The first MLS win in Nashville SC history is in the books. Read all about it from substitute head coach Steve Guppy, winger (and goal-scorer) David Accam, and goalkeeper Joe Willis.
Wingers coach and acting head coach Steve Guppy
“Obviously thrilled for everyone connected with the club. I know how hard it has been, start of a dream to bring MLS to Nashville with the excitement, And of course the knockback with what’s happening in the world. So tonight we have a little bit of joy. Let’s enjoy it, but tinged with a bit of sadness as well, because Gary Smith has put so much effort and energy into setting this team up, and settling this team with Mike Jacobs. It’s such a shame that he’s not here to enjoy it, our first win. We’ll have to acknowledge what an unbelievable job he’s done in assembling this team, but tonight we managed to get it over the line for him.”
What halftime adjustments did you emphasize to the players?
“I think as the game kind of wore on, OK, tactics always come in. You have to be thinking about how you can stop and how you can create. But sometimes it just comes down to wanting it more than your opponent. And I said to them before, at halftime: ‘we played Atlanta, and we played Portland. And I think both of those games we played exceptionally well, but we managed to find a way to lose. Tonight,’ I said, ‘there’s nothing in this game, who wants it most will win this game. Let’s find a way to get the win. If we can do that, I don’t think we’ll look back.’ Tonight, against everything, the things that were going against us – with all sorts of delays, and obviously Gary not being here, the incredible heat – there was loads of excuses, and we spoke about it before. There was loads of excuses for the players to throw in by maybe not tracking someone, or just not quite wanting it enough. But we al decided as a group that we weren’t going to use that today. We were going to stand up, fight our corner.
I mean look at what happened tonight. We’ve got a college kid coming on and making his debut at right back, with an incredible block in the last few minutes. We’ve got Matt LaGrassa making his MLS debut having come through the USL. It was a real team effort. Then obviously Dave Accam comes on, shows a bit of unbelievable class. But I have to say, Walker Zimmerman’s block i the last couple of kminutes was every bit as good as Dave’s shot. So, fantastic. To me, it was 11 heroes out there today plus the subs who came on. I’m thrilled for everyone. It’s fantastic.”
How much of the substitution pattern and personnel use was pre-planned with Gary before the match, and how much had to be in-game decisions in the moment?
“You know, it was a mixture of both. I think we spoke leading into the game of players who were likely to not quite make the 90 minutes. That was to be expected in this heat and first game in goodness knows how many months. So we had a little bit of a plan, but then towards the end it was more: who looked like they were jaded?
“So at half-time we were on the phone to Gary. We made the decision early on with Brayan Beckeles that he was probably only going to last another 10-15 – he had a yellow card as well, so that played into it. And we wanted to get Alistair out there as well, because he’s looked really good in recent weeks. So they were kind of pre-planed.
“The ones towards the end were the ones where we just.. Hany, could’ve played, he’d worked tirelessly, but Hany say, ‘look, give me five minutes and that’ll be me.’ And it was that sort of night where everyone just gave everything they could. And then when you’re asking people like – Matt LaGrassa with his debut, played out of position: can he do the job? Dave Accam: can he do a job, coming in? Dominique Badji, he’s been struggling a little bit recently in the last couple of days, ‘come on, give us 20 minutes.’
“It was just one of those nights. I think we needed one of those nights to get that first win. And the players – every single one of them – stepped up tonight.”
How did putting pace on the field – Accam, Badji, Abu Danladi – affect the game later on?
“Obviously, that was part of the plan: we wanted pace. It was tempting with 10 minutes to go to say, ‘can we hold out for a draw, maybe?’ Hold out’s maybe not the right word, I don’t think they were bringing loads of heat, but you know that we needed a time to break that hump of getting a result of sorts. We went with some pace, so maybe we were rewarded this time for being brave. We could have brought on two midfielders and tried to soak it up and ride it out, but we were a little bit bold, I supposed.
