Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and striker Daniel Ríos met with the media before their team’s matchup with North Carolina FC this weekend. Watch or read their comments here.
Head coach Gary Smith
The win Tuesday only raises the stakes on Saturday’s game. What’s that mean for your mental state as a team?
“As we went into these last three home games, really the feel about the group and the attitude and the picture that we were looking at was: we’ve got to win al three if we’re really going to trouble Pittsburgh. The first hurdle has been jumped, and of course in pretty exciting fashion, but as you said, it doesn’t really alter what Saturday’s about. If we’re going to challenge for the title in the East, then we’ve got to win Saturday. The Titans’ stadium has been a good place for us; I think it’s an inspiring place for the group. We normally get good support there. There’s a slightly different feel when you go there, of course, because of the sheer size of the stadium and what that means.
“So, after Tuesday’s result, everyone’s in great mental place, as you might imagine. I’ve got a pretty much full fit squad to choose from. I mean listen, we’re in a good place. I don’t think anyone’s really got too over-excited about Tuesday’s game. Now we’ve moved on, because, as you’ve said, it could mean very little if we don’t win on Saturday evening.”
Pittsburgh’s task is to handle business on the road in the final two games. What does it mean to have your final pair in front of a home crowd?
“You’ve got to continue on that road. Look, the away games always offer up something different to any traveling team. We’ve been involved in some difficult journeys: you can get delays, the hotel’s not quite what you want, sleeping pattern of the players, sometimes the food doesn’t quite reach the expectations that you’re after. There are so many different things and that’s before you run into the home crowd, the pitch, the stadium, the changing room. You know, it’s very difficult to go away from home and win games. So therefore when you do pick up points, you’re very very pleased. Your home form, normally, underpins whatever you’re going to achieve. So while we’re delighted of course to be on a good run at home, we change venue, which to begin with I always felt was going to be a bit of a problem. But I think the guys, as I’ve said, are inspired to go to the Titans’ stadium. Everyone looks forward to going to that venue.
“We’re going to play a very talented Carolina team: I do believe they’re one of the most underestimated teams in the league. Dave [Sarachan]’s done a wonderful job with them, they’re a good footballing team, they’ll likek the venue themselves and the surface. It will play into what they’re about, but it also gives us a massive lift. If we can get our job done, I think we’re going to run into an Atlanta side at the moment who are on the best run of the season for themselves. No one’s taking any of these games for granted, and it’s certainly one at a time. Big job, but one we can certainly overcome.”
Does playing on a bigger pitch (like Carolina is used to) reduce your home-field advantage over some of the idiosyncrasies of First Tennessee Park?
“As I’ve said, we’re inspired by it, so you can suspect that any team is coming in. It’s a great venue, the facilities are wonderful, the surface will be great. So therefore yeah, of course, if you’re a good footballing side, then you’re looking forward to getting on a field like that. I think the difference is when you’re at home, you’re hoping that the crowd are going to give you that lift. There should be a good crowd there tomorrow. We’re on the back of a good run. The players are confident. There’s plenty of other things that play into our hands. As I’ve said at the very outset: there’s a lot of difficulties when you travel. We certainly don’t want them to settle into any sort of rhythm, so our gameplan will be positive. I think the guys at the moment really want to play on the front foot, and take the game to any team: they’re in that mood. They’re looking bright and purposeful, and I just want to take really, take the leash off of them and let them go and play. I truly believe that these last two games will be about attitude, mentality – we’re coming toward the playoff part os the season, and as you saw on Tuesday night, it really did replicate that, and we want to make sure that Saturday’s game is very, very similar.”
What lessons can you take from the frustrating loss to NCFC at their venue?
“Well they played very very well in the first half. We played a slightly different shape in a 3-5-2 than them, and it caused us a lot of problems. The game was won for them in the first half, as we now know. Second half we were better, but the damage was done. What I’ve seen and what we encountered was a confident, very technical, intelligent and appreciative side with some nice dimensions. In that I mean: they’ve got some pace, they’re physically capable, they’re certainly not that type of side that you can overrun physically. We’re expecting a similar type of team who will have a good gameplan. They have a very experienced coach, Dave Sarachan, who will certainly be coming to our place with an idea of what he wants to try and achieve. To that degree, we need to go about our business very professionally, take no chances, and just make sure that the evening’s soccer is as complete as we can make it.”
Particularly in the case of Justin Davis, should we expected to see the squad rotate on the run into the playoffs?
“There’s certainly players that – as you’ve said there – are getting themselves into a nice groove, and this is the time of year you want it. Early part of the season, new group – or a group that you’re looking around and saying, ‘well we’ve got immense depth. How do these guys get their opportunity A: to fight for a position in the team, and B: don’t forget, they’re all trying to earn a contract for the next level, as well – there was a thought in mind mind of keeping things buoyant, and allowing players or giving players the opportunity to show what they’re about. We’re certainly getting to that point where you’re seeing a bit of continuity in the group: a goalkeeper who’s played more often, a backline to a large degree that’s been a little more consistent; The injuries in midfield have made things a tad easier and clearer to put out on the field. I think the creative areas of the field are the one that have seen the most rotation. Other than this gentleman standing next to us who’s been magnificent all year [striker Daniel Ríos], I think the other guys have had their moments, have looked confident at times, and then maybe dipped a little bit at certain stages. I think we’re now in a position where you’re seeing a core of the team that are taking the field more regularly, and then around that, some guys who are looking confident, are looking bright, are looking inspired, and they’re the ones I’ve got to make some decision on on matchday most weekends.”
Striker Daniel Ríos
What can you learn from the 1-0 loss in Carolina to have better offensive output?
“I think the first half, we didn’t play as we want to. It was n’t what we were expecting to do. We conceded a goal in the first half, and the second half, we played as we’re used to playing, but it wasn’t enough because they stood back, they were defending the whole second half, so it was hard for us to score.
“But tomorrow, the feelings are different, and we are ready for this. We feel more compact as a team with the pressing, the attacking, defending and everything. We feel the confidence to have a good result tomorrow.”
How important is it to get that first goal so they can’t sit back?
“Yeah, I mean, we will go to try to score in the first 10 minutes. That’s our mentality. If we can do it – like against Louisville – we can control the rest of the game. We won’t rest if we score, we will try to score more goals.”
How do you work to generate the offensive chances against a compact team like this?
“I think it’s a whole team effort. If we move the ball quick with good movements in the attacking players, it’s easy for me and for anyone else to find the space that’s in behind, or even go to a pocket to find the ball over there and start to create: play wide, make crosses, maybe some speed balls.”
Do you like to see your defenders score?
“It’s fun, it’s fun. I feel good: I feel good for them and I’m happy for them, that they can contribute not only defensively but also attacking and scoring goals. It’s great to see my teammates that can score goals – and always in the last minute.”
Have you kept an eye on the Golden Boot race?
“I’m always looking at the Golden Boot. I missed three games, and it was three games that I could have made it more tied up there. At this point of the season that we have only two more games left, my main focus is to earn the first spot and try to win the conference.”