Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith chatted with the media prior to his team’s Sunday matchup against Inter Miami CF. Watch or read his full comments here.
“The good thing – as always when you suffer a defeat – is that you get back in the saddle and on the horse again, as they say. We have another opportunity to put that right. We run into a group, I believe, that are in not a dissimilar position to ourselves. I think they’re looking for some fluidity, they’re looking for some consistency, and with a bundle of talented players, I suspect they’re looking for some connections there, as well. What we do know is, they’ve had a terrific result against Orlando just over a week ago. I’m sure they’re full of confidence after that. What they’re going to find out is that traveling and playing on the same day is not as easy as it looks, as we’ve had to suffer that just recently.
“But nevertheless, I’m sure it’ll be a very, very difficult game but back at home, my hope is we can put our best foot forward and be very positive in our outlook, and get ourselves back on track.”
How do you prepare the team after an emotionally and physically taxing week?
“The guys that took the main body of work have had a little bit more time to recover. What we’ve found in this period is there is very little time to get out on the training field and work at aspects of our own game. the recovery of the players, making sure that any little niggles and knocks that players have got, we’re on top of; making sure everyone that we possibly can have is available, and then of course having a look at our opponent. For the first time, we’re running into Miami. A team that I’ve just said have a bundle of talent. They’ve added a couple of very exciting players just recently as well, which I’m sure has given the whole team a real lift. On the back of a win, I would think they’ll have a real good feel about themselves. We’ve got to try and personally take advantage of what our home field represents. We’ve only played one game there, but this will be the first opportunity we have to try and create a bit of an environment where we do out uppermost to see if we can has some advantages at home now.”
What are the aspects outside of the difficulty of traveling that you can gain advantages in playing at home?
“I think if you’ve been involved and you’ve played at a pro level, then you realize that the simple things become the things that help you through towards your best performances. I.e. in your own bed, you get up, you’re in your own environment, you have your food of choice, you have a routine during the day, maybe you sleep in the afternoon at the time you choose to. Our report time in at the ground doesn’t involve waiting around anywhere, it doesn’t involve being in a different place or environment. Things that normally you look at as simple and straightforward, but they’re no longer there.
“Of course, you’ve spoken about the difficulties and the stresses and strains of travel on the day, and we’ve experienced all of them. So the guys will get a sensible night’s sleep, they’ll be in their own homes, they’ll be at the ground in a sensible time before the game. I’m hoping that extra appreciation of surroundings will give us that little bit of that extra spring in our stride that I thin kwe need now after four long, hard away games.”
Have you had the opportunity to get into Nissan for practice?
“We haven’t, no. Due to the ongoing protocols and situation around COVID, it’s difficult to a) come out of our own secure training ground environment, and also, I’m guessing that preparations for tomorrow are getting everything in place: we know what that’s like at the moment. Everyone’s got to be cleaning stuff down and getting themselves scrubbed up for the following day.
We haven’t been there. I’m suspecting that due to little or no activity on the field at this point in time – I know that the NFL season’s not far away – but I would hope that the field’s in pretty good shape.”
Have you followed through with your players regarding the conversations around Wednesday’s demonstrations around the league?
“Of course, we’re in constant communication with the players, and we’re supportive of whatever their direction is, and respectful of any choices that are made. We haven’t – and the players I believe haven’t – made any other decisions on choices moving forward. I think their connection with the league is as important as any. We go about our business, and we’ll support whatever they want to do.”
Which areas of the team need to improve most urgently to improve the results?
“The simple one is to be more clinical in front of goal. Without going into too many details, I’ve looked across the last three games: we’ve created opportunities, very good openings, we have had some nice attacking play, and we’ve shown an edge to our game going forward. Unfortunately – and everyone’s the same, myself included – if you don’t score goals, then you look at what’s going on in a more negative negative fashion. I’m not surprised people will be making more negative comments about the team. I think if you layer into the fact that we’ve had four tough away games, we’ve spoken about the fatigue that the players are encountering. I’m hoping that we’ve had enough time to get ourselves back on track, and feel good about ourselves: recover emotionally and physically.
