Full transcript from head coach Gary Smith and players Ken Tribbett and Connor Sparrow after Nashville SC’s 2-0 loss to NYCFC in a preseason friendly, with pool quotes from other players, as well. See video from the media portion here.
“I honestly thought that the game was a terrific exercise for us for many, many, many different reasons. It was great to see some of our guys get through some more work – an hour into a game now rather than breaking it up at the break – at half time. There were some terrific players and quality on display from the New York City side, which enabled us to really have a look at the standards that we’re trying to achieve. Because even though we’re working in different leagues, you’ve still got that pinnacle of your game to try and aspire to. So that was wonderful to see: some of their composure. I was delighted with the output of the group. Physically, we’re in a good place. Some of the defending high up the field and the pressing was, I felt, a progressive move from the group. All in all, I think [tonight was] a great night in terms of players staying healthy and taking a step forward. However, there were some areas of our game that certainly need some attention. That’s what preseason is all about. With the ball against a very good side, I felt we showed a bit of an edginess and a lack of fluency. My hope is preseason is still two weeks [yet to play], and we’re working towards the start of a new campaign. I’m sure that will improve.”
Did the guy who hadn’t gone more than a half adjust well to getting back onto the field after the break?
“That’s all part of preseason. The guys haven’t done that – one or two of them have – but sitting down, body sort of starting to recover, and then having to go again is all part of the process of getting ready for a new campaign. All of the guys physically were in good shape. So, no problems there. There was a lot of work that both groups got through, and of course the first group played a longer period. I’ve got no question marks over where the guys are at from an athletic standpoint; I’m pleased with where they’re at from a structural standpoint. Tonight has shown us against a very good team that if you squander the ball too cheaply, you get punished.”
Do players feel like this year is a tryout for the 2020 team?
“Absolutely. It’s a big year for everyone: and I mean players, staff, front office staff. Everyone is looking towards the following year. Are you going to be part of it? Am I going to be around, if I am what part do I play? That’s only natural. The players are in that place. Tonight, I felt, was the first opportunity for those guys given that they’re in such good shape, and they were going to work for an hour, that they could compete against the next level, and we start to get – albeit a small – comparison. There were some real positives, and there were some things that certainly need improving. All in all, there’s going to be a lot of people that, at some point or another, are going to be thinking to themselves, “what happens next” and that happens right now?”
Does that add pressure for some?
“For sure. Some of them will be looking at that as a challenge, others might see it at this point as an issue or a concern and they might not be ready for it. Maybe some of them won’t even rise to the challenge, they won’t be able to make that step. What I do know is, that the whole locker room is filled up with guys that have got great determination, they’ve got terrific character, they are wonderful individuals to work with day-in day-out. Their challenge – every single one of them – is to convince the organization that they’re capable of playing at the – not just the next level, but against teams like this tonight – and that they can be successful.”
When you compete against a team like this, do you sometimes have to tip your cap and say “we don’t have the budget for that type of roster quality,” like on Mitriță’s rocket goal?
“Listen, these games are great. They’re exciting games. For us, it’s a terrific preseason game; it’s serious competition. It’s very different to what we’re going to run into come the tenth [ninth] of March. I don’t see Loudon playing through their 18-yard box and through the goalkeeper as confidently and as composed as we’ve seen some of the guys there. I’m sure for their group as part of the preseason, there’s no points to be lost. They’ve got a style that they want to try and impose. I don’t see them playing like that in the league. But, they’re trying to force a certain type of play and that’s understandable. There’s some real difficulties to judge in these games. What we know – and what we want to get out of it – is a very competitive workout, which it was, certainly to find out what it’s like to play under pressure at speed, at pace, against talented players who are going to make you work tremendously hard if you give the ball away too often. My only criticism of tonight is not what the guys threw at the game, it’s not how they attacked the second period and tried to get back into the game, it’s our overall quality on the ball. There were some good things, but there were far too many below-par things in possession.”
You utilized a high press in this game. Was that a matchup situation, or something you see yourself going to more in 2019?
