Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and centerback Walker Zimmerman met with the media to discuss their team’s upcoming game against Orlando City SC. Watch or read their full comments here.
How do you prepare for the next game?
Head coach Gary Smith: “We’re in this run of weekend-midweek games that put an awful lot of stress on the bodies of these players. I think physically, they look like they’re recovering pretty well, and they’re a group of individuals that are very mentally in tune with their own bodies: what they need and how they need to recover. A lot of this time is a quick turnaround making sure they’re ready for the next challenge.
“We’ve got ourselves into a little bit of a routine. Our scout and our preparations are as close to the game as we can possibly get it, so a lot of those things stay fresh in their minds. All in all, after the emotion disappointment of defeat in Atlanta, I think everybody’s come away from that still with some positives that we can look at, reinforce. Make sure that we’re certainly with the same foundations and energies that I think have given us 2-3 really good performances and four points out of the last four games. It’s still plenty fo build on.
You played under Oscar Pareja in your time with FC Dallas, what sort of team do you expect from him?
Centerback Walker Zimmerman: “I think we got to see a lot of him at the MLS is Back tournament. He’s a guy who has a lot of emotion. He’s going to work them very hard, so I expect a fit team, a team that has played a lot of games because of making it pretty far in the tournament. A group that’s going to be, like I said, hard-working – they’re going to take after their coach in that regard.
“At the same time, I think there’s a lot of ways that I think we can prepare to get after them. It should be a good one, and I think we’re all excited for it.”
What are your plans for integrating new signing Alex Muyl into the lineup?
Smith: “You know me better than that, Drake, I won’t be making any announcements on this call was to whether or not Alex will be starting or playing a major role in this. What I will say is that: the reasons that Alex was left behind over the weekend was to give him an opportunity to make sure he’s fully settled in. That his period of time preparing and in quarantine was completely out of his system. He’s had a good weekend, he’s had a good session today. He’s certainly in my plans and in my thoughts for the foreseeable future. He’s a nice addition, and certainly in this run of games, he’s an individual that we’ll all be pleased to see in and around the group.”
How does the team change scoring chances into goals? Does it require game reps or does practice work toward it?
Smith: “There’s multiple things or multiple reasons that for, when you’re looking at games like Saturday for us and from our perspective, where things don’t quite go according to plan. We had a gameplan set out, and I think it was executed in a very decent fashion by the players – yet again, by the way. When we went into the game, limiting a very, very bright and attack-minded Atlanta team was important – which I felt we did. Making sure that we disrupted a very possession-oriented Atlanta team regularly before they get in a rhythm or confidence overflows – I felt we did that very well. And we still created some really bright moments.
“I’m sure at half-time and – I haven’t had the opportunity to speak to Stephen Glass about the game – but I’m sure as though he felt as though there were moments that they were left off the hook badly. To that degree, we’re very, very disappointed because we didn’t make the most of what we’d worked for. However, we’ve had a long time here without any games. We’re three games into this first stage of scheduling again, and I, for one, after looking at the game again and just having a night’s sleep and getting some of that disappointment out of my system – very, very pleased at how the guys are going about their work, about their business.
“There’s lots and lots of good things to keep reinforcing. We do need games. The guys up front are normally the last individuals to find that sparkle and that feel in the final third. But when they do – and I’ve seen it before – when they do, it gives confidence to everyone, themselves included. It breathes an air of positivity around the group once you get moving up front. I’ve no doubt they will. The sooner it happens, of course, the better it’ll be for everyone.
“But there’s too many god things going on to get despondent. We just keep moving in this direction and we’ll try and find the remedy for one or two of the disappointments at the weekend.”
How do you mentally recover as a backline – and personally – from what were the first true struggles of the season?
Zimmerman: “I think we just continue to do what we’ve done every game, and that’s try to limit the opponents’ chances, keep them to as few shots as we can. That’s an area that we’ve done really well all year.
“Yeah, they got two on us. On a personal level, I know I’m not happy with the goals on my end. Pretty unacceptable errors at this point in my career. I’m really excited that we have a midweek game just to be able to flush that out, get back on the field, focus on getting three points. Again, it’s a group that defensively, we’ve been very sound. Continuing the foundation that we’ve had for the first five games.”
