Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and two of his stars of the game met with the media after beating Memphis 901 FC 2-0. Watch and read what they had to say here.
“I honestly thought that maybe the opportunities had passed. First off, we dominated efforts on goal and sights on goal. Some really good interchanges of play, not always as creative as I would have liked in that final third with final cross, final pass, but I thought all in all, we had some very good opportunities to open the scoring. It looked like they just made the game a little bit untidier in the second period and as I said, maybe we’d missed our chance but perseverance of the group was great and the changes that came into the game I thought made a difference. All in all, I thought we thoroughly deserved the two-nil victory.”
What do you do or say in the locker room during a lightning delay?
“It’s really difficult for both teams. You go and prepare yourselves, everything’s built up
towards a particular kickoff time and then it’s delayed. It’s bad enough to go back out and prepare in a brief ten minute window, but to have that pulled from underneath your feet as well, it’s just tough mentally. There’s no way around it. You’ve got to somehow stay focused, stay engaged. I actually felt we started very brightly and credit to the players. They took all of it in their stride: they’re very professional. Stacey Daniels, our fitness coach, was terrific in the locker room keeping the boys engaged and active, which is not easy. In terms of what we were able to do and how we were able to deal with it, you can only really measure that from how we started, and I thought we started well.
When you get to the 75th minute do you get that “here we go again” feeling?
“It felt that way. The first half, if I can remember well enough, I think we had much clearer sights of goal. We looked more threatening, and I thought there were many moments that we should have made more of, or certainly should have opened the scoring. You have to give credit to them [Memphis]: the second period, they looked I thought more difficult to break down. They grew in confidence the longer the game went on with a clean sheet, and it does wonders for team spirit when you can keep your goal intact, especially when you’ve been under pressure. Sights of goal were few for them: they had one very good opportunity. Listen, Matt Pickens has had next-to-nothing to do, and he makes a terrific save from their one moment in the game, which is a testament to the quality of the goalkeeper.
“To your point, I did: I thought as though maybe we weren’t going to find that moment. It’s just the feeling you get standing on the line that you’ve been banging on the door for so long. As I said, great credit to the players, they persevered. Terrific finish from Matt LaGrassa. I thought the set piece or second-phase set piece was wonderful. I’m absolutely delighted from the corner, the flick, and Ropapa’s finish at the back post. The substitutes, as I’ve said, I felt made a difference: they injected some energy and some life into what had been a good attack, but probably needed a little bit of help. I couldn’t have been more pleased how the players have performed, and of course the way the game went.”
More frustrating to find looks but not score, or struggle to find those looks?
“There’s a lot of things that you want to try and get out of any given game, and especially early in the season you want to see some progression in the way the team’s playing and some consistency. What I saw was really a nice progress from last Saturday’s game against Ottawa, where we had good sights of goal, we were effective going forward, and we were also very difficult to play against. That bodes well for the future. I’d rather be creating 20-odd shots on goal, seven on target, some very good moments, a penalty shout that was turned down again – can someone tell me if it was or it wasn’t? I’d like to see it again because that would be the third penalty that we haven’t got in the early part of the season that should have been – but all-in-all, I’d rather be creating, and I think the vein that runs through the team at the moment is one of a confident and positive nature. Of course, I’m very pleased about that.
Does the volume of shots for your team indicate improving chemistry?
“The front two that started did great. I had no issues with the way we built out, the chances and created. You’re always looking for that real clear sight at goal or maybe a little bit of fortune. Both forwards and wide players, the fullbacks were very active. The midfield players were getting very high up the field. We regained in good areas and we kept some good pressure on their backline in that first period, especially. You don’t always get what you deserve, and we didn’t [in the first half]. On those days, you’ve got to stay focused and strong, and believe that that moment will come.
“They’ve had a tough week [Memphis]. Three games in a week is never easy, and we knew that. The latter stages of the game, against a well-organized and resilient group – I mean, they fought tremendously hard tonight, and they’ve given an awful lot – it certainly wasn’t a cakewalk for us, but it’s a good result. They’re a decent side, and I wouldn’t mind betting that their results don’t start to turn the corner, and they’re far better than maybe we’re seeing at the moment.”
How was Darnell King’s performance in his regular-season debut?
“I thought he was terrific. Absolutel delighted with him. You look at all aspects of that outside back role: what’s your distribution like, are you going to join attacks, have you got good energy? 1-v-1 defending was magnificent. Just every facet of his game was spot-on, and it’s not easy. He’s an experienced guy, but form put Kosuke in the side to begin with. He’s shown great professionalism, he’s worked hard, he’s looked the part in training, and he’s certainly taken his opportunity tonight.”
Does he provide something different than Kosuke?
