Nashville SC earned a come-from-behind victory in adverse conditions in North Philadelphia Sunday evening. Gary Smith and goal-scoring defenders Ken Tribbett and Kosuke Kimura spoke with FCAC after the game. Watch or read their comments here.
Head Coach Gary Smith
Is it good to finally get that “come back for a victory” monkey off the team’s back?
“It’s taken a long time, so I’m delighted that it’s happened today. The circumstances weren’t very natural or normal. having a change of venue, it affected an awful lot of things. Travel, obviously the field and the quality of the surface, the size of the surface, but most importantly, I’d have to say some of the facilities here have been diabolical. It’s not right for top clubs – professionals – to be dealing with some of the things that we have today. But it makes the victory and coming from behind even sweeter. So I have to say, in adversity sometimes, you see the best of people, and we have in our group today.”
You got scoring from a couple unconventional places. What does that say about the team on the whole?
“It looked for the world like it was gonna be one of those games where creating clear
moments was going to be difficult. I thought we had some very good passages of play in the first half, and failed to contend with the surface and get the right quality of a final ball, cross, or entry pass. And then of course with their first attack, they get in behind the backline – and I need to see it again – but I thought it was actually a little bit soft. Before the lad went over, I’m not sure how much contact there was. In all fairness, if the referee feels as though there is contact there, then in my mind thinking: “it’s more than a yellow card.” He must have been in doubt as to what had actually happened there. The response was fantastic, and it took guys from different areas of the field, as you’ve said, to come up trumps.”
What went into the decision to play the 3-4-1-2 formation rather than the more frequently used 4-2-3-1?
“I’d set up to play with wingers, wide players. Thursday, the game [venue] was changed.
Whatever the reasons are, it was disappointing. We were looking forward to going and playing at the main stadium. Some of the footage I had seen there had really lent itself to playing with wide, dynamic individuals, and I’m sure we could have taken advantage of that. What we didn’t know was what this surface or the field was going to look like. As expected, it was under the dimensions that had been given to us – which again, is bitterly disappointing – it’s under 68 yards wide [USSF rules dictate a minimum of 70]. I wouldn’t expect an under-12s team to be playing on a field like that, and we’ve got to go out and produce quality soccer. Likewise them: I’m sure it’s as difficult for them as it is for us, but that’s not my problem: it’s their club that are trying to deal with this. So, I ended up thinking that maybe the best route forward was to make sure that we were in the sort of right shape and mindset to come and deal with whatever we were going to run into. I think that shape gives us a little bit more stability to start off with. As it happened, it also gave us some really good opportunities. So it’s a bit of a breakout game for us in the 3-5-2 scoring four goals.”
Kosuke Kimura has played with you at multiple stops. How nice is it to see him get a goal?
“Any goal is a good goal. I think the last time Kosuke scored was in the semifinal of the
2010 playoffs when we obviously went on and won it [it was not the last time! Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion!]. He scored a very important goal against San Jose in the semifinal at home. That was a long time ago. That’s how prolific Kosuke is, but I’m
sure he’ll be just as pleased scoring today as any other time.”
How do you build on this road win into the back half of the season?
“We’re not far away from that halfway point now. Looking at some of the results yesterday, the league continues to throw up some very competitive and small-margin results. Tampa have obviously lost their unbeaten run, which you might have guessed would happen at some point. It’ll be interesting to see how they react. But all in all, it is an incredibly tight league. There are two or three teams that are on a really good run: Carolina [who beat Tampa] being one of them, New York continue to find attractive and attacking play, even with young groups. We’re on a good unbeaten run ourselves, and I’m including that Open Cup game because we didn’t get beat in 90 minutes, we got beat on penalties – I’ll try and keep hold of that.
So you’re less upset about the finishing in the Open Cup loss now?
“Not necessarily, but I’m looking for a silver lining. It’s an unbeaten league run. The longer that goes on, the better, of course. It gives confidence to the group, and it’s never easy away from home. I think we’re one of the top sides away from home at the moment. It is important that we turn the screw and find better form at home, but I’m seeing a lot of positives in the group, most of all the attitude. It wasn’t easy today. They are a very capable side. Connor [Sparrow] made two or three excellent saves in the second half to keep them at arm’s length. But the attitude to come away and perform in difficult circumstances, and to really be adaptable enough to get the job done, is my most pleasing aspect of the day.”
Sparrow had a couple nice saves, what comfort does it give you to know that either of your top keepers can step in and perform?
“I’ve said it before: I’ve got two first-choice goalkeepers. I hope – and it seems to be at this point – that we’ve got ourselves in a position where both of those guys are comfortable. They’re getting enough playing time to stay sharp and stay engaged: their form tells us that. Both of them have performed to a very high level when called upon. At this moment in time, I’m able to keep the team moving well, and the players mentally comfortable. Whilst I’m sure both of them feel as though they’d love to play a little bit more, that is the difficulty – and it’s not just in goal, there are plenty of other positions in this group where we have caliber players that, part of my job is to make sure we have the best team on the day, but also to keep those players inspired and in a good place. Because at some point, as you’ve seen, the rotation and for whatever game the bodies that are needed, need to be ready.”
