Nashville SC’s second preseason friendly of 2020 was a 3-1 loss to fellow MLS club Chicago Fire FC. Head coach Gary Smith and winger Randall Leal – who scored the first (unofficial) goal in club history – spoke with the media after the game.
Read their full comments below.
Head coach Gary Smith
“Second game, I certainly at this point, am looking at the positives that are going to come out of all of our preseason games. So at this stage, in my mind, having just finished a decent encounter against the Fire, is all about where at we at, what have we been working on? I came away from the game against Elfsborg – whilst I was very pleased with one or two of the aspects of that game – probably looked, as a lot of people did, at our lack of penetration and creative edge, and these last few days since we’ve been back from a very small break in between phases of preseason, we’ve looked heavily on getting in behind back lines, using some the pace and creative nature of some of the players we have. I have to be honest: after a bit of a slow and sloppy start, we got into a very nice gear and not only scored a goal, but I felt as though were certainly in a position to be on level terms at the break.
“I was just mentioning here to the staff around me, you have three days where you have two flights and a day off for the players in between, and then we’ve had two very heavy days that may well have played into a bit of a slow start. I felt as though we offered Chicago the opportunity to take the initiative. From that point on, I thought showed a very good attitude: warmed to the game well. Certainly lessons to be learned, and certainly over the course of the next couple of days before we play Louisville, there will certainly be things that we can look at and layer into the next match.”
How did you evaluate the performances of the second group – that entered the contest after halftime?
“It’s an ongoing evaluation as you may very well imagine. What I’ve tried to do is give, I think, a core of players a nice opportunity to start to build some relationships, whilst also understanding that we have five games in two and a half weeks. That second group that came on today, I’m really classing them as group one and group two at the moment – I still thought there were some very decent performances. Two and a half weeks into preseason, with a brand new group, with the vast majority of players never having seen the field in the same team together. I think we have to be sensible and really think about where we’re at. In that second group, I thought Derrick Jones showed very well, Alan Winn looked very bright. I thought Taylor Washington, after maybe a slow 10 minutes – and it’s strange how both groups started very very slowly. With that penalty within a minute for Chicago, it gave them a bit of impetus again. I thought both groups showed that they’re in a decent place physically. There are very much signs of connections throughout the group, and there’s still plenty to work on. The lessons that we take out of these games will certainly serve us well when we go into the work towards the next game.”
How did the first live preseason action go for Daniel Ríos, David Accam, and Miguel Nazarit?
“David has had a bit of a sore hamstring, and probably needs a bit more work to get up to speed for the sort of competition that he’s going to see inside the 45 minutes that the other guys have. Daniel Ríos is coming off a bit of a hip problem, and that’s why he didn’t play against Elfsborg. Of course, Miguel came into the group slightly late because of some paperwork problems getting in the country, but I felt all three of them – Daniel in particular given the amount of time he was on the field – started to show some of the signs we saw last year. Forwards in particular tend to take a little more time to find their scoring boots. That creative appreciation around each other – Daniel had a cvouple of sights at goal, and certainly as we move on I’d like to see the target being tested. But he’ll be pleased he’s getting into good areas and there was plenty of physical contact there today that will serve him well.”
What did you think of Randall Leal’s performance?
“Randall’s shown already what an immense talent he is, I have to say. I’ve been incredibly impressed with his individual quality and ability to take players on and to be creative. I think the biggest challenge that Randall will have is adapting to a new environment, new teammates, a brand new league, and those challenges that come with it. He’s trying at the moment to form a bit of a relationship with Daniel Lovitz, I’m not going to pigeonhole him to the left side of the field, because I think there will times where he will have to play on the other side of the field, even underneath, maybe, a striker at certain times, because he’s that adaptable. IN terms of what he’s given us as a creator and a spark and a catalyst for some of our attacking play, I certainly couldn’t be happier. Delighted to see him get on the scoresheet today.”
“I didn’t see much of [his game for Costa Rica against the United States last week], I had some other commitments down here. I was all cranked up to see the game, and he wasn’t starting, so disappointed with that. I saw some highlights of it – he’s disappointed with the way that second half started. We have a young 23-year old attacking player, who has immense potential. The fact that he’s been playing for his country and involved in the international scene for a decent period of time tells us everything we need to know about the type of player he is. As I’ve said, he’s got a new challenge, it’s not a challenge that he hasn’t faced before having gone out and played in Belgium, and as we move towards the start of the season, my hope is that we see not only the sort of quality Randall has, but a bit more of a connection with other players, more of an understanding. We’re all going to have to be patient here, this is not going to come overnight.”
How has the chemistry built in the central midfield, particularly with the three players who started this game?