“To be honest, I don’t think they’re dissimilar. Kosuke won’t like me saying it, but I think Darnell’s a little bit quicker. Other than that, they’re very similar guys: they love joining in, they want to be part of the attack, they’re both very capable on the ball, and they’re both very determined. They’re good 1-v-1 defenders. which is an asset for the group, and they also supply tremendous energy down the flanks. I’m delighted that I’ve got two excellent outside right backs, and two fabulous left-sided players as well: Taylor Washington who started the season, and of course Justin Davis has been terrific.
M Matt LaGrassa and D Darnell King
Matt, how did it feel to score on the night you made a year’s worth of consecutive appearances?
LaGrassa: “It’s always great when your coach trusts you: I think that is what every player looks for. I’ve obviously played multiple positions which has helped keep me on the field. I didn’t know it was a full calendar year, but time flies. It feels good.”
What did you see on your goal?
LaGrassa: “I thought [Ropapa Mensah] did really well to hold it up. I think sometimes the longer you hold onto the ball like that, the more attention it kind of draws to him. I popped into a little pocket of space, and he saw me and played a great ball. I had an idea with the touch, and it ended up being kind of perfect. The keeper comes out, and I am able to finish it.”
The touch played you into space, yeah?
LaGrassa: “I had a little look, I saw where the centerback was, and when he whipped it in with some pace, I was hoping I could take my tough in that direction. Honestly, it couldn’t have been better.”
Was it more a team relief than an individual one to find the net at that point?
LaGrassa: “I think we’ve had our struggles in the past scoring goals against organized defenses. To get that break through against a team that was – in my opinion – pretty organized tonight, it was a big relief for a lot of guys. We created plenty of chances, but they just hadn’t gone in at that point. Finally the moment came.”
What did you guys do in the locker room during the weather delay?
King: “I actually beat [Matt LaGrassa] in soccer tennis. Me and Daniel [Ríos] played him and Michael Reed to keep our legs moving.”
LaGrassa: “We taped a little soccer tennis court in the locker room, just to move around a little bit.”
King: “It was as competitive as it could be, I mean we beat them.”
LaGrassa: [Laughing] “I knew that was coming.”
What was it like to see the field after waiting your turn for a few games?
King: “You know, you want your time to come, and when it does you just have to perform. I can’t really explain the feeling. You just want to support your teammates. Obviously, I became a part of a great group and it doesn’t matter who is on the field. Yeah, I want to be on the field, but I want to motivate the guys who are on the field to win games, because at the end of the day that is what we are here for – to win a championship.”
When did you find out you’d be in the starting lineup?
King: “Throughout the week we were doing some trainings, and we were shuffling a couple of things around and kind of moving myself into the lineup. Everybody has been gelling well, and I’ve been making connections with the guys since the beginning. Tonight it kind of showed, how good those connections are that we have with each other.”
LaGrassa: “Credit to Darnell, because I think as a player it’s a difficult situation when you haven’t been in the team for the first few games or whatever. To come in and step in right away at a home game against a good side against a good side, and to perform the way he did, I thought he was fantastic.”
How would you evaluate the defense’s clean sheet performance?
King: “I think it’s great. First of all, kudos to Matty [Pickens] for making that big time save. It really kept us in the game. Overall, I think we maintained possession the majority of the time, we were pretty composed. Defensively, yeah, there were some slips and falls that we had to cover each other, but that is what we are there for: to cover each other’s back and just stay tight as a unit. I think we did well tonight, and to keep moving forward with the shutouts that we have had and move off of that.”
What sort of adjustments do you have to make with the rainy field conditions?
King: “It’s difficult at times, but we’re pros, and this is what we have to deal with at time. Just shuffle your feet, make sure you keep your feet under you. Everybody was slipping tonight; it’s just part of the game. You’ve just gotta be crucial in crucial parts of the field, and make sure you – like I said – cover each other’s back like we did. Because there were some scary moments, but we helped [each other].”
LaGrassa: “Just to expand on that, footwear is difficult to get right at times, especially when we get that heavy rain with different surfaces. Our ground crew does an excellent job, but with the rain, they both react kind of differently. Sometimes trying to decide whether you want to wear metal studs or normal cleats can be a different challenge.”
Is the offense hitting its stride?
LaGrassa: “I think the big key is that we’ve got guys looking forward all the time now. Everybody, I think when they have that opportunity, when they have time, they’re trying to make their first pass into the forwards’ feet, to let them do what they’re good at. That’s why we’ve brought guys in, that’s why we have guys like Tucker and Ríos and all these creative players. It’s so that we can get them on the ball in dangerous areas as much as possible. I think we’re doing a better job of that now, and we’re seeing some of the payoffs of that. At times, it makes the games a bit more transitional than it was in the first two games that we played, where we had a bit more of the ball. Ultimately, you want to create chances, and that’s what we’re doing now.