Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith joined two of his players – defender Dan Lovitz and new signing, winger Alex Muyl – to meet with the media in advance of Nashville SC’s game at Atlanta United this weekend. Read their full comments here.
How was your first day participating in training with the team?
Alex Muyl: “Thank you so much. Obivously, I wasn’t able to get involved with the first 10 days I was down here, but I was watching from a distance. I was able to watch both games against Dallas, and two really good results. I was really excited to come in today and meet the guys and get my feet on the ground. It’s a great group, and everyone was really welcoming. I thought it was a really good first day.”
What does the addition of Muyl mean for this team?
Gary Smith: “Alex comes from a club and an environment that has not only have produced some very good young soccer players in this country, and there’s obviously a great pipeline that they have up there in New York, but I think also they’ve got a style of play and an attitude about them that I think somebody like Alex epitomizes. Part of it made attractive to bring into the club. He’s a very genuine individual. You can tell from his workrate and the way that he applies himself for the team, that it’s more about the group than it is about himself.
“If you look at the way that our group’s constructed, it’s a vein that runs through our team already: there’s a lot of very unselfish individuals in our team. Whilst we still have some talent, the core philosophy of the group is is to work for one another.
“As I’ve said, Alex really epitomizes that. He also fulfills a need in an area I believe that we very much want him on that right-hand side. With a little bit of flexibility, as well, in his game, we’ve brought someone into the club that not only helps us in the short-term but should have a very promising future in Nashville.”
How do you plan to stop Atlanta United Saturday evening?
Dan Lovitz: “I think obviously there are some tactical and technical elements to that, that we sort of handle internally and we work on through the week with the staff. I think that part’s pretty straightforward. The most important thing is the mentality, obviously. Keeping the ball out of the net’s really important to us, that’s sort of the foundation we want to build this group on. We’re very happy to have done that in the last two games, but we understand that this is by no means a perfect solution that we have at the back. Two good performances doesn’t mean a whole lot. It just means that some of the things we’re looking to accomplish during the game, we are at the moment, and that’s great.
“Obviously we’d like to find a way to continue doing this at a high level, so that we can provide the guys in front of us with more opportunities and more sustained periods in the game where they can do what they do and be dangerous and attack, and put the ball in the back of the net on the opposite end. So for us, it’s part of our job; it’s what we get paid for, and collectively, we emphasize it greatly through Gary and the staff. It’s something that we want to sort of solidify as we move forward into this next phase of competition. That’s sort of going to be the backbone of our group, and that we’re going to be tough to break down. Like I said, it’s two good performances, we’re happy to check that box in terms of a shutout, but it’s definitely a work in progress and something that we look forward to continuing to improve on.”
How do you immerse in a new club in training?
Muyl: “I think obviously coming from a place like Red Bull where he have a very defined philosophy and a very set style of play: Coming to a new situation like this, it’s going to be a lot of learning a new system, and a new philosophy. I think the main way I’ve been doing is is a) by watching games, and b) by asking questions. I’m asking guys like Dax, ‘what do we like to do with the ball, what do we like to do without the ball.’ It’s learning. And then the final part is just getting on the field and doing it. I think that’s the best way to learn, and today was a great first step. I think moving forward, it’s going to be about taking these new lessons and applying them.”
How does the Red Bull system prepare you when you leave and play in a very different system now?
Muyl: “The Red Bull system, it was very clear what your role was at all times. It was almost something that, you didn’t have to think much, you always knew what you had to do. I think that the lessons that I had picking up that system and basically getting it into my DNA, I thin kthose are the same ways I can try and apply that to how Nashville wants to play.
“I think there’s certain qualities that I have that lent myself to Red Bull, but hopefully bringing that here will also be good for the team, and hopefully help to get results.”
How does your experience building a playoff team in USL help you push forward with a new franchise in MLS?
Smith: “First and foremost, I think this year has been pretty different to any other year that any team has ever played. So therefore, we’re encountering not just players having a season disrupted, but a shortened season – there’s all sort of things that are going on this year.
I think we’re focusing pretty much on making sure that the foundations of our group are going to be strong, and that the process of development – whilst we want it to be as speedily as possible – there are going to be areas of our game that might take longer to mature, if you like, than others. I think we’re at a point where, two games into a very fragmented season, as I think Daniel [Lovitz] had said, we’re pleased with some of the things that are going on. There’s a lot of confidence to be taken out of not conceding in the two games that we’ve had. But I don’t think anyone’s silly enough to think that we’re where we want to be. And there’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes to keep that development moving.
