Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and two of his players met with FCAC following their 1-1 draw against New York Red Bulls II. Here’s what they had to say.
Did you think 1-1 was a fair result based on the run of play?
“We’ve just been talking about in there, the staff. When you score first, you always feel as though you should be taking all three points. I honestly felt there were some very good moments for us to extend our lead, and if we’d have been able to do that, I think that might have been enough. However, when you look back on the balance of opportunities at both ends, a draw was probably a fair result, and against a very bright and positive New York side. I’ve seen lots of teams come here and get picked apart. I think it’s a good result and there are some qualities within that result that will serve us well as we move into this [set of] next four games that are away from home out of the next five.”
You dominated possession in the first two games, but that was flipped in favor of the opponent today. What was behind that change?
“To be perfectly honest, the last two games at home, you expect to maybe be the more dominating team with the ball, but we didn’t actually get the balance right. Part of our process of getting the best out of the group that we’ve got, is to try and make sure, at the most opportune times, and as constructively as possible, we’re being positive, we’re getting in better areas, we’re creating more chances. Today, against a side that are always going to squeeze high – they leave the space behind them, rather than in front of them – they take chances with their backline to try and win the ball in good areas, I thought we made some good choices. We actually had some very, very encouraging situations because of that, and really should have extended our lead. The only disappointment is that we didn’t, and we gave them the opportunity to get back in the game.”
Was Daniel Ríos’s counter-attack goal a result of that style?
“The discussion was when they squeeze into those halfway line areas and try and condense play, can we get Daniel, Kharlton, can we get the forwards on shoulders and be threatening in behind those defenders, working the ball into constructive positions? Rather than smashing 75-80 yards from back-to-front, is there some cultured build-out, which might take only two or three passes? You’re not going to keep the ball on this field against a team in the fashion that they play for long periods of the game: they won’t allow you to. So, we needed to be ready and able to threaten their backline, to force their backline backwards, to get up the field, and in the process of that, try and make some chances. And of course, that opportunity came out of that.”
First game action for Connor Sparrow and Vinnie Vermeer, and first starts for Justin Davis and Michael Reed. How have those guys – particularly Sparrow and Vermeer – earned the right to play?
“We’ve got a very strong squad, as you well know. The guys that started today have had good preseasons, they’re in a good place physically. There were one or two aspects of the game last weekend that we could certainly improve on, and we’re away from home. We’ve changed up one or two areas in a slightly different picture to how we played with LaGrassa in the middle with two other genuine midfield players, because I honestly felt there would be a lot of central field play, regains, second phase, and a lot of work going on in there. To a degree, it helped. But ultimately, we’ve got a lot of good players and there’s going to be occasions where I need to rotate that. Other than Vinnie’s injury, which is really disappointing, I felt the guys that came in did a very, very good job. I expect the guys that haven’t seen the field yet, in the next couple of weeks – because we’ve got a weekend off now – in the next couple of weeks, we may well see a couple of other faces as well.”
Both Vermeer and Ríos came of with injury. What is their status?
“Daniel’s fine. He just took a little bit of a battering against two very capable center backs. Vinnie’s looks slightly more concerning, although we’ll get a read on that I’m sure in the middle part of this week. He’s turned his ankle. To what degree, I don’t know at this point.”
What was the feeling with the conceded goal?
“I was just disappointed: there was an opportunity to be a little bit more decisive. The ball was given away in the middle third, I think Justin tried to pick out someone with a header, and that was the prelude to what happened next. It ended up going out for, I believe, a corner and then there was that pressure and it was recycled, but it came from a style of play that they have that has been very rewarding for Red Bull. For the most part, we did an excellent job of negating that, of dealing with some very creative and exciting young players. They have a terrific setup here and a great feed through to their first team. But, it’s just disappointing that – look, unless we would have won the game, I would have been disappointed, which I am now – to concede from really a second phase again is even more disappointing, but let’s talk about the positives. There were a lot of good things going on. I feel as though we’re moving in a nice direction. The guys – maybe like Cameron and Daniel – are seeing a bit more time, to where we’re starting to find a little bit more of a rhythm, and we’ve got a tough schedule coming up, but I think we’re in a good place. “
Is that set piece defense a focus for upcoming games?
