Nashville SSC head coach Gary Smith and defenders Darnell King and Bradley Bourgeois met with the media today. Read or watch what they had to say in advance of their game against New York Red Bulls II here.
What can you bring over from the previous game against New York?
“I’d like to think that we can consistently think about our opponent when we’ve played them before, and maybe some of the tendencies that they have. If you look at these “2 Teams” – and I’m only repeating myself – they tend to have a philosophy from the first team down. I think this team do it better than any other, which is to press, to re-press, and to play with a sort of energy and fearless nature that you don’t often see. They leave defenders like-for-like at the back – mind you, saying that, we’ve done that quite a bit in the last couple of games as well. They do play in a fearless fashion, and it gets them rewards at both levels. We’ll be very thoughtful about that. I thought we did a good job in New York. The big difference I believe will be the surface: the size of it, the nature of the field. Plastic does make it quicker and more difficult, so I think there’ll be more control for both sides, and it should make for a very good game.”
Focus on fixing defensive lapses?
“You have to remember that we’ve spoken an awful lot about not being effective enough at home: not scoring enough, not creating enough. Teams sitting in, how are we going to break them down? These are all of the questions that I’ve been trying to answer, as is the team. The weekend – and we can only go by the weekend, because it’s at the back end of two productive away games – we created a lot of chances, we scored three goals, and we looked incredibly bright going forward. There was a different dimension to the group, a different mindset. However, when you force the issue in that fashion – and we’ve been trying to tip the scales towards a more creative game – we’ve forgotten, we’ve been less focused, we’re more stretched-out, and that’s understandable because we’re trying to create space to score goals and be positive.Ant it means as soon as you lose the ball, there’s a reaction, there’s a change of mindset, there’s a change of intensity – all of the things that go into being a good defensive side have suddenly got to come back into that natural mindset. I’ve no doubt that this group have got all of the qualirties to have the right balance. However, the pendulum did go too far one way – I said it at the weekend – we did leave ourselves exposed. There have been some clips that we’ve looked at, and just the distances between the groups are too big. We’re all about what’s happening now, regaining, keeping the pressure on, which is wonderful. But there’s a time and a place, and I think we’ve just got to get the balance right again, and hopefully a couple of things that we’ve done in the last day or two – not a lot of time – but maybe even something to take into the game mentally, rather than practically, that we’ve been able to work on.”
“He’s not far away. He won’t be available for tomorrow, but he’s not far away. The weekend would certainly be the first time I’d think about maybe including him again. He’s a good defender, but we’ve got others. I don’t think it’s a case of having bad defenders, whoever they are. I think it’s a case of really being more demanding as part of that defensive unit. I think they’ve allowed other players – be it the wingbacks, who have put a lot of effort into the game going forward – get away with not recovering well enough and quick enough. I think the midfield have gotten stretched out a little bit. And I’m being tactical now, but the gaps have grown, and those guys have certainly got to be more demanding and more assertive. But we no doubt have the right players, the right quality. I don’t have any issues with the individuals we have, we’ve got to just find the happy medium now.”
Was locking down in the second half against Ottawa encouraging or do the two goals mean its discouraging nonetheless?
“It is really. I think we finished the game stronger. They looked out on their feet towards the end, and they put a lot into it. We know what that’s like when you’ve got a lot of travel. To score the third goal and then concede again was really the most disappointing aspect of all of that. If you look at the goals, management of the last five minutes of the first half was poor, and they took advantage with a terrific free kick. The goal that François scores is good enough to win any game. I look back on it, it’s a sliced delivery out, we don’t defend it well, but nevertheless, it’s an absolutely wonderful strike. And then saying that, they’ll look at Wal Fall’s goal as well, and it’s a very very good strike from distance. I like to think that over the course of the season, you don’t fall foul of quality goals like that too often. Nevertheless, our job’s not to allow it to happen. For that opportunity to be there, it’s to be tighter, it’s to be frugal, it’s to limit opportunities at goal: they had 15 efforts at goal. As a group, we pride ourselves in keeping our goal very much intact, but also limiting other teams to the sights they get of it. That’s really the mindset we’ve got to get back to.”
Connor Sparrow’s top form – overtaking Matt?
“I don’t think so. I think they’ve both been in very good form. Look, Matt stops us from going behind against Hartford with a penalty save. He makes a terrific 1v1 save in the firs half against Ottawa when [Mour] Samb goes through. I’ve not got any problems with either of my goalkeepers. As I’ve said, my biggest challenge is keeping them both active and stimulated. Matt has conceded five goals in the last two games, but when I look at the goals, I don’t think that there’s anything that we could point at and say ‘that was down to bad goalkeeping or poor technique.’ I’m extremely happy with both of them. Connor will get a couple of games again now, and who knows. At some point, it may be that nature takes its course and one of them is unable to fulfill their rotation, but at the moment, there’s no game that one of them suits and the other one doesn’t. They’re both performing very well in my eyes, and I’m happy for them to keep competing and keep each other on their toes.”
Squad rotation with a three-game week?
