Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith met with the media prior to his team’s trip to the Great White North. Read his full comments here.
What is the game-week schedule like on the heels of the first road trip?
“Well, the schedule – for the first time we’ve gone through it on that West Coast journey, guys got in late last night, and first XI starting group have had an extra day to get over the journey. As you can see, the lads that were here and the lads that were on the bench are doing some extra work. It creates a shorter week of course, because we played on a Sunday and then we’ll play on a Saturday anyway, so we’re in [training] until we leave on Friday when we leave to go to Toronto. These are all the things that the group – I’m sure over the years that a lot of them have been in the league – have already experienced; it’s no different. We have to get ourselves into a bit of a groove and understand what that is all about for the team.”
Based on two games so far, are you looking at increasing emphasis on getting the offensive numbers forward after you’ve been mostly sound at the back?
“Listen, it goes without saying that the frustration after the weekend and – as I would say a similar type of mindset leaving the Atlanta game – I think whenever you come away from the game and you can internally look inside and say, ‘you know what we deserved something out of that.’ I’m not putting on the rose-colored glasses; I’m looking at it in a calculated fashion. I watched the game again on the way home, and I’ll be surprised if anything thinks that we didn’t deserve to get something out of the game.
“The challenge – I think for a lot of groups, not just brand-new groups, which we are of course – is to find the right balance, connection, and then of course confidence in that final third. It’s not just about efforts at goal and hitting the target. It’s: ‘are we making the right choice? Was that the right type of quality and decision in the final third?’ Because there were many moments outside of the chances that we had, that we squandered, that we turned down. There were times that we got into good wide areas and an early cross might well have been the right choice. We come back out, we get into a good position, and the delivery’s not quite where you would expect it to be. The delivery’s a good delivery, and the movement in the penalty area’s not where it should be at.
“So, there are many things that we need to continue to work on, and to get us into a more effective goal-scoring world. But in and amongst some of that, I still felt as though there were enough opportunities and sights at goal for us to have converted. Our conversion rate at the moment’s not where it should be. If I look at how teams have really put us to the sword with very, very few opportunities, then you could probably imagine my frustration.”
Does it feel like the chemistry is developing?
“If you’d have shown me a picture, a snapshot, of how the team – in terms of their construction, as a shape, their appreciation, the possession and management of the game, our ability to build out, the amount of time that we have with the ball, the positions that we’re getting ourselves in and some of the combination play to play around pressure and achieve good opportunities – I’d have been absolutely delighted. I would have said, ‘that’s almost at a point that I couldn’t really be thinking about with a brand-new group.’ So to that degree, for two-thirds of the field, I think we’re in a very good place. Defensively, we look sound, we’re re-pressing well, we’ve got a good shape and understanding when we lose the ball, some of the choices of when and where to press have been excellent. The output from the players has been spot-on. I can’t complain about any of that.
“The only thing I think we will all be disappointed and frustrated about is how we’ve gone about our business – and could we have been more clinical – in that final third. The answer to that is definitely ‘yes.’ In two games against two good sides in two very different environments, we’ve fallen foul of other teams that have been the complete opposite to us in the final third: they’ve been absolutely clinical. At this level, essentially that’s it.”
How has your team – especially David Accam and Daniel Ríos who lost their homes – dealt with the recent tornado in Nashville?
“As you can well imagine, there’s been mentally a load that the guys have had to deal with, and i’m not just talking about David Accam and Daniel [Rios] who have been the most disrupted in all of this. I think everyone has felt the pain and anguish that a lot of families are going through. I read a story yesterday that was heartbreaking: to listen to this guy that had lost his four-year old daughter that he was hanging onto, absolutely brutal. But I think the club has done a good job of supporting a lot of those people, and trying to do the very utmost to lend a hand and just offer what they can to a very, very difficult situation.
“As far as the players go, you saw David start the game at the weekend, and I’m almost certain that the impact of the week had some sort of influence on the way that he felt. He’s dealing with his own issues, with a wife that’s pregnant who’s now looking for a new abode. Daniel entered into the game – and Daniel’s in a different position in terms of his relationship and family – but nevertheless, it’s still a very difficult scenario for those two guys to deal with, but they’ve done a fantastic job.”
Are they getting settled in new situations?
“I believe so. I mean, they’re still in temporary accommodation. Both of those guys are looking for something more permanent. I’m unsure as to whether or not the building that they both were in has been condemned or not – it has been condemned, so they have to find somewhere to move into. But I do know part of the process of a brand new organization and a big piece of the puzzle was to have an individual in place that really looks after that relocation process for all of the players, and Erin [Mishu]’s done a fantastic job of supporting these two guys and looking around for the next step for them.”
Does the attacking third take more priority in training as you move toward the next game?
“Yeah, definitely. It would certainly be remiss of me to move in different directions. I think yes, there’s work to be done. We’re picking up small percentages, but in reality, those small percentages can be vital to us in such tight games, especially in the way that we’ve constructed and dealt with two-thirds of the field. So we need to pick up as much development in that world as we can. But I certainly have to start considering guys like Daniel Ríos and other attacking players that have been good for us in the past, and who are very capable. And that’s not to cast aside or dismiss the guys that have been in there, but at this point in time, it’s making sure that not only are we doing enough to improve, but we’ve got the right combinations.
“It’ll be something that I’ll talk to the staff about across the course of this week. I can’t stress enough that I’ve been absolutely delighted with the way that the players have gone about their work daily. And certainly with the output and the way that they’ve projected themselves in the games that we’ve had so far. We live in a world where we have to add points to the board, whoever we are. We certainly deserve to have points on the board, but at this point we have none. So we have to find a way to put that right.”
Have you considered two-striker formations?
“Of course. You saw two strikers on the field at the end of the Atlanta game. Would we ever end up in a world where we’re in a slightly different shape to have two forwards on the field? For sure. My job though, is to make sure that what we’re doing well continues, and what we need to improve on is affected in the right way. Because if I tear the page up and say, ‘OK, we’re not doing that anymore, we’re going in this direction’ – I think that on many occasions, I’ve done it myself, and I’ve seen it with other teams – you’ll then find that there’s different problems. And then how do you combine that? At the moment, we have a really strong foundation, and we’ve got to find our way to being more ruthless and creative in that final third. As I’ve said, there’s a couple of different ways of going about that, and we’ll certainly be working towards that this week.”
Knowing how much you’ve created and how some of the stats back up that you’re close on offense, do you feel like things will just click? Or do you have to be proactive in making that click happen?
“I do honestly think that over a period of time, you find that the understanding and the rapport within the group can give you a different result – and when I say result, I mean in terms of goal-scoring opportunities and creation – because the players feel more confident and comfortable around one another. However, I certainly won’t leave that to chance. And to your point, there needs to be some active progress and work going on with our attacking group to make sure that we’re continually trying to enhance their productivity, but also think about what the combinations could look like at the weekend if they need to be differen.tn I’m in that world at the moment where I have to consider a lot of different eventualities. As I’ve just said to Drake [in response to the previous question], I don’t want to tear the page up and say, ‘well all of this has been going wrong,’ because that would be silly of me given the way that we’ve played, which has been a real pleasing aspect of our early schedule. We’ve played some very, very good stuff, we’ve looked like a team honestly that has been together longer than we have, but we still don’t have any points. So how do we find our way through to some points?”