Smith: “They’ve scored four goals against us this year, and I was saying this to a couple of the guys this morning: The amount of good work that’s gone on for us in those games – the limited opportunities and sights of goal that they’ve had, I think we have to say as well, we have to tip our hats to some exquisite finishing for the most part from a very talented group. Sometimes that happens. There’s an awful lot of endeavor and discipline in our group. You can see that. It’s not just what that team’s about.
“I heard some comments on the reporting of the game or the commentary on the game about some defensive play. I think sometimes you can be a little bit misguided in how teams are going about their business, or what they are actually about. I think I’ve said this before: There’s a difference between an organized team and a defense-minded team. An organized team is a team that has a plan that knows their roles within that plan and within that shape, and they execute that plan as well as they possibly can – which is what we did at the weekend. We regained possession in their half numerous time, we got them on the back foot numerous times. We created some really nice opportunities and moments, but we were still able to limit them to very few opportunities. That’s a plan: that’s an organized team.”
“A defensive team is one that really doesn’t come out of their half too much, not all that keen on exposing themselves, don’t have a lot of ambition, and are happy to soak up whatever they can and get out of there with whatever they can. Honestly, it couldn’t be further from the truth with how these guys go about their business. I am disappointed when I hear that on some of the broadcasting, and I think it’s misinterpreted. It’s not the right picture of what this group’s about.”
What did you have a chance to learn about Orlando this weekend that may not have been obvious during their tournament run?
Zimmerman: “For the most part, I’ve only seen the highlights, I haven’t seen the game. I know we’re going to tackle video pretty good tomorrow, and see a lot of the ways that get after them and stop some of the things they do well.
“Just from having watch them in the MLS is Back tournament, I expect a lot of the same things. They have some speed up top and on the wing. Obviously they talked a lot about Chris Mueller having a good tournament. Tesho Akindele as well, can score some goals. And then a hard working spine of their group.
“We’ve seen enough of MLS is Back for the guys who watched that. I’m excited to get back and have a mid-week game, put the loss behind us and get ready to compete again, and I think everybody’s ready to do that.”
Smith: “I honestly think that they’re quite a well-rounded team. Oscar has put together a group of players – and utilized some of the guys that were already there, in a slightly different fashion to maybe what they saw in the last year or 18 months. The confidence of the MLS [is Back] Cup will I’m sure be apparent in their play. I would imagine they’ll be disappointed about the result at the weekend, for sure. Coming back home, they’ll be looking to put that right, no doubt.
“They’ve got a good spine to them, so they’ll be competitive. They’ve got some very nice dimensions creatively. But I think most importantly of all, you tend to get a feel about teams when you’re watching them, and they’re a determined group. That makes for a tough game in whatever way, shape or form, because if it isn’t coming off for them creatively, then they’ve got a really good foundation to try to keep that underpinned, and prevent us from creating too much – which I’m not sure every team’s about. When you look at some teams, they are about attacking. They haven’t got a Plan B and when it’s not working, they can be a little bit softer and easier to deal with, and I’m not sure that this group is.
Do you feel like the expected goals numbers will be borne out over the course of the season with luck?
Zimmerman: “I don’t know what the expected goals is on the year or game-to-game, but I’m confident it would be lower than what we’ve allowed. Whereas on the other end, I would bet our expected goals for would be significantly higher than what we’ve scored. Over time – it’s only been five games – over time, those things start to add up. So we try and maintain the positives that we’ve had: what have we been doing well? We’ve been limiting chances. What can we improve on? Quality in the final pass, final moments to be sharper, more decisive, and more clinical.
“Five games in, after a long layoff, it’s just going to take a little bit of time, get some rust off. That’s just how it goes for a lot of teams at this point. I would chalk that up to probably a little bit skewed in the early part of this season.”
Smith: “Players weren’t always on the same page in our attacking third, but as we’ve seen multiple times in many many games, that can happen. We’re not the only team that doesn’t fire on all cylinders. I think for us – and for any team that’s coming together in a brand-new franchise, it can take somewhat longer to find that format, that formula, that understanding. When all’s said and done, the very best attacking groups and even partnerships up front are players that – I’ve said before – they’ve got almost a telepathy. They understand each other, they’re on the same page, and they get the very best out of one another. And I think we’re still learning that.
“You have to remember that our attacking guys have been in slightly different shapes: Hany’s played out wide and he’s played underneath. You’ve had Dominique, you’ve had Daniel, you’ve had Abu, David Accam coming in the picture. We’ve got some really terrific attacking players. Guys like Hany and Randall who are predominantly creators and suppliers have just got to make sure that they’re in sync with those guys and it can take a while. There’s no two ways about it.