“Well you’ve seen before that there will be one or two bodies that might change out in this game to keep some competition and one or two pairs of fresh legs in certain spots. I always think that the third game in the week is the one that you look at most of all. If guys have played one or two especially tough games, you know, I’m expecting a tough game tomorrow, you wouldn’t expect any less. So therefore it’ll be demanding, we’re getting into that period of time where the temperature’s pumped up a bit. Guys are finding it more and more difficult to recover, and there’s dehydration involved, and so on. I think the end of the week presents probably a bigger challenge than it does tomorrow night. But I always look what’s happened in a game, what players are in a good place, have we got any injuries, are players struggling with knocks? And then of course what do we tactically need to do. Carolina are in a good run themselves, tough at home, they’ve got quite a unique setup there: wonderful field but a big field, so it presents different problems. Let’s get tomorrow night out of the way. I’ve got a good group, but I’ve got 17 outfield players that are fit at the moment, so therefore there’s not a huge amount of room for maneuver. But what I know is, whoever comes in is of very high-caliber.
How has the move to RCB worked out?
“It’s sort of different, you have to adapt. I played there before last year with my old team. It’s really all about just adapting to the position and knowing your role. You’ve gotta have your good distribution and obviously hold it down in the back to try and keep shutouts. Our last two games, we didn’t really do that as well, so we’re going to turn that around and try and get them next game.”
What allows you to have so much versatility in positions? Athletic, mental?
“I think athleticism goes a long way when you – to be able to be a utility. But I think also experience as well. I have played in multiple positions throughout my career, so I kind of know the logistics of each position. And just the focus in kind of doing what the role entails, and listening to your coach. Yeah, just really adapting.”
What have you seen from NYRBII?
“They’re a high-pressing, active team. Young guys that like to go fast and get forward. We’re preparing for that, preparing to stop that and counter them when they do press high. High energetic team, and we’re just going to match them and get the win.”
Do you have to be intentional with the ball at the back against the press?
“It actually makes us be on our toes a lot more. You should always be on your toes when you’re playing, but I mean, you’re going to have to play quicker and sharper, and when you see those gaps you need to put the ball where it needs to be, so your offensive players can get the job done. It’s going to be a high-paced game, and everybody needs to be sharp when the time comes.”
How have the relationships developed being on the interior of the formation next to different players than maybe you started the season alongside?
“Playing as a right back the majority of my career, you kind of know… I’m playing centerback how I would want my centerback to play me if I was playing right back. I’m trying to get Kosuke high so he can get in chances to cross. We’ve built up a good relationship there. I thin kit’s coming along in the last couple of games. You can see in the last two games, he’s had great crosses, a lot more I think than you’ve seen in the majority of our games. So that’s helping, but I know with this team, we’ve gotta be smart about their counters. I may have to pull him back at times, but we also want to impose on them as much as they think they’re going to impose on us.”
How do you strike a balance between taking the game to them versus wanting to be conservative and not letting them dictate?
“Just get back into your shape. Ut’s a job you have to do, you know. We’re trying to be disciplined in what we do defensively. Yeah, we’re trying to score, but ultimately we know they’re going to push high, so we’ve gotta know that we have a second job to get back into our shape and defend their high press and their counter. Hopefully we score our counters earlier and faster than they do, and see the game out how it plays out: hold on and get the shutout and win the game.”
Is there a different mentality arriving on the field as a halftime sub, or is it just going out to do the job?
“I mean, to be honest, it’s my job. I come on, my mindset is go out and defend to the best of my ability to help the team any way that I can. I came on for a reason, so just there to do my job and be me, really.”
Are the centerback responsibilities different in the different shapes?
“I think your role changes in particular between who you’re playing, what position, what formation we’re going to play in. BUt at the end of the day, it’s just defending. Whether that’s a four-back or three-, this is the first time I’ve been in the middle of the three. I feel like it’s nice. You get to see more of the whole picture. It changes just a bit.”
What do you expect from NYRBII?
“They young, they’re energetic, they like to press. They are high-energy all of the time. They make it difficult to play out, for sure, because they commit so many numbers. But I think they’re beatable – as you saw last weekend. It’s just kind of another step towards where we want to go.”
How do you help find the balance between scoring more goals but also letting in too many lately?
I mean, you take that one on the chin, really. That was the storyline last year, right? We couldn’t score, but we could defend and keep people to zero. This year it’s – I wouldn’t say the opposite – but for us, I think it’s just more mentality. It’s just about locking in, just being sharper, especially when we have the ball. It’s kind of when this year where we’ve had the ball, we’ve had high numbers up the field, and all of a sudden we kind of just get counter-attacked or something happens like that and we have a little breakdown. Just mentality: I think if we can sharpen that up, we’ll be alright.”
How has the team improved on set pieces?
“Honestly, I think just things are clicking, really. I think we have brought in some new guys, but just the areas that we’re put in, we know what we want to get done. Last year it was kind of just ‘hey we’re out here, you make a run here, you make a run there.’ It seems like we have a process, we have something that we’re trying to achieve, and we’re getting it done. Since we saw success, I think it’s really helped us.”