“As far as getting in the playoffs, I think if you look around the group, and you understand and appreciate the personalities we have, whilst we’re all working very hard to try and improve, and to be in a better place come the end of the season, I think we’ve also got a group of players that take a lot of pride in earning points and getting something very positive out of any game that they can be in. In the end, you hope that that’s going to take you to a playoffs place. My hope is that that is the case. Will it? I don’t know at this point. I really don’t know. I think we’re showing some very good signs, but there’s certainly a long way to go and we’ll keep chipping away at whatever we can and add points to the board and see where it takes us.
Alistair Johnston mentioned you as one of the veterans mentoring him early in his career. What responsibility do you feel to be that mentor, and how do you go about it?
Lovitz: “I think it’s a responsibility that a lot of us share, on the backline, and embrace. I thin kjust generally speaking, when I was a young player in Toronto, I was exposed to a lot of really good leadership. I was lucky enough to have guys like Steven Caldwell, even Michael Bradley, that were pretty straightforward with me and helped me navigate that first sort of phase of getting integrated into MLS and playing games.
“For me, it was daunting at the time for sure, so I’m one of the guys that was lucky enough to come out on the other side, and now be in a position where I can help somebody who’s very talented, and very excited to contribute. To kind of level him off and make sure he’s accomplishing what the staff wants him to, and to put his best foot forward. I think he’s done a great job working within a system that the roles are very clearly defined. I think from a character standpoint, he checks the boxes, and it’s just an easy job for us to kind of put somebody who wants to do the work in good positions, and know that they’re going to give it everything they have. It makes our lives a lot easier, and I think collectively as a group, when you have somebody like that who’s young being reinforced by a lot of good leadership behind him and closer to him on the field in the midfield with Dax and Godoy, I think we’re very lucky here, and I think it would be a missed opportunity not to lean into that and make sure that those guys are hearing our voices as much as possible and knowing that they should stay confident and they can continue to contribute at a high level.”
What is different about this Atlanta team, and what do you know about Stephen Glass from your times crossing paths in USL?
Smith: “First and foremost as you’ve said, the change of leadership: Stephen’s obviously a talented coach else he wouldn’t be working at this level. I’m sure he’ll be the first to admit: there’s a lot of learning to be done in his world, and I’m sure he’s taken full advantage of being with that team. This isn’t a permanent fixture [coaching appointment] as I read it: I’m sure Stephen would like to make it that way, but the fact is, I’m sure there are plenty of things going on within that group at the moment that are a work-in-progress if you like.
“With [Frank] de Boer in charge, and a championship under their belt, and moving in what would seem to be quite a seamless and fluid motion, they were always going to be an incredibly tough task in our opening fixture. I’m not saying they’ll be any different down there, but they themselves have had a five-week break when we play them at the weekend. They come off the back of an indifferent, certainly I would say, disappointing tournament from their standards. You can look at it in a couple ways: I’m sure they’ll want to get this second phase of their season off to a reasonable start. I’m sure there’ll be some cobwebs in certain areas. There’s a couple new additions that can certainly add something to their already-very-good attacking line.
“But I think we’re in a slightly better place as well, and this isn’t just about them: it’s about how we conduct ourselves and are we continuing what is a decent run of form – albeit a couple of games, but it’s something for us to build upon, and to take forward.
“I think the guys will be excirted to go down there, to now pit their wits against a side that have already beaten us once, in a situation that ultimately is going to be a very big rivalry. We’ll be going down there to try and put more points on the board, there’s no doubt about that. Will they be at their very best? Are we at ours? I think in five or six games’ time, you’ll see a completely different picture form both teams. I’m sure it’ll be challenging, but we’ll certainly be in this game and looking to get something out of it.”
What has the success of the past week-plus in games against Dallas given you in terms of confidence?
Lovitz: “Like we said earlier, I don’t think there’s… we definitely put emphasis on understanding what these two games in this past week, what it represents: we’re not getting carried away with it. Quite frankly, I think success will be defined by six points out of that. We definitely view the one point, and the four points overall as something that can be improved upon.
“But at the end of the day, we are ultimately now in the same sort of rhythm and flow that we had before everything was shut down. We were only able to play two games. Now we’ve played another two after a long rest. I think we’re just looking forward to continuing any sort of positive momentum in the way that we play, and the mentality that we have on the field, most importantly.
