Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and two of his players met with the media today. Watch or read their comments here. Top photo from file, but v. good.
How excited are you to be back home?
“Pleased to be back home, number one: There’s no doubt about that. It seems to be that, when we go away, we’re away for a period of time. I’m sure there’s some issue with scheduling at First Tennessee that affects that. But delighted to be back, we come come back into town a confident group after a very decent four-game run away from home with three victories in there. So the guys are happy about that. They look in a good place, they look confident. I do honestly think that the mindset in this group now is to reinforce that form, and to make sure that whatever happens from now on out, we’re as productive at home as we can be. We’ve proved that our away form can be of a decent level. We’ve certainly got to bring our own form to that type of standard now.”
How do you translate the form to home games?
“It would be easy for me to say ‘look, this is what we need to do, and that’s how we need to do it,’ and that would get it done. It just sadly doesn’t work that way. What you tend to find – as I’ve said before – when you’re at home, teams will come in with a slightly different mentality, and our challenge is to make sure that, in as many ways as possible, we can replicate some of the qualities awasy from home. When I say that, it’s not always as easy as it seems, because the game opens up away from home. The pressure’s not on us to force the game, and teams tend to be a little bit more positive and open-minded when they are playing at home. The reinforcements for us are: can we control the game with the ball? Are we able to create opportunities? A glut of goal-scoring moments last weekend, which are fresh in our mind. But on the back end of that, there’s certainly an area of our game with such dominance in territorial advantage where the focus from one or two of the defensive players, just to deny any counter-attacking moments, and to really put any seed of positivity completely out of the minds of the group that’s coming in. This is not just Ottawa: this is an ongoing challenge. You see many many times at all levels where teams have got control of the game, and they get done with a sucker-punch. Teams counter-attack well, and out of the sort of face of victory, you end up losing or drawing a game. So there are two or three areas that we’re focusing on, but reinforcement of some of the good moments that we’ve had thus far is uppermost in their mind.”
What do you think Ottawa has changed?
“I think the things that have changed with this group for the most part is the confidence that has grown in the way that the season has unfolded for them. They’re a side that take great pride in keeping the ball. Nikola’s done a wonderful job in setting a technical standard in this group. And when they’ve got the ball, they’re bloody difficult to get it back off of. So us trying to control portions of the game, I think will be detrimental for them. Some of their weakest areas are when they’ve got to defend for periods of time, so certainly want to take advantage of that. But in terms of changing anything, I think they’ll be mindful of what has happened – if he’s not, then that would be strange. I would think that the players having been on a good run – eight unbeaten – will be looking at their last defeat, which was us, and saying, ‘well, we need to show slightly better than that’ and I’m sure they want to keep this run going. So whatever it takes to try and get a result at our place, I’m sure that will be paramount for the manager and for the players.”
Ottawa’s defense v. Nashville Offense
“I honestly think their defensive record is based around having the ball. I’m not saying they’re not capable defensively, because they are. But if you look at their stats, they maintain the ball longer than any other team in the league. They pass the ball more than any other team in the league, which means they’ve got the ball more -= or certainly for longer periods. So the key for us is to take the ball back. The more we can have it, I think the less that they grow in confidence, and certainly we can exploit one or two areas of their team that I do believe we’re capable of doing. But you’ve got to have the ball. They can make it tough for us. They are a good footballing team, and they’re very confident. But we’re also looking to get ourselves – or keep ourselves – on a good run, and to reinforce some of our recent form. It should be an excellent game.”
Gold Cup and Nashville as a soccer city
“The Gold Cup being here, I think it’s a semifinal, I don’t know if there’s been a way of determining whether or not the US would come here if they’re in the semifinal of course. We would all hope that they are. It only galvanizes what goes on with professional soccer. If it was the US, I think it would be great for a lot of the community. However, I’m sure there are lots of individuals – be it Mexico – in town, you’d like to think those are the two big names that are going to make the semifinals: they’re big attractions. You’d love to see a big crowd, I think it just continues to build this momentum for us for sure in the city, of moving towards MLS. As far as having pro soccer in Nashville, I think it’s something that the community’s been waiting for for a long time. If you look at the way the youth organizations are growing, if you look at the support we get, certainly looking back at the ICC and Gold Cup two years ago now, we had some wonderful crowds, there was some terrific support, and that really did kick-start what we have, which has been some terrific games, some great support, I think we’ve built some wonderful memories, and in any professional sport, be it international or domestic, I think those memories are what everyone’s after – for good and bad, hopefully for good. You want to see those last-minute goals, you want to see victories and heroes being made, and individuals that supporters can really get behind and maybe connect with. I think our guys have done a great job of that. When you see the internationals come into town, it does likewise. It just builds that appetite for all supporters.
