Nashville SC fell to Charleston Battery on penalty kicks Wednesday evening. NSC head coach Gary Smith and players Matt LaGrassa and Kharlton Belmar met with the media afterwards. Watch and read what they had to say here. Stay tuned at the end for a bonus with Battery head coach Mike Anhaeuser.
Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith
“It unfolded and turned out almost exactly how I thought it would: they came with a very resolute back line, and three guys that were capable of causing us some problems on the counter-attack. For large, large portions of the game, it wasn’t a threat at all. We controlled pretty much the entirety of proceedings, and can only blame ourselves for not winning the game.
“A multitude of opportunities. Some rank, awful finishing. And a goal that they score out of – I don’t know how many sights of goal, but very few. Very disappointed, very frustrated, and in fact very upset that we’ve not been able to deal with this in 90 minutes and move on to the next round.”
How did your frustration level build on the sideline seeing the chances fall by the wayside so many times?
“There’s no way of ever telling why somebody misplaces a shot, doesn’t tap one in, heads a ball three goals wide when they should head it on target, misses a target when they’re six-seven yards out. You name it, there were a multitude of missed opportunities from all angles and from a lot of people, but obviously there were more than one or two opportunities that fell to one or two individuals. There’s nothing I can do on the line other than burst a vessel in my neck or head screaming at what might have been. I thought our play in the second period after a bit of – I wouldn’t say slow but we got lulled into that slower pace of game – there was a change of tempo, we looked brighter, sharper, created an opportunity immediately. All in all, I thought we dominated proceedings and opportunities in that second half. Look: we shouldn’t be talking about anything else other than a win. And we’re now – I’m having to discuss my frustrations and disappointment in going out, when really and truly that game should have been wrapped up. We should all have been able to go home with 20 minutes to go and not worry about what was going to happen in the last 20 minutes.”
What was the locker room mood like after the game?
“Sullen, dejected, disappointed: and rightly so. The penalties are one thing, to not score a penalty is something concerning as well. However, it should never have gotten to that point. The guys put themselves in a difficult place and when you get to that point, I’ve seen it numerous times where a team in a Cup competition have hung in there somehow, someway, so credit to them for that. They’ve hung in there, and they’ve managed to scramble through by the grace of penalties. That’s all part of the game. You’ve got to finish teams off, and if you don’t, then you run the risk of what happened, which is we continued our anemic look in front of goal in the penalties.”
Derrick Jones left the game with injury, and Daniel Ríos’s substitution looked potentially injury-related as well. Do you have a (very) early prognosis on them?
“Disappointed, of course, that the pair of them had to come off. Derrick looks like he’s rolled his ankle, so I don’t know how serious that will be. I think Daniel got a knee in his quad and had a dead leg which slowed him up considerably. That, in itself, obviously affects some of the things that we do. I still didn’t think that the team skipped too much of a beat: there were still plenty of moments – and I’m not even talking about the times we got in down the line, I’d like to know how many crosses we had for that fact – but the amount of crosses that were not accurate. But nevertheless we got into some exceptionally good positions in that second half, and they must be sitting in the locker room thinking one of them in there must have a four-leaf shamrock in there somewhere. I cannot believe it. I can’t believe that we’re standing here saying that we’re not in the competition.”
What was your impression of the facilities and the host institution, Middle Tennessee State?
“It’s been great. I’ve enjoyed it other than, of course, the obvious. They’ve looked after us, the field’s been in immaculate condition, I think it’s suited the way we’ve played, there’s been some great soccer from our team. The one area that has eluded us is in front of goal and that can be nothing to do with the field. That’s just rank, bad finishing and quality.
“I don’t know about [returning for future Open Cup matches]. The organization have certainly looked after us incredibly well, and the facilities have been great. To that degree, we’ll remember that.”
When Kharlton finally broke through, did you feel like momentum was turning in your direction?
“For sure. I felt it was just a case of finding that one goal. Even beyond that, with the remainder of the second period, there were still chances. Without looking at some of the moments again, I still can’t believe that in particular moments we did not convert. I just don’t know how people missed the target or failed to read a scenario: header that goes back across the goal looked like, for everything, that it should be could be blown in. I still don’t know why, I don’t know who it was at the back post; I’ll have to have another look. The chances just came and went, and it gave them an incentive. There were one or two little scary moments at the end, when really it should never have been in doubt. That’s the most disappointing aspect of the night: That the guys have played very well, they’ve committed themselves to the game, they’ve looked like they want to win it, and unfortunately, they’ve not done enough in front of goal to do that. I’m just speechless as to why.”
Midfielder Matt LaGrassa
What was the frustration like as the chances continued to miss?
“I think the feeling when you have that much possession, that much of the ball in their half, is that it’s always coming. I think we kept believing, and I think we were creating chances. I think the frustration comes from the fact that we had a pretty good idea of what they were going to do when they came in here, and at the end of the day they got the result they wanted.”
WHat’s your evaluation of the penalty shootout?