“We’re excited that we get to have an opportunity to play a team that we didn’t get a result against earlier in the year. I think that’s kind of the immediate goal for us. It’s easy to focus on, and we know that after this initial phase of this slate of games coming up, that we want to be – like Gary said – a different team and representing a lot of better-honed abilities moving forward. This is a great opportunity, it’s a first step, but as we see and as we saw in the tournament, teams sort of grow into themselves the more games they get, and I think that we’re really excited to have that opportunity.
“But certainly we’re not downplaying the fact that we’re content or happy about getting that first week out of the way, because logistically it was more of a nightmare than anything. I think moving forward, we just get to focus on soccer, and focus on playing, improving each week, and the games are going to start to come thick and fast, and the opportunities will be there, and I think that’s all we can ask for at the moment. We’re certainly, internally very confident in what we’re doing, and we’re looking forward to having the opportunity to do that in a more formal competitive platform in Atlanta. So that’ll be good.”
Smith: “Just to add to that, Drake, there’ll be successes in many different areas. Of course we’ll want to see it in victories and points: that’s the ultimate way of looking at what these games, and how we perform, come together. There are many other things that we can slowly-but-surely improve upon, and they can be classed as successes, as well. Don’t forget, this brand-new team have had an incredibly fragmented time. We may well have been 20-odd games into our seasons now, and we’d have known a bundle about the players, about the team – good and bad – but as Daniel said, we’re back to that two-game scenario.
“We’re all trying to build some confidence in many different areas. Defensively, and as a team, we can take confidence from the clean sheets. The fact that we got our first win is a big confidence-boost as well. We’ve been away from home now, and I think we’ve performed exceptionally well on all three occasions – bringing Portland into that as well – that should be a real confidence for the lads in a different light.
“As this all unfolds, we have to keep adding to this, and hopefully this weekend we can – as I’ve said – add some more points to the board and feel good about ourselves.”
What have you had a chance to see from new keeper signing Brady Scott, and what is his path to the first team?
Smith: “Brady’s a very talented boy. Not only has he offered some of the qualities and shown some of the qualities he’s capable of – not just with us, but over in Germany, and with the national team as well – he comes with a real good writeup from the national group.
“Brady’s future is what we’re looking at. Right now, he needs to get himself back into a place where he looks sharp and feels good about himself. He’s had a period of time inactive because of the virus, and – a little bit like Alex – he had to serve his quarantine period after having a period out in Germany without any playing time. We’re slowly-but-surely getting Brady into a world where he feels good about himself, and he’s certainly going to be more effective for the group. But this is more of a process that we see for the future, and of course we’d like to see him in and around the first-team group as quickly as possible. I don’t think anyone’s going to get overly disappointed if he takes a short period to get back to his best.
“We want to look after what he’s about and where he’s at at the moment, and we’ll keep an eye on how that progress is going.”
Do you anticipate a return to the type of lineup you had before the break, or keeping with the rotation you had in the past two games?
Smith: “I think firstly, when you say, ‘conventional first team,’ there’s a lot of guys that have seen the field like Jalil [Anibaba], who has played numerous games in MLS, and I don’t think we’ve got to a point where we have a flat-out first team, this-is-what-it-is. We have a lot of guys that are very, very capable. The two games in a short turnaround and a lot of travel always lent itself to the possibility that there might be some changes, and a couple of fresh faces.
“We’ve had six days to prepare for this one, to recover, to do some work on the field and to get ready for Atlanta. I’m not going to divulge the group, but what I will say is, pretty much everyone’s fit and available. Eric [Miller] himself is working his way back from a slight groin problem, but he shouldnt be far off selection for the weekend. In fact, I think we’re going to see how Eric is in the morning.
So we’re near-enough at full strength. What that does do, is give me the opportunity to try and evaluate the best possible candidates for each and every game, but it also keeps tremendous competition in the group. If you look at the very best teams, they’ve always got players that are breathing down somebody’s neck who’s already holding down that first-team spot. Any players that knows that, from week to week, that he’s going to play, invariably ends up droppinig that level of performance because it’s a given.
“I’m delighted that everyone’s fit and healthy, pretty much. And I’m very, very pleased that we’ve got some good competition in the group. With some very tight turnarounds after Saturday’s game, we’re probably going to see the majority of the group being used, I would think.”
Dan Lovitz photo via Zoom/slightly less Zapruder-y than usual