“When Dominique Badji, Dave Accam – they’re decent players – and obviously Abu: there’s another one. Abu’s had a brutal period of time recently with injuries and what-have-you. So they came on and really stepped up and grabbed their spot. And that’s what we want: players to put Gary under pressure for starting positions.”
How did you feel about how the goal transpired, and the work-rate of the players going into a back-to-back?
“Of course, we’ve got another flight home, then we’ll turn right back around. We’ll worry about Sunday tomorrow.
“One thing that we do in Nashville – and something that’s really close to my heart – is position-specific training. We do it every day. What I mean by that is, I love the art of one-v-ones, taking a player on, because besides scoring a goal, I think it’s the second-hardest thing to do in football. That’s why not many can do it. So we work tirelessly at it.
“So when Dave Accam picks the ball up, or Dom, or Abu, they know they will be expected, when the moment’s right, to take the player on. And if you look at Dave Accam when he scored his goal, he drives at the fullback. He drives at the fullback, skips on. He could have gone out wide, but he was positive, the angle of approach was fantastic, it put the defender in all sort of trouble. It’s something we try and drill into them every single day, in the hope that when you get these key moments in a game, that they’ve got the confidence and the quality to do it. And Dave, Dave showed tonight with a bit of positivity – a lot of bravery, in fact – where he drove at the defender, he risked losing the ball, and then of course a little trick, to the side, smashed to the back of the net. Absolutely, what a wonderful feeling.”
What was your evaluation of Joe Willis in his first action-packed game of the year?
“I thought he was, on every single one – as a goalkeeper, my dad was a goalkeeper and it’s a thankless task – his hands were so clean. The amount of crosses he took tonight, the odd shot that they had – and I don’t think they got loads of shots, but the shots they got his hands were clean, he didn’t spill anything. I thought he looked very, very solid, but we know that anyway. Joe is that type of player. He’s dependable, that’s why we brought him here. He showed it tonight.”
What sort of momentum does that goal provide to the club moving forward after the trials and tribulations of the past few months?
“It is one game, but please forgive us for maybe enjoying it more than we would normally. It’s our first win. Away from home, we’ve had the disappointment of what went on in Disney and a lot of the players being in isolation forever. It felt at times like we were in Shawshank down there, the way we were having to live. They looked after us, but it has been a difficult road for everyone. But they’ve stuck at it, like I’ve said Gary’s done a marvelous job of keeping them together, and if anything, I felt like it’s brought us together a little bit closer as well. So when you put all these things all together and look at tonight, away from home in the heat, having to fly in on the day, all these things players are not used to, first game in five months, to hang in there and get a win in the manner that we did, hat’s off to them.”
Winger David Accam
How did your goal come about?
“I think we were defending a bit deeper, and luckily the ball broke to me. There was a lot of chance of a three-v-three. So my thought was to attack them, and when I attacked a chance opened for me, and I went for the shot.”
What goes through your mind when you see how much space is available when you get the ball?
“I love games like this. My speed and one-v-one is my strength. When the game was open like this, before I came on, that was the formation they told me: just defend and be ready to go on a counter on the loose ball. So when I got the ball, I was just positive. Positive thoughts went through my mind, I was like, ‘I should just go for the kill.’ And I went.”
There’s been a lot going on for you off the field, so how satisfying was it to get back on the field and score?
“It’s amazing. It’s a great feeling, because I haven’t had this in a long time. Last year and this year’s been really tough for me and my family with everything. With the tornado, the virus, everything. I was just happy to be on the field, and it’s a bonus to score and also help the team get our first win of the season.”
What was behind your celebration?
“I don’t know, it just came into my mind. I know a guy from Ghana, he used to play for my local team, and he’s a big guy in my local team in Ghana. I just wanted to imitate his celebration and I did that.”
What can you do as a forward corps to build on this performance and create even more chances going forward?
