Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and striker Daniel Ríos spoke with the media yesterday afternoon. Read their full comments here.
What is the process for preparing for a second game against Dallas this weekend?
Smith: “It certainly makes it a hell of a lot easier to prepare when you’ve got your first win under your belt. A lot of tired bodies came back from Texas in the early hours of Thursday morning. We spent the last 36 hours just trying to get those players back into some sort of normality so that they feel as though they’re ready to go and compete as they did on Wednesday evening.
“Yesterday was a recovery day for the players, today has been a very light day for those lads that took the bulk of the minutes. The rest of the group have done a little bit of a more strenuous workout, and we’ll all get ourselves together for our last session against a team that, quite honestly, the players out on the field will know a lot more about and understand a hell of a lot more than they did when they entered the field on Wednesday,. I’m sure that Dallas will feel exactly the same.
“Our mindset will be to try and replicate what happened on Wednesday, and ‘m sure Dallas will make it a hell of a lot harder to try and walk out of there with three points again.”
How did it feel to get your first MLS start?
Ríos: “It felt great to have my first star5t in MLS. It’s different: Your mind is different when you come as a sub in the second half rather than ifn you start a game. Of course you need to be focused in the first minutes. Stick to a plan that the coach and all the players know. For me, I am very happy that I had that opportunity. At the end, it was awesome to get those three points on the road.”
What sort of perspective did you have on the game being unable to attend in person? Can there be an advantage in preparing for a second contest against Dallas with that different perspective?
Smith: “It wasn’t ideal circumstances, that is for sure. It was part and parcel of the world that we currently live in. I think the team is becoming more and more adept at adapting and being flexible, and just getting the best out of any situation, which is certainly what they did on Wednesday.
“For me personally, there’s been a lot of feedback and on-the-ground experiences, if you like. The one thing that I was unable to obviously really consider myself or feel for myself was the climate. Everyone tells me that it was absolutely roasting hot, and difficult circumstances.
“As far as viewing the game, there were some strange circumstances for me again, which is the way that my day evolved, but I did get to see the vast majority of the game. For the most part, I think it was exactly what we all thought it would be: two teams that have spent a lot of time without any competition, and us being an away group in such a difficult environment against a very very good team, a very capable team, with a great home record: I thought the performance as a whole was very, very decent and there’s a lot to build on.”
At what point did you begin to find out that you would not be able to travel? What arrangements and plans did you have to make with Steve Guppy in that time?
Smith: “Our buildup to the travel day, we actually in our sort of rotor of testing, we always have to test the day before. But we actually had two tests back-to-back, and those test results, one of them came back inconclusive for me. I had to go and have a test on the morning of the flight. Unfortunately, those results were unable to come back in time for me to get on that plane. Whilst we looked for many other options to get me there, unfortunately due to the way that this whole situation with COVID works and the health and safety of everyone involved, in the end, it was just best that I wasn’t there, given how these results had come through. I must add to that I was bitterly disappointed. Not a game in five months and then an inconclusive test.
“As far as the gameday and preparations for the game went: I think it’s at times like these that the staff you have around you start to show really why they are in those positions, and for us personally, it offers up the type of close contact and connection that I have with not only Steve, but with Brett and Matt Pickens – guys that have been around me for a good period of time now. Steve actually found himself in a very similar position in 2011 when we were in Denver, and he took the team to El Salvador. If you get a chance to talk to him, he’ll tell you that he had a great result there, as well [Smith chose not to travel for a Concacaf Champions League game, and Guppy led the Rapids to a 3-1 win at Isidro Metapán].
“Really and truly, it was a matter of just reinforcing and reconfirming some things that we’d planned meticulously for. Those guys that were there had a very, very clear idea of what the plan was. We’d prepared very well. The big issues obviously coming – substitutions and the things that catch you off-guard – and there weren’t too many of those, to be honest. All of the planned substitutions, guys that we felt would make it through 90 minutes after a long layoff, all did their job and were very very physically well-prepared. So we actually had a scenario where we wanted to have X amount of players entering the field or were coming off the field. We left ourselves in a position where we were flexible with at least one body.
“So Steve dealt with that incredibly well, and it was nice to see actually one of the additions into the game go on and win it for us. Always nice to see.”