Looking back to the road trip and forward to the home stand
“I think obviously last year coming into this season we’ve added a few to the group of guys, and midway through the season, you can tell that there’s a little bit of chemistry that’s already forming. I think the last two games have been proof of that. From being down a goal and coming back, that just shows the resiliency, the connection, and the belief that we have in each other. I think obviously the last game was good proof of that.”
Difference in attack
“To be honest, it’s a combination of both: you have a few guys that we’ve brought in, we have guys that came back – obviously a lot of us came back from last year – so there’s been a lot of… I’m playing with Ropapa or Daniel up top, so I played wiht Ropapa last year and know his movement, now with Daniel: I think it’s a combination of both. Being able to score goals, put them in, I think we can still do better in terms of conceding goals, but we’re heading in the right direction.”
Showing off a wider skillset with the poacher’s goal Sunday?
“I think it’s always good to get a goal. I don’t care if it’s Ken Tribbett or Liam Doyle at the back, you get a goal, you celebrate it like it’s Christmas. I think for me, I had a couple of good looks first-off, and I could have easily gone into my shell and beat myself up about it, but just kept on going. I figured that if I could get two chances in the first half, I can get another three or four in the second half. To get that rebound was a good feeling, to actually help us tie the game, and to go on to win the game.”
Increased confidence through down periods of finishing, knowing that you have more reason to believe the form will come back even over the course of a single game?
“I think it goes to a combination of a lot of things. It’s tough when you’re in a situation when you’re not playing well and you’re not converting goals. But I think last two games, for example, we were playing well. For some reason, if eleven guys on the field are playing well, a lot of good things happen. You end up creating chances, even if you lose a ball, there’s that belief. I think the last two games have actually proved that. We went to Bethlehem, we were down 1-0, but before the goal, we were actually creating chances. It’s just a matter of converting them, and it’s good that we’ve been converting chances.”
Mood among the team
“I think it’s good that we’ve been winning. Nobody wants to lose obviously, and I think we are a group of guys that this is the only year that we are going to have all of us together. I think we have a good group of guys that we can actually challenge for something. To actually see us go undefeated for that amount of games, I think it’s a good feeling, and to know that ‘you know what, we can actually do this.'”
Forward Daniel Ríos
What are the thoughts coming off a successful road trip?
“We have a good run right now. We haven’t lost in six games right now, so we feel good. Right now, the team has the right mindset, and we’re preparing well for tomorrow’s match.”
How has Ropapa Mensah emerged?
“It’s good. Players like Ropapa who haven’t been playing starting since the beginning of the season are performing well. It’s good for the team that everybody’s engaged in this part of the season. It’s mid-season and we need to achieve all of the most points that we can.”
What do you remember from the first game against Ottawa?
“Well, I remember that I scored two goals and we won the game. Difficult surface over there – it was the first game at home for them. A big win for us, but I think a lot of weeks have passed, so the team has performed better. It’s a different team right now: they are coming with a better run like us, so it will be a good game tomorrow.”
What has Ottawa improved?
“They are scoring goals: that’s the main thing that they improved. They are scoring the chances that they have.”
“It’s perfect for the team. Soccer is becoming big here. The crowd of fans, it’s growing bigger, and excited to have USA or maybe Mexico here for the semifinal. Of course I will be here, so I’m very excited for that.”
Growth of soccer in Nashville
“It’s good for us, you know? We like that. We’re happy that we have that kind of tournaments here in Nashville. We as a team enjoy it: we love soccer, and if we have the big tournaments with big national teams, it’s good for us.”