“I think we have a lot of good attacking players, both young and experienced players. For us, we push ourselves a lot in training. To be fair, literally for me it’s different, I’ve never done this for my club before: the attackers, before training we always train 15-20 minutes alone only the attackers doing one-v-one stuff, scoring goals, finishing. It’s different, and you can see the competition with each other. It’s good that we have a lot of good attacking players and we keep pushing each other, because some of us came from the bench: me, Dom, Abu, we could have easily started the game. I think the three started, and we came on and finished the job. It’s great to have good attacking players to keep pushing each other.”
Goalkeeper Joe Willis
How were you able to maintain the clean sheet?
“Yeah, it was a tough game for us – tough game for both teams, really. But we knew that coming into it, with having to travel here today, we knew that we were going to have to grind it out. We made a point before the game started to not make any excuses and just work hard and we came here for a reason: to get three points. Fortunately we were able to hold them off, and Accam scored that nice goal for us.”
What was it like to work so hard, and have that rewarded with Accam’s goal?
“It’s a huge relief. I thought we were pretty good defensively today: I thought we were very organized. They got in behind a couple times, but for the most part, we defended as a unit, and we stayed compact and made it hard for them to beat us. When you do that for 85 minutes and then we have someone like David who has a moment of brilliance and is able to put one in the back of the net, it’s a huge weight off your shoulder and a huge relief.”
What’s the different mentality that you have to adopt when you have more activity in your own box compared to the first two games?
“To be honest, I almost like it more?=: you have to stay focused, you have to stay tuned i the whole time. Like I said, we knew coming into it that it was going to be a grind. Usually that means sitting back a little more and taking some more pressure from the opposing attack. So I came into this game thinking that I was going to have to do more work than in the first two games. So yeah, I think from the start, the mentality was maybe a little different. That has to be the mentality of a goalkeeper coming into any game: no matter how much action you end up seeing, you have to be prepared to be facing shots all night.”
What did you see on big late-game blocks from Alistair Johnston and Walker Zimmerman?
“It’s another thing that we talked about before the game: mostly on set pieces, but also throughout the game, it’s wanting it more than the other team. I think you saw that a lot, especially with those two blocks that you just referred to. Guys are just putting their bodies on the line, doing anything to preserve that shutout and to preserve a win. As a goalkeeper I love to see it: it gets me going, for sure. I think everyone on our team is bought in, for sure, and when you see guys making plays like that, it makes you want to step up and be the next one to make a play like that.”
Do you have to take a different approach into a second game against the same team just a couple days from now? Do you feel like you got a good scout on them from this one?
“Yeah, for sure. I mean we did some research based on their first two games of the season, but it’s different when you’re actually on the pitch live with them. We’ll definitely enjoy the win tonight, and then tomorrow we’ll be back in and then we’ll start preparing for Sunday. But when you play a team twice in such a short amount of time, there’s definitely a lot you can pick up on. That being said, with tired legs they could come out with a different formation, different personnel – we might, too – so you have to treat every game as a one-off basically, but there’s definitely a lot of things that we’re going to take from this.”
What is required of a team to be ready after what you’ve gone through off the field this season? Is it different than what you’re used to?
“To be honest, not really. It’s tough to fly in on the day of the game, but that’s what most teams who are playing away games are gonna have to do for the first month or so – however long. We haven’t played a game in so long that I think the guys would’ve, we would’ve hitchhiked here to make it in time for the game. The travel was the last thing on our minds. I think physically, it can take a toll – I know some guys are feeling it right now, for sure – but everyone here is very professionally, and takes their job very seriously, so guys were prepared and guys will do the proper recovery, and hopefully be prepared to do it again on Sunday.”
How does it feel to know that you’ve staked a claim on endearing yourself to Nashville SC fans – and their high standard of goalkeeping – tonight?
“Matt’s obviously a legend, not just in the club but obviously throughout his career. They’re some big shoes to fill, for sure. I’m not trying to be Matt Pickens II, I’m just trying to be myself and help the club. I know we have a lot of supporters who are excited about the team this year, so anything I can do to help the club and repay them for their faith in us, I’m going to do.”
Joe Willis photo by Abraham Zoompruder. ZaprOOMder? We’ll workshop it later.