Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith, striker Daniel Ríos, and midfielder Derrick Jones met with the media after a 3-1 win in the playoffs. Watch or read their thoughts on the victory over the Charleston Battery here.
“I’m absolutely delighted to win the first playoff game in the club’s history at home in front of our own fans. There’s a lot of tension – as you can imagine – in the build-up to this. I think the guys, even on a good run, felt the pressures of coming into a home playoff game. I thought throughout, their attitude, application, and quality in the game was very good. Bright start, a couple of other opportunities maybe to have increased our lead, and there was certainly a period when Charleston scored where just looked like we had just taken our foot off the gas a little bit, but to get that goal just before the break, I think, was a real difficult one for them to deal with. I know I’ve been in that position myself: mentally, it’s not easy going into that locker room, especially maybe contemplating some of the things that have happened in the last week. And then to come out in the second half, I thought we reinforced our position. We looked sound in a lot of
departments. Even though there were one or two moments that just looked brighter for them, I didn’t ever feel that there were too many clear cut opportunities for them to score, and of course absolutely delighted to see Derrick’s goal. It’s amazing what this game does and how sport is. You know he – what was it, five, six months ago? – that he has a very serious injury and then he goes and scores in the home playoff game and it’s almost redemption, so delighted for Derrick as well.”
Is it a relief to finally not play a close game against Charleston?
“The game itself probably unfolded in a similar sort of fashion or picture to what I might have imagined. They’re a good side. They’ve made the playoff in I think every year of their history and I think Mike’s own abilities are there for all to see. He’s been an incredible head coach and servant for the club, so it was never going to be easy. They had a wonderful win in the week; I’m sure they were very confident and buoyed by that, but our job was to – in our very first home playoff game – was to try and take advantage of what we have here in these surroundings. I thought the guys did a very good job of that. In terms of what they represent, I think if we cast our minds back to – and I’ve certainly cast mine back plenty of times – to the game that we lost 3-1 at their place, the cup game in the Open Cup, we played very, very well but still lost, couldn’t find the answer to the equation against them and whilst we beat them here it really was a nail-biting end, so this was our most dominating performance against them and it’s come at a very good time.
What was the message you wanted to get across to the team before the game?
“Well I think, if you look at the first goal, that really epitomized an awful lot that we’d worked on, which was to try and get higher up the field to put a seed of doubt in their mind as to what this game was going to be about, but to also get us in the right mindset and it took – what was it? – nine minutes to get on the scoreboard but the pressure, the interception, and from one challenge or interception from Matt LaGrassa, Lebo has a clear-cut opportunity on goal. Now if I could have written up an ideal or more ideal scenario, I’m not sure I could’ve. It was everything we could have asked for. It put us on the right track and I think mentally it gave us that opportunity to just warm into the game rather than feeling the tension of a nil-nil or a difficult first half performance where we haven’t broken the deadlock, which we’ve seen before. As I said, they’re a tough side. They’re really difficult to play against and have shown that throughout the year, but I think that opening goal settled a lot of people down.”
Were the lapses in the second half concerning?
“I don’t think there’s a team in the world, not too many, me and you could probably name one each, that absolutely dominate for 90 minutes of the game. My overriding thoughts and view of the performance and what happened, were that for large periods we looked, if not in control of the ball, in control of our actions and where the game was going. But you’re right, there were one or two moments. A terrific strike from Paterson on the left-hand side. I’ve got to say, I’m not sure he’ll hit too many more like that and I’ve watched him play quite a bit. It was a hell of a strike, but nevertheless, there were some moments where, in a cup game, where Charleston know if they don’t put some pressure on us, or at least take some chances, that they’re out. This is the end of their season. So I think you’re always going to get those moments where you feel as though it might just be drifting away from what you want but I felt as though there were plenty of moments in the game that we controlled. We created more than enough chances to win it.
“I’m not sure what our conversion rate was but I’m pleased to score three goals again of course, and delighted in the way that certain individuals have played. I thought Derrick was great when he came on. You know, I’d have to pick out Bolu as a real foundation to that midfield. The two center backs – other than Forrest’s lapse of concentration for the penalty – the two center backs were brilliant again. I mean look, there were lots of really good displays and most importantly of all, we can all look back on this and it’s another piece of what we’ve achieved in that internal fabric that you’re building within a group and we move on to next week to play Indianapolis which will be a very tough game, but we’re on the back of a really good win of five games and a winning run so it’s a nice place to be.”
What was your assessment of Alan Winn’s game?
“I thought the wide players – Taylor for sure in the first period was maybe a little
bit more effective. Alan had one terrific moment – but these guys are all about being
positive. And when we can get them in a positive groove and mindset, we get more out of
them. That’s not easy. There’s strong, stout defenders playing against them and it’s just not easy to always take these players on. But I was very pleased with what they offered the group. When they can get at those fullbacks, they stretch the game out, they offer Daniel more opportunity to get on the ball, they offer Lebo more opportunity. So I’m very pleased. I thought Ropapa was great when he came on as well. All in all, some really nice
performances and lots to be grateful for moving forward next week.”
How important is Daniel Ríos’s off-ball work in addition to his scoring?