How do you plan to handle squad rotation with the circumstances around the game?
Smith: “It’s a very unique situation as well, with playing back-to-back games against the same team. The only times you normally see that are when you’re involved in Cup competitions – I may have mentioned that before. Both teams will have a much better idea of what the other is about. I do honestly think that Wednesday’s game will have taken an awful lot – if not physically, emotionally – out of a lot of those players on the field. And in terms of making sure we have the right individuals again, to, the core of the group who can get through 90 minutes. For me, that’s a vital component to what these first couple of games are going to look like.
“Beyond it, you should see guys feel much more confident about themselves, and maybe we have a little bit more flexibility then to make some choices.
“There may well be one or two changes to that group. I honestly looked at the group and thought most of the guys – even the individuals that came off the field – looked in very good condition. Given what they were dealing with down in Dallas, I thought they did very, very well. Whilst I want to make sure we get the right players on the field, I also want to be appreciative of the fact that that team’s gone out and done something that not any other team in a Nashville jersey have done at this point, which is gone away from home, and won a game, and kept a clean sheet.
“The other thing that I must add to that is: I think there were – I made a little note about it while I was sitting here – there were five players on that field in one shape or form who either made their first full debuts for Nashville, they had their first pro appearance in general, or just came on and made an appearance for Nashville, their first appearance in MLS. There’s an awful lot going on in our organization and team at the moment, and to have such a layoff and perform in the way that the guys did. I have to say I’m very, very proud of the way the guys conducted themselves.”
Apart from the emotional side of the equation, how did you feel the on-field parts of your first MLS start went?
Ríos: “I felt good, it felt good. It was hard to adapt because all of the things that happened – the coach wasn’t there, maybe the changes of formation. But I think as a team, we managed pretty well. We started our position a little bit deep, then after that, we can start to attack. I felt really good. The plan at the end was right, and if we win the games and play like that and keep a clean sheet, it’s awesome. We want to go step-by-step, and getting those three points of course more on the road than here, because they’re the more difficult games.”
What did the players who made their debuts (Brayan Beckeles, Alistair Johnston, Matt LaGrassa, Derrick Jones, and a starting debut for Ríos) do over the course of the past three weeks to earn those roles?
Smith: “I think you’ve got to go back a fair way. Don’t forget we had the preparations for Orlando, as well. We probably in that window of time leading into Orlando, played more competitive soccer than we have done before leading up to this first Dallas game. Just purely because of the timeframe that we were dealing with and the physical condition that the players were in.
“Look, this team is one that’s evolving all the time. There were certain individuals that got the nod in front of others for the opening two fixtures of the season. There were a couple of things in those games – as you may well expect – we evaluated, that we felt we could improve, or certainly try and balance off in the group. The circumstances for this game and the lead-in to it were very, very different as well. But you bring all those things together, including the physical position of players – some players have dealt with the lack of activity better than others. That’s no criticism, it’s just unfortunately how some people are built, and the choices that were made were very much based on, ‘ok, if you remember rightly this is a quick turnaround’ We were told of these fixtures against Dallas, I think it was two and a half weeks after getting back into training from Orlando, which isn’t a huge amount of time after having three weeks of complete inactivity.
“We had to plan quickly, we had to work hard, there was a lot going on, and the guys that ended up either on the field to begin with, or into the game to come on and see it out and ultimately win it, were the guys that had earned those positions. I think you saw from the way that we performed, that there’d been an awful lot of work that’d gone into getting ready for that game, physically and tactically, and my hope is we’ve learned a little bit more from Dallas, and we can build on that performance.
“I think I read somewhere that we might have been 20-odd games into our season at this point [NSC would have played 6 games as previously scheduled]. And 20-odd games into any season, there’s a lot more information that you can evaluate and look at. We’re currently three now – two before Wednesday night. That in itself makes decisions, progression in a group, that much more difficult, and it’s slowed it down a little bit.”
What was your takeaway from the Reggie Cannon comments about fans booing a Black Lives Matter demonstration from both teams?
Smith: “I’ve not heard the players talking an awful lot about Reggie’s comments. What I will say is, myself, the organization, and the senior staff and ownership, we’re very supportive of our players, and of course the staff at the game, in their decisions in how they want to express themselves.
