Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and his players Daniel Ríos and Derrick Jones met with the media today. Ready what they said in advance of their Tuesday game against Birmingham Legion.
Head coach Gary Smith
What was the focus coming out of Saint Louis to prepare for this game?
“I think this 10-day break has come at a good time. There were a lot of emotions after the Saint Louis game: a lot of frustration and disappointment, for sure. We certainly weren’t at our best, and Saint Louis did a very good job of taking care of business for the third game in a week. To your point, I think we’ve had enough time to study, have another look at some of the things that were not right on the day, after being on a very, very good run. We’ve had a bit of time for rejuvenation and to get some of those tired legs in this very warm weather down here in the right place. We’ve had plenty of time, in terms of preparation for this important game on Tuesday.”
Longer rest helpful?
“Maybe a little bit of both. I do honestly think that there’s an opportunity to study your opponent a little bit more, and to layer maybe one or two other details into the game that you might not get time to do if you’re turning around mid-week, especially. As far as the group, I think all players want to play. I don’t think – if you asked any of them – that they really want to train, they just want to play. When you’re in a good run, those games coming round thick and fast are full of confidence, and players are buoyant. When you have a defeat, there’s something different in that, it’s nice to get back on track again and have a game to try and change that mentality. But I also think it gives you an opportunity to really, I think, digest what’s gone on. We were on a very decent run, we put ourselves in a very good position: it was the second occasion that we failed to win a game and take ourselves top, which for everyone was bitterly disappointing. A few things came out of that, I think we’re better for it. We’ve got five out of six at home, we’re looking forward to that run. We’ve got some really tough games in there, and that starts with Tuesday. They’re in a terrific vein of form themselves, I know they got beat by Saint Louis last Friday, but they were nine unbeaten before that, and I’m sure that Tommy will be looking desperately at getting a result against us, and keeping their playoff push firmly on track.”
What has changed to allow Birmingham to improve over the course of the year?
“I think maybe a combination of things since we last met them. I know they were suffering with some injuries, so one or two of those bodies are back. I think they’ve been able to secure the likes of Williams and Wright up front, who have given them, a really good dimension. I think also, we’ve had this last year: you end up in that second half of the season feeling more comfortable about the group that you’re playing in, that you’re working with, some of the aspects of the game they they’ve been trying to – maybe Tommy’s been trying to enforce in the group, look like they’re more natural. They’ve adapted when they’ve needed to: they’ve played a 4-1-4-1 where they need to, the diamond has served them well when they’ve played that way. But just the natural feel of a group that have been together longer, and maybe some of the details of the systems they’re playing are starting to show their face.”
Injury update on Daniel Ríos and Derrick Jones?
“We need to see how those guys are in the morning. They’re both in a good place – far, far better than they were just maybe a week ago. Daniel, I think, was more of a precaution than anything: he’d had some issues in his groins, but there wasn’t anything dramatic there. The downtime has done him a world of good, and he’s back to a good place: looked sharp in training.
“Derrick’s progressed nicely. Physically, he’s in a much better place: his injury is fully healed, there’s no problems there. But it’s getting back into the sharpness and the swing of training every day, and his body being back to a professional soccer player rather than a professional socializer.”
Do you keep an eye on the table in the last six games?
“Look, I don’t know whether they guys are as much – I’m sure they are – but it’s not something that we talk about every day. I think everyone needs to be reminded of what this final six games represents. It really does offer up the opportunity further down the line to have an advantage in some way, shape, or form, for longer, possibly, than some of the other teams, and it depends where we finish. The other aspect of it is that we’ve got five out of six at home, and I think we’re all desperately keen to finish off the season on a really good note at home. Our away form’s been terrific. We’ve got this glut of games at home to finish up. When we looked at it when the schedule was first put out, I think we all looked and felt, ‘that will be brilliant. We finish up in good confines, and comfortable surrounds.’ But it comes with some added pressure now. You’ve got some very good teams coming to town, and of course the position we’re in is still a precarious one for champions in the Eastern Conference, for a top-four finish, or even outside of that. The only way that we can be assured of something more positive is to keep winning games, and certainly what we have to do Tuesday.”