“This will be our fifth away game in our opening six games of a brand-new group. I’m not sure – and I think I read somewhere that I think this is the toughest start of any franchise ever in MLS – So we’re going away from some with a brand-new group. We’ve had two clean sheets. Walker’s absolutely right about the expected goals and expected goals against. I think we sit somewhere either in top or second spot for expected goals against. If I tell you at the weekend, expected goals were .44 for Atlanta and expected goals for us was 1.65. That’s not the first time that’s happened.
“You don’t win games on expected anything: you win games on what actually happens. But what we can do is continually keep those standards as high as possible. Because ultimately, I’m a firm believe: you end up being what you’re actually seeing. At the moment, we’re losing games against a clinical front line. We’ve lost our first two games – albeit nearly six months ago – against two very good teams.
“I do think as we’ve returned from a long layoff, I think you’re seeing a different type of group. They’ve had time to be around one another, they’ve had time to reflect. We’ve had some real difficulties to deal with. Were 1-1-1 in these last three games – four points – and I think everyone would be pleased about that. We’re not delighted, but we’re pleased. I think it’s something to build on, and the last think I would say on that is, I would hope every player that goes into a game at the moment with our group feels as though there’s a game to be won. We don’t go out on the field thinking we’re going to get dealt with away from home, and we’re going to have problems. I think we’ve got a strong foundation and we’ve got a lot to work with going forward. And it will come good; I believe that.”
How has your centerback pairing with Dave Romney developed from a physical standpoint as well as a mental one?
Zimmerman: “I’m really happy with how I’ve felt physically over the past three games. Given all the time that we had off, I think a lot of the guys would say the same. We worked like dogs for months. When no one was watching, we couldn’t play: this goes back to individual workouts. We have a group of us who follow our Whoop devices and follow each other’s trainings, so we’re accountable with each other. I know the coaching staff sees them as well. We’re seeing what each other’s doing on a daily basis, and guys were grinding.
“I’m really proud of everyone because that’s not easy to do mentally. But now, I think – how I’m feeling and a lot of other guys are feeling too – is physically strong, despite not having played in a few months and having short turnarounds. Wednesday will be a good test to see how we can recover again on short rest, but for the most part, I think everyone’s feeling pretty good.”
What is the rhythm with training with so many matches in the next phase?
Smith: “To Walker’s point there, you’ve got to remember that a lot of the work that’s done to actually win games is done way before the match actually takes place. I know you’ve probably heard that from some great people, and there’s some quotes out there on that. But these boys have worked tremendously hard. I think we see the dividends of that in the type of schedule that we’ve got. Physically they’re in a good place, they’re very conscientious lads; they look after themselves.
“We’re doing our utmost at this point to make sure that the days beyond matches for the starting players are good days of recovery. Get their bodies back in some decent order. Don’t forget that we’ve had three away games, three flights in-and-out in a day, which I don’t believe too many other teams have done to that degree in MLS. So it’s a new concept. There’s a lot do deal with, with the body: in playing and flying and getting back in the early hours of the morning. We’re trying to make sure to do our best that all the recovery options are there for them.
“For the guys that are not playing, and not getting the minutes that maybe the starters are, they’re doing a bit of extra work, and trying to keep them in a place where, when they are needed – which I’m sure they will be – they’re ready. So it’s a reasonable program, that I think is working pretty well at this point. To be honest, I’ll be guided an awful lot by the players out on the field. If they feel as though they need a bit more time to get their bodies in shape, then brilliant. If they don’t, I think we do have a fairly decent program at the moment. And in between all that, we need to do some video work, and prep work, and some practical work out on the field for our next opponent.
“So there’s not a lot of time. I think we’re getting a lot out of it, but most importantly I think the players are ready for the next game physically. Because if they’re not, it doesn’t matter what work we do on the video or out on the training field. If they can’t get around the field, we ain’t gonna get it right.”
Do you expect to see Jimmy Medranda any time soon?
Smith: “Jimmy’s had a slight hip flexor problem. He’s in a fairly reasonable place. I think he had a little bit of a setback last week. But I saw him out on the training field with our athletic trainers today doing some decent work. I would hope he’s not too far away.
Unfortunately for him, he has been away from the first team group – or the working group – but as soon as Jimmy’s ready, he’ll be straight into the main body of work that we’re doing, and he’ll be fighting for a spot.”