“I do think it’s everybody’s right to have that ability, and whoever was shouting in the crowd, and however many people that pertained to, they’re entitled to their opinion as well. I think we also have to keep in mind – and certainly I’d like to keep it clear – that we’re very much supportive of the equality and social justice that this process is fighting for. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and Reggie’s obviously made his very clear.”
Daniel, how did you handle the weather conditions Wednesday, and how will they affect Sunday’s match, too?
This question was asked in Spanish and Ríos answered in both English and Spanish. I have not included his Spanish answer, though there were some different details in it.
Ríos: “Of course the weather, it plays a huge factor in the game. We knew that going on the road in Dallas is not easy. That’s why we planned to play like that. Of course, you have to think about also we had five months without a game. We can make a lot of excuses, but we play our game, and we have a good mindset about how we want to go back to home feeling like we gave everything inside the field.”
Do you expect to have major turnover in the traveling 18 or even the starting lineup?
Smith: “Eric [Miller]’s been carrying a little bit of an injury, but he’s actually in a much better place so I’m hoping that he’ll be in a position to be selected. But we’ll find out about that one in general.
“As far as the rest of the group, for these travel squads, we’re up to 20 now. I don’t know if everyone was aware of that, but we have nine players on the bench that we can choose five substitutes from. So it certainly gives us a lot more scope to make those changes. The five individuals coming on, I think as you can see, make a huge difference to any team. Their players understandably gave them a lift as well, but it was ours in the end that made the difference.
“As far as turnover goes, I think I made a couple of comments earlier. There’s a couple of things that I have to consider, and our main body of work will happen tomorrow. Our planning, game-planning.
“First victory, clean sheet, I’ve got to consider bodies that played 90 minutes: can they do it again? Can they give us a start? And if they can, how much can they get through? If we’re going to make changes, how much of a change and is it a drastic look for the team, given that we’ve got our first result? Given, of course, I would like to build on this. There’s a couple of avenues here that we have to try to constantly fill.
“And they are: No. 1 improvement in the group in our particular playing pattern and style. That’s defensively, that’s possessionally, and of course creatively. We have to keep improving. And the other one is the overall mentality and confidence of the group. And that can be affected enormously by bad results, by disappointment and concern and frustration in not getting a result.
“So I’ve got to make sure I can get the balance as close to right as possible. If we go too far one way and I get plenty of new players on the field and it looks a fresher environment or picture, but we don’t get the result, does that break up the continuity? So, I’ve got to come to a conclusion based on how I saw the players today, and most of them were in really good shape. As you can imagine, very buoyant and effused about the way the journey and the trip had gone. I’ll sleep on it, I’ve got some ideas, and we’ll hopefully be in the right place come Sunday.”
What was your impression of Joe Willis’s performance?
Smith: “I’m really glad you asked about Joe. He was one of the unsung heroes on the night. Not a huge amount to do, but what he did have to do, he was very clean, he was very assured, and I think good goalkeepers have got that presence about them. They support the backline and just instill confidence into them.
“Whilst I was obviously a long, long way away from the game field, I felt as though Joe’s overall performance and presence did a world of good for what is already a decent backline – and we plan to improve on that.
“When you start to look at the way the first three games have gone for us now, there’s some nice trends defensively there, and Joe’s a big part of that.”
Can you talk about the acquisition of winger Alex Muyl in a trade with New York Red Bulls?
Smith: “As far as Alex goes, there was an opportunity to add Alex to the group. Mike [Jacobs, General Manager] informed me of that and we had deep discussions on what Alex gives us and how he improves the group.
“I think you’ll find, in this still-young individual who’s played over 100 MLS games, he brings, I think, a very genuine yet very positive outlook coming from an academy and a team that play with tremendous energy and passion in the New York Red Bulls. That really is the type of epitome that we’re finding with Alex.
“It’s an area of the field I think we would like to improve anyway. We have the flexibility with certain guys – someone like David Accam is also more than capable and comfortable of playing as a second striker or a false-nine, which to a large degree helped us win the game from that position on Wednesday. Generally, I’m just very, very pleased we could add someone of Alex’s character and quality to a group that’s developing and building and moving in the right direction as I see it. He adds something that I think we could well see as a really nice positive touch.”