Do you feel like this home stretch is an opportunity to get a rhythm going at home?
“Again, there’s a couple of things here. The first one is yes, there’s some rhythm. I think we’ve been away from home back-to-back, or a trio of occasions, that have presented its own problems. The field keep coming up and being put back down at First Tennessee Park can sometimes be, I think, a detriment to the way that we want to play. At this point in time, with the baseball season over, and just us occupying the stadium, it gives us a real opportunity to make that a homefield advantage if he hasn’t been so before. We’ll get used to the field more, I’d like to get out there more and work on it more. Any advantage that we can have from there after these last five games is going to be a help.
Striker Daniel Ríos
How are you feeling health-wise?
“I feel I am getting my fitness, getting back my fitness and touches. I feel better every day. I have less than a week of training, so I’m getting better.”
When you were stuck on the bench, did you watch the games and see ways you could have helped the team?
“Yes, I think there’s a lot of areas that maybe I could be able to help the team. On the scoring line of course, with scoring goals, but also with defensively, or something like the creation of opportunities for others.”
What did you see from Cameron Lancaster having the chance to watch him play in your absence?
“Yeah, he played well – they play well together; it was two strikers, Ropapa and Cameron. He played well. I think he needed more gametime to be in a rhythm, and to show what he is capable of doing inside the field.”
What do you remember from the other Birmingham game, and what can you build from it?
“It was at the beginning of the season. We were chasing our rhythm, adapting to each other. We were a new team, getting to know each other. Now, it has to be a different game, because we are in a better rhythm. We know each other, we know how we play, and of course we need to go out there tomorrow to create opportunities and find the goals.”
What can you do with five home games in the final six to develop a homefield advantage?
“Winning games. That’s the way to change that. If we win four of the five that we have, we change everything. We’ve been better at the road, but we have five more games at home, so that’s a lot. We can change it if we win three or four games.”
Does having them back-to-back help?
“I think at the beginning and the middle of the season, we were more on the road, instead of home. I remember one time that we didn’t play here for 40 days; it was a long time. So now we have five games in a row, and we will be able to adapt to the field, because it’s different, and play the way and the style that the coach wants, and of course try to do our best and win all of them.”
Do you keep an eye on the standings?
“We are updating every day: we are looking at the standings we are chasing the first place to earn… I think we have 15 points on the road, and to earn the most points we can in the end of the season.”
Midfielder Derrick Jones
How has your recovery from ankle injury been going?
“It’s just been good so far. I’m just taking it easy, just little by little, but doing pretty good so far.”
Does your form and fitness come back from muscle memory, or are there some things you feel like you’re starting from scratch with?
“Yeah, it’s coming back, just little by little. I have to rebuild it back, because I’ve been out for a while now. I’m sure we’ll get there.”
Anxious to get back out there?
“Yeah, I am, but obviously I’m happy to get back.”
What will you be able to bring to one of the thinner positions on the roster when you are fully back?
“I guess it all – whatever I bring, it doesn’t really matter if we don’t play as a team. I guess I’m going to come in and just work hard, and try to win games.”
Frustrating to not be able to help the team at times?
“Yeah, it’s always – whenever the team drops points, it hits you like, ‘I wish I were out there to play with them,’ but you know, hopefully soon, I’ll be able to play with them.”
Keeping an eye on the standings?
“Yeah, I watch it every day, I look at it every day. Because you know, some of the games, we’ve played more, then I watched it like almost every day.”
With that in-depth knowledge of the standings, do you see the last six games as an opportunity to push for the top?
“You know, we have one away game and I think we play the last four or five games at home, so I think we’ll finish strong for sure.”
How has the adjustment been to a new city, and how have your teammates helped with that?
“They’ve been helping me a lot. I haven’t really been out-out there like that, but I’m getting to know the city more now.