“I’d have to say, he’s if not the best forward in this league, then I’d love to know who is. There’s a reason that the club have taken a chance to sign Daniel and take him to the next level because he has all the credentials that can make him a good player, a successful player and an effective player at the next level as well. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s gotten on the score sheet again. It shouldn’t surprise anyone because he scores regularly. So that’s a delight to have in your team. It’s a bit of a comfort blanket for me and for a lot of players out on the field, make no mistake about that. The goal that he scores, when we look back on it, is the winner. I know we get the third goal and it takes the pressure off everyone, but Daniel’s goal is the winner again. And I’ve always said that winning goals are worth double, and he’s scored some very, very important goals. It gets us into the locker room at halftime in a great mental place. It gives me an opportunity to be more positive with the group, and talk about the things that we can do to go on and win the game, rather than ‘we’ve played well, but’ …whenever you say ‘but’ to anyone, it’s not good. They know that there’s something coming beyond that that they’re not going to like. So it’s great to have him in the group. He’s such a genuine individual. Really pleased that he’s scored a goal, not only for himself but for the group.”
What’s going through your mind as you see Derrick’s run for the third goal?
“The goal, I mean, he must’ve stumbled 14 times. At one point, I thought he was crawling along on his knees, and I don’t know how he ended up getting an effort on goal anyway. But he managed to get one of those long legs out and force it goalwards, which has taken the pressure off everyone. You don’t want to be going into the last few minutes at 2-1, there’s that edginess and nervousness about the group. Really pleased, and he actually had an opportunity to get a second as well. Did very, very well. I think it’s taken him a little bit longer than maybe any of us would have liked. Including himself, to get to that point where I think you’re starting to see some of those qualities again that we saw before the injury. It’s not just about a bone healing or a ligament healing: having been in that position myself, there’s something up here as well that you’ve got to get over that injury, especially against a side that you ran into when you had that injury. Really pleased for him. Really pleased.”
Have been able to bond with Derrick through his process of recovering from injury?
“Yeah, Derrick’s no different to any of the other guys. I don’t treat him any differently, none of the guys that have got those deals for next year have been treated in any different way. And I think that, in itself, has enabled the whole group to function and create such a camaraderie. As far as his injury, of course I’ve been able to relate to some of the things that I’ve had as a player, but I’m not sure any player wants to hear that. He’s going through the pain. He just needs to be reassured that not only will he heal, but the body is an incredible machine and he’ll come back stronger, which he has. But it sometimes takes a little bit of time to get back to that sharpness and match fitness and confidence. There are so many things that go into somebody like Derrick and a creative player actually walking on the field and being able to produce what they’re capable of. So he’s moving ever closer to that, which I’m really pleased about, but nowhere near as
pleased as he is. He’ll be very pleased.”
How important has home-field advantage been in this stretch run?
“I thought the crowd was great tonight. When I looked out there and saw the numbers that had turned up, the atmosphere was terrific. It really did replicate what we all hoped and maybe felt would happen with our first home playoff game. It was a real nice vibe around the place, and the team did their part, and made it an exciting game, and the fans certainly did their part. They got behind the group when we needed it most: that sort of history and appreciation and understanding of what playoff games are all about are great. The reality for us was always going to be could we take advantage of three home games back-to-back, and we did. And it gives you a little bit of momentum. You walk into a game like this tonight, and there’s nothing out there that’s unnatural. We’ve been here the last three weeks. It’s the same routine as the last few weeks. It’s the same result as the last three weeks. And it won’t always work out that way, but the players in that locker room, like all sportsmen, need regularity and routine. And if they can find that, it makes it a lot easier to find that groove and that fluidity about this team. They’re playing this field as well as they’ve ever done. We’ve had the opportunity to come out here and train more than we’ve done before, and I think we’re seeing the rewards for that.”
Striker Daniel Ríos and midfielder Derrick Jones
So who had the nicer goal tonight?
Ríos: “It’s my guy.”
Jones: “I mean, obviously it’s me, but he scored a nice goal. That first goal is what matters.”
What was your mindset as you scored that one?
Jones: “I felt excited because that was the team I played against when I got injured. So, it’s like a little revenge back.”
Did you think about how Charleston was the team that you suffered the injury against?
Jones: “Even this morning when I woke up, I was like this is the team I played against when I got injured. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen again, and then I got a goal, so I guess that’s the revenge.”
What did you see and how did you stay composed?
Jones: “It was a one-v-one, and obviously we were trying to come down because we were winning 2-1. I just had to take a chance, so that’s what I did, and it resulted in a goal.”
How good does it feel to be building some form as the season boils down to single-elimination?
Ríos: “We talked about it last week that I will enter the playoffs with a good run after scoring two goals. Then I scored another goal tonight, so it feels good for me. I’m feeling confidence, and of course I have the back up of my team that we are playing great.”
How does playing in front of the home supporters boost your game?
Ríos: “It’s always great to have the fans at our back. We love to score goals in the second half when the fans are in that goal. It’s great after we score, and we celebrate with them. We feel the great support they give us during the whole game.”
What motivates you to produce?
Jones: “I think this is the first time for this team making playoffs. You come in the game, and you having the confidence to play is good first of all, and then you scoring is a good feeling. So I think everybody on the team had it on their mind that they would score, because this was the first playoff game, so it felt good.”
Does the idea that next year is a totally different situation in MLS affect the mentality?
Jones: “I think it is, but right now we are focused on what’s going on right now, and that’s what our mind is at right now.”