“I think it goes without saying, you’ve got guys: Anibal Godoy, Dax, and Hany, that have played at a very very good level – and certainly in Anibal and Dax tremendous experience [in MLS]. That often lends itself to people adapting quickly, and understanding not just the players around them, but what I’m asking the group to achieve. The guys who came on, in many cases, a little bit younger. Certainly with Brian Anunga and Derrick Jones – even though Derick’s got an MLS background, he’s still only 22 – you’ve got a very different set of individuals there. However, what I will say is, when you’re involved in preparation games, there are a number of things that I certainly like to see. The first one is: moving in the right direction physically and athletically – the workload needs to be at a certain level – I’ve certainly liked to see some signs of the areas and topics we’ve already touched on since we’ve been in camp: I can tick that box. It also gives us a bit of a picture of some of the difficulties that we’re going to run into. Where do we need to be a little more thoughtful? Where is there a necessity for a little bit more work? The one thing that really struck on today was that we started slowly, too casually, and one or two of the guys coming off, the first thing they said was, ‘listen, if we think we’re going to get away with that come the 29th, we need to think again.’ So the guys are appreciative of what’s needed ands what’s necessary. As I’ve said a little bit earlier, circumstances around this game were always going to be tough. .The guys flew back to Nashville, had a day off, flew back into camp, we’ve had two heavy days to get ourselves back on track again physically, and I thought they looked very heavy-legged in the opening 15-20 minutes. The signs of connection, the signs of understanding are certainly there to see, I think, and we need to build on that.”
Do you feel the forwards – particularly striker Dom Badji and right winger Abu Danladi – are starting to find better connections?
“I certainly felt as though the guys were more effective. Was the connection between the two visible? I’d have to certainly look again; I don’t think there was anything outrageously productive between the pair of them or connected. However, as I’ve said 10 minutes ago, we’ve focused heavily on being a little bit more purposeful with our play, trying to break lines, certainly trying to get down the side of teams or into more creative areas of the field, and show more energy to get forward and to make things happen in front of goal. After the first 20 minutes, where we started slowly, I felt a hell of a lot happier about the way that those things came together. Abu started wide because I see Dominique working in that central area of the field throughout the season. Will he be a starter there? I think it’s a little bit too early to start rubber-stamping players in to wherever they’re going to play -0 although as I’ve said, we certainly want as many of the guys forming a relationship as possible as much as possible. I don’t want to discount anyone at this stage of being a contributor to the group.”
Do the guys who didn’t see time today still figure into the regular-season plans?
“To be very honest at this point, it’s very difficult with one day back from a three-day break if you like. We’ll try to rotate those guys in for Sunday’s game. There’s an awful lot of potential in that group, but at this point, I felt as though more senior guys like David and Miguel needed to see the field, and the other guys that were out there, certainly in need of the minutes.”
Winger Randall Leal
Note: previous stories have included my translations of some of Leal’s quotes. He was speaking through a translator over the phone, so some of what he said was difficult to hear. For consistency’s sake, these are the answers as verbally translated by club spokesperson Cristina Maillo Belda on the conference call.
“I’m so very happy about the first game, and more importantly, to put that first game for me behind us. It gives me the opportunity to meet other players, and to be able to recognize how other players play on the field, and the chemistry that we can build together. Obviously, after today’s game there are a lot of things that we need to keep working on and improve. However, I believe it was a good game, there were some errors – they capitalized on some errors that we created – however, those are errors that can be corrected with work. I feel confident about the team, and I was able to also find Dax, Godoy, Hany – I look forward as we continue to play together in the upcoming weeks, particularly in the game on Sunday, to continue building upon what we did today.”
How does it feel to be the first goal-scorer in club MLS history?
“I feel very happy, but obviously, I’m just looking forward to having the opportunity to actually score goals during an official match. So I look forward to when the season begins, getting on the scoreboard then.”
Describe the goal you scored.
“It was a difficult goal. Obviously based on the style of the game that we’re playing, we’re building from the back, so by the time you get to the offensive side, you’re a bit tired. However, Hany was able to feed the ball through Chicago that got to me. At that point, I was able to cross it to the far post into the goal.”
What does the team have to continue building in these next games before the regular season begins?
“Clearly, what we must do to improve: it’s important that we play well moving forward, but at the same time it’s important that we train hard, and that we continue to improve training sessions. Obviously, with working real hard during training means that we are going to get tired. As we get into games when we have tired legs, we need to make better decisions, and we need to be better at making the right decisions on the field. We need to learn from our errors as we move forward, and also we need to make sure that we create a good team chemistry – not just on the field, but also off the field – so we’re able to pull together in the same direction as we prepare for February 29.”
Randall Leal photo courtesy CD Saprissa.