“You’ve got to convert. It’s too much pressure to put on Connor [Sparrow]. I think all three of us that missed will be disappointed; I know I am. I think for me, there’s more disappointment in that we couldn’t make more of our chances earlier in the game, because any time you leave it to penalties, you’re not really giving yourself the best chance to know you’re going to get the result. I mean, the penalties are for sure disappointing as well.
Charleston didn’t create many chances, but finished the one they did. What went into that play?
“I think we were trying to get – when we had established possession – get a midfielder into a more advanced area. We knew that that would leave us maybe a little bit more vulnerable to a counter-attack at times, and ultimately the kid did really well with his opportunity. He’s quick, he took a good first touch I think around one of our centerbacks and he finishes. If you look at down the line, I think their total chance creation is not something that we should be concerned about, but it’s really a matter of being balanced in possession to prevent those types of attacks.
Did the injury to Derrick Jones change what you were able to do in the midfield?
“I think we’re still getting to know Derrick. It’s obvious he’s got a unique skillset, I would say, and body type in that. You never want to see somebody come off injured, especially a guy that’s just got here: I think it affects the group emotionally. Then I think Reed came in and did fine, and did well to impact the game as a substitute. There’s no… there wasn’t a dropoff or anything, it was just different personnel, really.”
With more than a week before the next game, do you dwell on this for a couple days, or try to immediately move on mentally?
“I think this month has been exhausting for all of us. Obviously we want to stay in the Cup, there’s no doubt about that. We all wanted to win tonight. But eight games in the span of four weeks is a lot. I know my legs are tired; I think a lot of the other guys – it’s been a long month for us even though we’ve been able to rotate the squad. I think the weekend away from the league will probably be good for us to some extent. Then we’ll be back at it.”
Winger Kharlton Belmar
How frustrating is it to see so many chances, but only convert one of them into a goal?
“I think it’s very frustrating. I think the quality we have in the group, we can only be disappointed in ourselves in that: not putting those chances away when we had them. At the end of the day, that cost us the game. We do better there in front of goal and we put this game away in the 70th minute and the game is done. So yeah: disappointed.”
Is there a bittersweet feeling to being the goal-scorer?
“You always want to get on the score sheet, but at the end of the day, we don’t get the result. It doesn’t really mean too much. It’s… it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.”
What was Gary Smith’s message in the locker room after the loss?
“Again just reiterating the fact that we weren’t able to convert in front of goal: because I think everyone saw it. We need to do better in front of goal and win the game. We controlled the whole thing except for a couple of slips in the back. We had the whole game controlled. Like I said, we put those chances away, and the game is done pretty early on.”
Is there a cure to this type of finishing issue?
“We’ve just got to keep going. It’s those things: after training working on those things every day. You can only hope that next time in front of goal, we put them away. You’ve just got to keep practicing, keep plugging away and eventually they’ll fall our way.”
Is the extra break before the next league game going to be important in physical recovery?
“For sure: it’s been a long month. I think it’s very good that we’ll get a chance to just regroup and kind of put this behind us – and the rest of the month behind us in general – and just get ready for another stretch of games. Eyes on next weekend against Bethlehem. We’re going to be ready for that one, and come out firing for that one. That’s the next objective.”
Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser
What does winning this match mean for your club?
“We’re going to see tomorrow. I’m just going to pray we get a home game. Two road games in the Open Cup is so difficult. The heat, multiple games in a week, and my guys deserve all the credit. What you do, you get a game vs. an MLS team. Hopefully it’s at home. These guys deserved it; they played a heck of a game – defended very well. We were a little fortunate not to give up an extra goal against them.”
Challenges of going on the road
“You’ve got travel – you have last-minute travel – you have to take a bus instead of fly because there’s no seats available. Little things like that. That’s what Open Cup’s about: we went to Greenville on turf and it’s a tough game against a team that wants to beat you. Tonight, Nashville didn’t want to lose: they were throwing everything forward. We were a little forward.”
How do you evaluate your defensive effort?
“They caught us there for about 20 minutes and we got fortunate they didn’t score. They got one on the counter there, which they picked up. Then they had their guys forward, and I think they got a little tired. Even we caught them at the end, and hit the post, crossbar, and we were just unlucky. In the end, it comes down. They played last Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday. We don’t have 30 players on our roster. He has probably 24, we have 22, and injuries and you’ve gotta just work through it, and this is a battle. Now you’ve gotta recover, we’re happy to move on, and hopefully we can have a great result in the next round.”
Do you feel the nerves going into a penalty shootout, or is that just for the players?
“For a coach, it’s pretty simple. It stinks for players, because there’s a lot of nerves, they’re nervous, and heavy legs. Even for them at home, it doesn’t matter. We’re probably fortunate that it’s not at their regular field, because they probably have taken penalties there more. Here it’s a new field, kind of like an away came for them. In the end, it comes down to who really can hit that ball, and put it in the spot they want to. Our first two were very good, and we put them in under pressure, and my goalkeeper made two really strong saves.”