“The one thing I will say is, we’re a different group than they played first game of the season. Not just in the way that we play, possibly one or two personnel changes, but also, I think confidence-wise, we’re growing all the time. This will be a very very good test for both of us now, I would think.”
Takeaways from first game against Louisville
“I’m not sure it’s just the game we played against them. I know going into that, that on their home field, they’re as tough if not tougher than anyone. They play that field extremely well. The shape, the style of their team suits that narrow and difficult surface. But I honestly think, a lot of people misjudge the quality that they have in their side. I’ve watched them away from home, and they’re more than capable of maintaining the ball and working teams over. They’ve got a very very good togetherness, something that you would expect, and only maybe expect from a team that have won something. It’s an in-built mechanism for players that have been champions, that have won silverware, that are playing together again – there’s an inner confidence, and they’ve got that. They’ve lost one game this season, they’re rightfully in the top two of the league if not top based on games played. I honestly see these – along with maybe one or two other teams – as the best teams in this Eastern Conference.”
The offense seemed to be more open and productive against NYRBII than previously
”When you don’t end up winning a game and you create those chances, you always try to take some solace in other areas: all coaches do it. Definitely, we came away with mixed emotions. Great point, a very difficult venue against a very difficult team. But with chances to win the game ands come away from there feeling very very good about ourselves. The good thing is there’s a very good development line in the team: not just in the way that we’re creating, in the way that players are combining, and some of the relationships that are forming. Ropapa [Mensah]’s now scored three in four, we’ve got a much better dimension to this team than we had at the start of the season. We look like we’re capable of solving some of the questions that people pose us in their shape and the way they play.
“New York were very different to the teams that we played previous in Indy and Penn. Technically, very very good. Threw caution to the wind in their attacking in the first half, and were very exciting. We were able to keep them at bay as it were – to one goal – and in the second period I thought we got stronger and stronger, and really looked like there was only going to be one winner. So, there are a lot of areas that we’ve improved, and I hope continue to. There are players in this group and certainly the 11 that will start at the weekend, that are desperate to get that W on the schedule again, and on the results sheet. They deserve to have had one before now, but unfortunately, this game’s about being clinical and showing a ruthless edge. Until we get to that point, we’ll just be one of the average teams in the league who are battling away every week. I certainly think we’ve got enough quality, we’ve got enough character, and there’s enough ability in this team to continue on a good run and start to add more points to the board.”
Are you looking forward to the derby game Wednesday?
“I watched the game mid-week. Honestly, I’ve not thought about it too much, as I’ve said. It’s great that Inter have got through. No doubt that they will be absolutely frothing at the mouth to get at us and try and win the game. Our job after Sunday is to be ready for that, to fulfill the potential that the team has that I put out, and win the game. We need to go into the next round, that’s it, simple as that. It doesn’t matter what they do, or how they do it, it’s about what we do. Levels of soccer are there to prove that teams, players, and mentalities are at another level. The players that play on Wednesday will have to prove that in my group.”
On just two days’ rest, how do you manage personnel for that game?
“I’ve got a bit of a shadow group that I’ve put down. Like all teams, we’re training throughout the week and there are certain guys that I saw that are getting through games and might need a little more rest. There are certain areas of the field that I may not have as much depth and players may need to be turned out again. There is obviously a very tough game at the weekend that we need to get through. At the end of Sunday’s game, I’ll have the clearest picture of who’s fit, who’s going to be in a good enough physical shape, what is the right team mentally, physically, and tactically to put out to win against Inter. My sole focus on Wednesday is to win the game. If we win that game 10-nil, it’s going to make no difference to me than winning it 1-nil. It’ll just make my life easier on the touchline. As long as we’re in the hat for the next round, I don’t mind how we win it: we just win it.”
Being back home
“Extremely happy. We’ve just kind of been on the road a lot – had a couple off weekends just to rest – and we’ve just been itching to get back. Especially coming back home for Mother’s Day, it’s going to be fun.”
Long road trip
“It’s made us come together as a group. We’ve really had to come home and ask ourselves a bunch of questions, and see what we really need to work at. But that’s what happens when you get tested early, especially when you go on the road consistently. I think it only makes us better in the long run, especially toward the end of the season.”
Lessons learned in the first Louisville game
“You know, it was the first game of the season. There was a bunch of questions that we needed to answer for ourselves, but we also didn’t really know what they were going to do. If you play that first game against anyone, you’re not really sure, and now that we’ve had a look at them, this is kind of a vengeance game for us. Hopefully we can have some revenge, and go out and take three points.”
Does having a game under the belt against them help?
“I think it’s just coming together more as a group and enduring tough times, just in case something does happen. We’ve seen them, they’re an offensive power: they score goals, they finish plays, they’re very aggressive through the wings and they like to get crosses in. I just think defensively, we’ve been together as a group now, and I think it only makes us stronger; I think we’re prepared for it this time.”
Are you more comfortable with the four-man backline after playing Louisville with five at the back the first time around?
“Honestly, I don’t think it’s more of what they do, I think it’s just about us. That’s just something that comes down to what maybe fits the group a little bit better, especially just some of the games we had early on. You never know: we could switch back and play five at the back again. As of right now, I think moving forward, the four at the back has been working well for us.”
“Just being away from home in general. Home games offer up a bit more with home support and your home routine, whereas on the road, it’s just being a little bit different. I don’t know if it’s difficult, I mean, we’ve all played plenty of road games before. But when you put two or three back-to-back, it becomes a little bit of… not a struggle, but just something that you have to deal with.”
Being the No. 2 keeper
“I think I try to take the same attitude as Matt would. Justx that I need to prepare for every game as if I’m playing. Recently, Matt’s been doing that really well during the week to be able to perform during the game. You see it all the time where a goalkeeper gets in for whatever reason. Maybe he wasn’t supposed to start on that weekend, but it happens, so you just always have to be ready, and I think Micah takes the same attitude as well. If the decision comes up or circumstances arise, any one of us would be able to perform in the game.”
More ready for Louisville the second time around?
“Absolutely. Being the first game at the defending champs’ home field, I think it offered up a lot of challenges. It was a good first game for us: we learned a lot about how we’re going to play, and a lot about this league in general. I think we’re really excited to get them back at home in front of our fans on our field, and really give them a much better game, and hopefully get a win.”