“Well, it is something that we’ve shown some focus in training, and then what normally happens this time of year – if you’ve worked it a reasonable amount – it gets taken into the games and you want to try and perform against a good side. I thought we did it very, very well for the most part, and in fact, if we’d have actually utilized the ball in a slightly more efficient fashion, we might have found ourselves in a better spot earlier in the game. I do want that to be a bit more of what we’re about this coming year. I think we have the players to achieve that to a greater degree, but I also think with the foundation from last year, we’re in a better place in terms of personnel and in terms of the understanding of the group. We should certainly be in a much better spot to get higher up the field and maybe be a little bit more front-foot thinking this season.”
Was it nice to be back in front of a friendly crowd?
“Absolutely. The only disappointment – I’ve said to a couple of people – has been the weather: it’s kept a lot of people away tonight, which is really sad. The grounds staff have to take some serious credit tonight. The field was immaculate. I mean, given the amount of rainfall, if you think back to just over a year ago against Atlanta, I think there’s a lot of lessons that have been learned there as well. The cover was kept on right until late. The diamond was in perfect condition; the field was just terrific. For the players, it was a wonderful night. For the fans [having to stand or sit in the conditions], not so.”
Was the MLS branding good or whatever.
“I think all of these announcements are exciting times for the organization. That’s the MLS logo, I actually like the look of it. I know there’s been a little bit of criticism from certain quarters. Unfortunately, you can’t please everyone. I actually think there’s a number of clubs out there – modern clubs that we probably all know and aspire to – that have got similar logos, certainly in the same type of format. I like it. I think it’s straightforward, it’s modern, it’s new, it’s bold. I would think anyone that’s wearing the badge and that kit next year will be more than happy.”
Defender Ken Tribbett and Goalkeeper Connor Sparrow
Tribbett: “It’s good to get in front of the fans and have a home game here. I thought we were technically a little bit sloppy. The energy was there. Defensively, we were OK a lot of times, but a couple breakdowns. Overall, decent day.”
Sparrow: “Just echoing what Ken said: the energy was definitely there; the quality at times wasn’t. But it’s still preseason and we are still getting to know each other on the field as players and I think with time that will come.”
Connor, is it tough to enter a game an immediately get called into action like you did, making a FK save right away?
Sparrow: “A lot of goalies will tell you – and I’m no different – that that’s one of the best things that can happen to you: getting involved right away and not hanging out for 10 minutes back there and not being called upon. Having to make a save early on is something that helps your rhythm and helps the mentality, and it honestly just helps you stay focused the rest of the time.”
Are guys looking ahead to MLS?
Tribbett: “I’m not sure. I think – at least I hope – most guys, that’s not a priority for them. The priority should be this year: we’re in the USL this year. We’re playing together to win a championship, so if we do well as a team, maybe win a championship, whatever we do, it looks better for individuals going forward. So if we play well as a team, individuals can get there if they want.”
Sparrow: “I’d say the same thing: you can’t focus on that, you have to focus on the process. We have to come in every day and work, and focus on 2019 as opposed to 2020. That’s a year off; that’s a long way away. A lot of things can happen between now and then, and we just need to make sure that we are playing and firing on all cylinders gearing towards that USL championship.”
Did NYCFC’s high press forcing you to play with your feet on the backline give a trial-by-fire that might make the USL season less intense?
Tribbett: “I’d say maybe a little bit. They were a good test for us. It is preseason, so to have a side such as NYCFC come in and truly test us, they put us under some real pressure tonight. It’s a pressure we haven’t faced all preseason and we might face once or twice this throughout this year with top USL clubs. So it’s a true test for us. I thought… I wouldn’t say we passed it, but we learned a lot from it, and we will get better from it.”
What can you take forward from this game other than knowing the technical flaws have to be cleaned up?
Tribbett: “I just think it has to do with the mental side. We’re all capable players. We’re very good on the ball. We just need to be confident and trust our ability. If we’re out there playing – you see it in practice every day: guys are pinging the ball left and right – to translate it to the game, we’ve just got to come out and do what we know we can.”
What did playing NYCFC teach you guys about your team?