“Yeah. I think the stats are somewhere around 40% of goals last year were scored from dead balls, so that’s a lot of goals in the league. We certainly need to be efficient in our 18-yard box, and wherever possible. There were some good moments today. We’ve got to try and snatch one or two at the other end. I thought the delivery was much better today. We didn’t get maybe what we wanted out of it, but again, I think three games in, we all want to win every game, but the important factor for me is that I’m seeing encouraging signs in each player and in the way that we’re playing, and of course, in the direction we’re going. I’m seeing that.”
Did you think Matt LaGrassa had tied the game when his shot hit the post?
“There were a couple of moments where we really should have made more of. Everyone that played this weekend I’m sure will be saying, ‘we should have done more, we had moments, we should have converted.’ When you don’t, the game continues and gives them an opportunity to stay positive. At 2-0, it might have been a little bit of a blow for them, and certainly a long way back then given the way we were playing. Top sides, as you move along and you’re going to want to be competing for playoffs and silverware, you’ve got to make the most of those moments. I’m sure we will as we move down the line. Today, not to be.”
Do you need to develop more of a killer instinct to put away games when you have a 1-0 lead?
“All teams, when they create chances and get themselves in good positions, and give themselves opportunities to see a game off, all teams want to try and convert. No team doesn’t want to convert. I think it’s: who does it fall to, can they stay composed, what’s the type of finish, can you pick a spot, are you getting hurried and just randomly lashing at the ball and hoping for the best? The top goal scorers and the top individuals are really keeping a clear mind and that’s what makes them difference-makers. You look at Daniel’s goal: it would have been easy for Daniel to have hurried and rushed the moment. He didn’t, it looked at one point that the goalkeeper might have done enough, but he rounded him and still kept his foot in and finished well. Daniel’s pedigree tells us that he’s capable of doing that. We need to find a way to make sure that our top finishers, goal scorers and creators are getting in better areas and today we’ve seen that.”
Goalkeeper Connor Sparrow
How did it feel to get your first regular-season start?
“It was good, good to make my regular-season debut for the club. Getting a point on the road is obviously not what we wanted, but we’ll take it at the end of the day.”
What went wrong on the equalizing goal for New York?
“It was kind of just a broken play. It got off a corner: it trickled kind of back out to the corner and the kid spanked the cross across and I turned around and it was in the back of the net. Kind of gotta sharpen up in that regard, but it was a good ball in a good spot for the forward.”
Aside from that broken play, you had a solid performance. Does that give you confidence?
“It was good. You obviously want to get off on a positive note, and I felt like I did my job. At the end of the day, obviously disappointed about conceding a goal: a shutout would have been great, three points would have been great, but at the end of the day, we came here, it’s a hard place to play against a very good squad and we took a point away from it.”
What can the team take from this result going forward?
“I just think we need to focus on a second-to-second basis, especially on the defensive end. It’s kind of two goals now we’ve let up – not directly from a set piece today, but involved in a set piece – so I think that’s still an area as the season goes on that we can sharpen up.”
How has the team avoided conceding in the run of play so far?
“We’re very well drilled in training every day. We work hard defensively: that’s what Gary’s instilled in us. It’s good to see that everyone buys in and does their job.”
Can you personally use this game to build toward even more playing time?
“I hope so. You’ve got to earn it every day, and games like these, they definitely get your confidence up and it makes you want more. Hopefully I can continue along that path.”
Forward Daniel Ríos
What went into your goal?
“It was a long ball, and because of the surface, the ball goes slow. The defender was trying to play with the keeper, but it was short so I took advantage of that. I took a touch and scored the goal.”
Does that first goal build confidence in the game?
“Yes, it’s perfect to begin with one goal and winning the game, we can handle the transition of the game with a goal.”
You got hit plenty by the center backs, how is the back feeling?
“It’s hurting a little bit, it was a battle today. It was so hard with running and battling up there.”
What can you take from the 1-1 result?
“It’s not bad. We are away from home, so it’s good for us, one point. It could be better with three points, but at least one]. We need to keep working on that and achieve the three points.”
What are the things that can help turn one point into three in future games?
“I think we need to manage the games better and if we score one goal, we need to score more goals. We need to work more in the attacking, attacking players, and maybe work a little bit more with the second ball.”
How can the team add a killer instinct to get that second goal and put games out of reach?
“That would give me confidence to score more goals. While it was early in the game when I scored that goal, mentally my mindset was scoring more goals. I had time, we had time, we were managing the game.”
Did it feel like a winning goal was coming?
“Yeah, I felt it. I felt it when Matt LaGrassa crossed all the way to the goal, but it wasn’t too close for me.”