Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith spoke with the media after Wednesday evening’s 1-0 friendly victory over Montreal Impact. Ready his full comments here.
“I have to be honest: I was very, very pleased with the way the guys went about their business tonight. There was a discussion that we all had before the game about trying to find that extra edge and creating a more realistic picture. I think the evening game and the fact that Montreal are a little bit in front of us with regards to their preseason – with a Champions League game not too far away – made the game that much quicker. I felt we stepped up to the challenge.
“The first period was a very, very competitive one, played at a good pace, as I’ve said. Chances were few and far between, but I thought we slowly-but-surely started to show a little bit more edge. The very pleasing aspect of the evening was that we had our first break and then gotta go again. For a lot of players, the first time out and the first time that that happens, especially when there’s a lot of heavy leg work training, it can be difficult to get going again. But I thought we started the second period very well, got on the front foot, showed some very good energy, which meant the guys recovered well. They’re in good shape, and they’re moving forward. The group that came on, I felt lifted the tempo yet again. We created some very, very good chances before we finally scored. A lot of pleasing things tonight.”
Does the group coming back after the halftime break indicate they’re more likely to be in the first-choice XI?
“I don’t so much think it’s exactly what the first XI will be. You can see now maybe the sort of core of that group may well step forward towards the start of the MLS season. I think there are still a few positions that are up for grabs, and some rotation at some points.
“The fact that we’ve played a very competitive and realistic 60 minutes tonight for that first group is very pleasing. They’ll gain an awful lot of confidence from it. It wasn’t just a after the type of performance ‘you have the ball then we’ll have the ball and enjoy it and just try and get through it.’ I felt that there was a very good edge to both teams. Understandably, Montreal are trying to prepare for a very big game against Saprissa. I think a lot of the guys felt that it was going to be a bit little more edgy. As I’ve said, there were some very good performances. Most pleasing of all out of all of the work that we’re trying to piece together was just how gathered and how composed some of the guys looked within the shape and how they played. As I’ve said, Tim, a nice step forward again. I’m sure at some point there’ll be a step back or two, but at the moment the more steps forward we can take, the better it’ll be for the group.”
What do you see for Derrick Jones’s role this season after playing mostly the No. 10 spot?
“Initially, with Hany [Mukhtar] out in the competitive group, he has been playing in what was the second group to begin with. Hany was out today through a bit of an illness – it’s not a bad one; I’m hoping he may well be available for the Cincinnati game – but it was choice to leave him out and let him recover. So Derrick gets an opportunity, and he’s been in that advanced role because I think he’s got all of the qualities to affect that role in a positive manner.
“He’s got very good ability for a big guy, he’s capable of connecting and seeing a pass. Would love to see him in more advanced areas more often, but I do think he has the ability to play that role. Now, as we move possibly forward, you could also see Derrick in what would be classed as more of an 8 role qwwehre he can join from a little bit deeper. The way things have sort of panned out, and the picture of the groups at the moment, you’re seeing him in that advanced role.
I think he’s pleased to be combining with and showing what he’s about in that first group. I’ve been very pleased, and he should be confident in what he’s showing.”
Are you paying attention to the result at this point, or still just preparing?
“No, not necessarily. The result does something to people, especially at this time of year that I certainly can’t or any of the other coaches and staff: and that’s give them a little bit of belief and confidence in the work that we’re undertaking. The other thing is, when you put a lot of hard work in for 60 minutes – and for the other guys, they really got after the 30 minutes that they played – there’s some rewards. You can walk of and say that what we put into the game was worthwhile.
“What I have to do is take all of the emotion out of it, and say, ‘Ok, what were the aspects of the game that we were pleased with? What were some of the areas that certainly need some attention? How do we continue to build on that? And structurally, are we moving in a positive direction towards the 29th of February?’ Take into consideration that Montreal have got a very expansive playing style – I thought they played some wonderful football at times – and that puts some of our guys under extreme pressure to make good choices, to cover ground, to be patient, to work as a unit. Then when we won it back, as we did on numerous occasions, we showed some very nice composure, as the game wore on, we created more and more opportunities: scored a goal that was offside, hit the crossbar, got ourselves in some very good situations. And to be perfectly honest, we’re missing two very offensive players in Hany and Abu.
“There were lots of nice things to come out of it. The result, obviously, is immaterial. It doesn’t mean anything to any league table. But it’ll certainly make the guys feel an awful lot better about the work they’re undertaking.”
What is Abu Danladi’s injury?
“He took quite a strong blow to his back that gave him a little bit of a whiplash effect. He’s got a very sore neck. We’ve gone through all the necessary protocols to make sure he’s OK, and he’s just feeling the effects of that: he’s just got a stiff neck at the moment. He’s had no other symptoms, which is great. Along with Hany, I would hope that a couple of days now to prepare for Cincinnati, and he may well be available for that.
Is Shak Adams still with the team?
“So Shak was part of the early part of our preseason. We’re still evaluating where Shak really fits into the picture, along with a couple of the other guys. You can see guys like Miguel [Nazarit], guys like Tanner [Dieterich] – Miguel’s in a slightly different position having come into preseason late – Tanner is one of those lads as well that’s trying to find the pace of the game and to be able to step up to what the next challenge is. A very similar position, you know, Shak’s a very talented boy but this is an extremely tough group to break into. So there will certainly be some decisions on some of these lads as we move forward.
How did some of the guys signed from foreign leagues or NCAA teams respond to the speed of the game?
“I think we’ve mentioned this before: you’ve gone across quite a spectrum there. Randall [Leal]’s an international, but in a new environment. He’s not just contending with the change in MLS, but he’s living in the US where he hasn’t done before, so there’s a lot of social changes to his world. I’ve been absolutely delighted with the way that he’s taken on board some of the team play and the structural work that we’ve tried to achieve, without losing any of the individual ability that we’ve seen.
“Guys like Jack [Maher] and Alistair [Johnston], I think, have stepped up to the plate very very well. They’ve mixed extremely well with the team – socially as well, which gives them a nice standing and a bit of confidence. I think they’ve adapted very very well to especially games like tonight, that are played at a very good pace against some really tough competition. These guys have got an awful lot of work to do during the day, and you have physical challenges that they’re trying to really incorporate into their new trying world. Very, very pleased.
“You look at the guys that have stepped up from USL, that’s a new challenge for them as well: you’ve got guys like Brian Anunga, Alan [Winn], Matt [LaGrassa], and Kenny [Tribbett] and Taylor [Washignton]. Those lads are doing a fabulous job, and I think we made some very nice choices there to bring them along with us, and then they’re certainly showing that they’re more than capable.
“At this point we’re still very early days obviously in a brand new group. I’m pleased with what I’m seeing. I think the guys are looking more and more confident about the world and the environment that they’re in, and they’re the ones that have created this. They’re going to have to create an identity, they’re going to have to bring some personality to the field, and slowly-but-surely I think we’re starting to see that.”
Gary Smith photo by Tim Sullivan – For Club and Country