Sparrow: “Tonight, I learned that it’s the quality we need to have, what NYC brought, that’s what we need to bring all year. Like I said, the focus is on this year, but the future of this club is apparent. We’re going up there next year, and our quality needs to rise, it needs to be raised and I think everyone in this locker room is capable of doing that.”
Is it a little easier to be waiting your turn to enter the game when you see an unsaveable shot go in – and not being the victim of it?
Sparrow: “I’m not happy that I’m not out there. I’d rather face that shot than be sitting on the bench.”
What do you think of the MLS brand and Wednesday’s event?
Tribbett: “I think it’s great. I don’t know if you guys were at the event, but for whoever was there, it was awesome. We had thousands of fans out there hours beforehand. Rowdy, singing, chanting. Owners, presidents, CEOs: the whole shebang was there. So it was cool to see the fans, the owners, everyone out to celebrate the crest, the logo, where the club is going, it’s an exciting time.
Sparrow: “It’s exciting, especially for the fans. I would say it’s less exciting for the guys in the locker room, because there’s no promises. As a group, we need to stay focused on the task at hand and not dwell on the future, because it’s not promised for any of us.”
What were your first impressions of home support for this club?
Tribbett: “It’s great. I think they announced it over 5,000. A night like tonight in late February when it’s 40 degrees and raining, to have that many people show up is awesome. We could hear them throughout the game, chanting, singing. It’s a proper home-field advantage. I can’t wait to play here the rest of the year.”
Midfielder Vinnie Vermeer
(On signing today and getting to suit up as an official member of Nashville SC)
“It feels good. Obviously losing 2-0 doesn’t feel the best but the announcement made it a big day for me. It’s a very good feeling for me and my career to have a new step and new adventure here in the US. I have been here for almost five weeks and time has flown by. I have enjoyed it very much because these guys welcomed me in a very good way and from the moment, I stepped in it felt like a new home. I am happy to be a new member of the team and club, but it would have felt better if we had not lost.”
(On how the team has come along in the 5 weeks he has been with the team)
“Well, I have seen a big difference in the team. We started off against Montreal Impact, an MLS team, followed by Louisville and Birmingham of the USL and they all played very different games. Where MLS teams really give you the opportunities to build up a little bit, especially in the final third where it needs to happen. MLS teams try to dictate the tempo and play more of a technical game. I think in USL matches it’s much more about the pace of the game where they try to press for 90 min and be more physical. From what I have seen so far in the USL, everybody is very athletic and that is what a lot of teams focus on.”
(On his preseason training)
“We have so much quality in here and I have seen a lot of that lately because we have been training a lot lately. The preseason has been 2-3 training sessions a day and the trip down to IMG Academy was exhausting. Down there, in Florida, the facilities, accommodations, and fields were amazing. Everyone was there to train and enjoy the game which made it better for our team.”
Defender Liam Doyle
(On his general thoughts on the game)
“I thought we played well in patches, but they showed us the difference in levels at times as well as we did play at some times. As the game went on, the quality showed. I think they were very comfortable with possession and we paid for that late on, but I think we showed a lot of good signs and something to build on. It’s good to see that kind of level where we’re at.”
(On the team’s chemistry tonight in front of a home crowd)
“It was good. It felt like a home game for sure. We all treated it like a league game and out on the field I think we had good chemistry. A lot of same players are back. I think we can still improve, but it was good.”
Defender Kosuke Kimura
(On general thoughts on the match)
“I think we started well with good intensity and everybody had a good energy level. I think when it comes down to it, with a wet field as well, maybe our individual technique here and there let us down. It’s not easy, it was more high tempo than other games but good players can adjust. It was a wet game and a night game, so it was a little different environment, but we have to learn to cope well and adjust well and we have to carry on the game. I think we had a little bit of a rough time settling the ball and getting into our rhythm.”
(On what the team can take away from the match)
“I think we saw the difference between us and MLS. We tasted that there really is not much difference. It’s just more individual technique or mentality, but at the same time we are growing and have decent players on this team. We just have to grow together as a team, and it was a good step up today. We lost, but we can learn from this game. We have two games left in preseason and we can learn from this game and keep growing. Overall, I think the players are responding well. It’s been a good preseason so far and we just have to keep going.”