Defender Ken Tribbett
Is there pride in being part of the club’s first come-from-behind win?
“I wasn’t aware of that, but it’s nice. To go down early is disappointing, but we got on level terms very quickly and in the second half we came out strong and we got some goals. Some subs played a big impact in the game so it was very… all-around a good performance.”
What did you see on your goal?
“Well, it’s something that we’ve actually looked at in training ground for the last couple weeks: We’ve been doing in-swingers most of the year, I said let’s just try an out-swinger. So Lebo [Moloto] whipped in a perfect ball, and it was just a good kick from LaGrassa as well, and I was just lucky enough to get my head on it.”
You have a long history in Philadelphia from Drexel to the Union and Steel, how nice is it to have a good performance in a homecoming game?
“Philly is a special place for me. Like you said, it’s my college town: I came here in 2010, you know, so basically my second home. I’ve been here 8-9 years. So it’s always special to come home, and to put in a performance like that, score a goal in front of my old college mates and my family was special.”
When you alternate between the three- and four-man backlines, is there anything special in your personnel that allows you to do it, or is there a simple matter of just being pros and being able to execute it?
“You took the words right out of my mouth: We’re professionals. We should be able to do three-back and four-back, whatever the night calls upon. Today, with the field, the conditions, it was a three-back system. We adapted and we performed well. If we need to go four, we can, obviously we have the personnel to do it. You took the words out of my mouth.”
Do you have to avoid temptation to panic when you go down early?
“I wouldn’t say that. It’s obviously disappointing because we want to keep a clean sheet. Before this one, we had two in a row in the league and we wanted to keep that streak going. So it’s disappointing that we let that one in, but at the same time after that we regrouped, we bounced back and we took care of business on the road.”
How do you carry the current unbeaten streak (now at five league games) forward?
“As you said, it was the first time we’ve come from behind, so now we know we can do that. Obviously we don’t want to get scored on, we want to build from the beginning. But if we need to, we know we can: we’re good enough, we have the players to continue our run and to push for the top one or two spots in the table.”
Defender Kosuke Kimura
What goes into completing that first comeback win in club history?
“At halftime, I told everybody that this is the biggest challenge. I didn’t want to say we never came back, because I didn’t want to put that in their head. I just told them this is the biggest challenge yet, if we’re gonna come back. Focus on the next chance: that’s what I told them. Gary said ‘this is our day, and they’ve [Bethlehem] never played on this field, either.’ We started bright even though we conceded the first goal. I think we had a good moment before that, maybe could have scored before. Then we knew that if we keep doing it, working at it…we have a good group of guys. These are guys who never cheat; they work hard. Everybody has everybody’s back. We just kept pushing and then we got the second goal, and that’s it.”
What did you see on your goal?
“When you play this position, sometimes it’s kind of awkward positioning. You can come join late so they don’t see you coming. I told Taylor [Washington] too: Maybe when the cross is coming, try to join as much as possible. Maybe we get something. We can get it and still press. I was running and the ball came, and I just told myself, ‘Just keep it down, keep it down.’ That’s all I focused on. I put it all the frame, and just tried to put it on the ground, and it worked.”
Gary said this was your first goal since he believes 2010, is that right?
“No, he doesn’t really pay attention [laughing]. I did score against FC Dallas in the Open Cup in 2017. It’s been two years now. Ken scored as a defender, I’m a defender too, that’s big. Shoutout to Ropapa [Mensah], he did an amazing job, so did Cameron [Lancaster], so did [Daniel] Ríos, all those guys. They worked so hard, they’re a threat always, they give us [defenders] a chance to [score], because they’re [Bethlehem] worried about them. Now sometimes we come in, or even Lebo [Moloto], Michael [Reed], Matt [LaGrassa], when we have those guys, we can be around the box, and it’s dangerous, you know? Sometimes you score, sometimes you don’t, but at least you’re there, and something can happen.”
Was springing Ropapa forward through the middle an important part of the gameplan?
“We know how he wants to play, and it was a narrower field. Everybody was talking about: just turn them, turn them, turn them. We had Ropapa, we had [Daniel] Ríos, two guys that are not easy to defend. We kept telling them – especially at the beginning of each half – to try and turn them. As long as you get help, you have energy. We told Ropapa, Ríos, Lancaster: keep going behind, which worked.”
Does dealing with adverse facility conditions make it a sweeter victory?
“I think we’ve been dealing with it many times, you know? You’ve seen the field: in the USL, you see that. Even our field, it’s a baseball field with great grass, but it is not wide or long. I think we know how to deal with it. It’s all about mental, I think: mental attitude and all that.”
What do you take forward from the win into the back half of the season?
“I think we have one of the best records in away league games. We have another away [in Hartford Sunday]: we’ve gotta keep doing that, but at the same time, we’ve gotta to get it going at home. That’s where it’s at. We do so well away, so if we do take care of business at home, it’s going to be good for everybody.”
How nice will it be to finally return home for the first time since May 18?
“We can’t wait. We’ve had so many away games, and I think we only have six or five away games left [it will be eight by the next home game], that means we have home games left. Now we can be excited to go back there and play in front of those people, so we can’t wait.”