“But to your point – if at some point we don’t show more of an edge in front of goal when chances are created, I think more teams will look at it and say, ‘well, it doesn’t matter how many times they get in front of goal, they’re just not ruthless enough and we’re always going to have a chance.’ We have to slowly but surely start to stamp our authority on the game in front of goal now. We’ve shown some other good wualities, it’s time to give ourselves a lift and hit the back of the net a few times.”
Did the performance of Daniel Ríos and Abu Danladi show enough to give you confidence in a two-striker setup?
“I’m not going to answer that bluntly, but what I will tell you is this: I was absolutely delighted with those two guys. Abu’s overall performance, of course, looked like it had more product to it, but I I actually think the combination of the pair of them is a very good one. Daniel certainly played his part, had his moment. The more eye-catching came from Abu for sure. But their movement, their understanding having not played together much: certainly the enthusiasm and energy they gave us up top really gave us an opportunity when you look back to it and I have quite a lot and in-depth.
“We had the chance to win the game in the first 15 minutes. Unfortunately, we were unable to give ourselves that luxury of getting in front by two or three goals. But the performances were bright; I’m certainly very very pleased with the way they’ve played, and they’ve both pushed themselves into a far better position in my mind as we move forward. With the amount of game’s we’ve got, who knows: maybe there’s some more current situation or more current position that they find themselves in.”
Do you feel like you have enough data on Miami to have a good idea of what they want to do?
“They are very similar to us in many many ways. I know they’ve recruited very differently, but I think there are some fundamentals that are the same. I do think in 6-8 games’ time, you’re going to find a very different team. Guys like Pizarro and Morgan and Pellegrini, they’ll find themselves in a world where they’re understanding Carranza up front. These guys have got a lot of talent, they’ve got a lot of energy, and against Orlando for the very first time, in their very first home game, I think you saw a different edge to them. They played with a lot of passion.
“I would imagine that the way the Orlando tournament unfolded for them was not pleasing. I think you saw a very different team in that game a week ago. My expectations are that we’re going to see a team that’s inspired, that are still finding their way. But if they’re not treated in the right way, then I’m sure they can still be very damaging.
“We’ve still got to find a way to continue to create opportunities. The last couple of games, I think we’ve given up goals that are uncharacteristic of this group. We’ll see over time whether that was because of fatigue and game-after-game of keep turning out. Maybe I needed to make some changes at that point. We certainly have to show more consistency in front of goal, we have to show we’re capable of limiting sides to few opportunities – which certainly didn’t happen on Wednesday night. Back at home, I’m really hopeful we’re going to see a bright performance.”
Is there a way that you can afford to give Anibal Godoy or Dax McCarty any rest, for two guys nearing the ends of their careers?
“First of all, they won’t be happy with that comment, ’towards the end of their careers.’ Players normally prefer to feel like they’re ‘experienced,’ that’s a better way of putting it. Yes, it’s a tough one. I think up until Wednesday night, pretty much every game that we’ve played in five games before Wednesday, I thought those two guys controlled large portions of the game, along with Hany predominantly in the middle, if not Derrick. I think those guys, Dax and Anibal, have done a wonderful job in the group, and they’re really good role models to have in the middle there.
“The tough choice for me is, if I take them out, given the position we’re in, I may be asking less-experienced players to get the job done – although I’m sure at this point they’ll have plenty more energy to get that job done. So I’ve got to choose the right time, I’ve got to make sure that the guys that are behind them are getting their opportunities. It’s not easy, it isn’t easy. I want to build some continuity in the team. In any normal season I’d have the opportunity weekend-to-weekend to get the job done in recovery. At the moment, we’re playing back-to-back games, and having to turn around very quickly. It’s a fair question, and I certainly have to think about that as we move ever-more into this second phase of what we could class as a season.”
How can you get the most out of Randall Leal, who has struggled more in the past few games than the opening pair?
“It’s a fair question. I think Randall’s being asked an awful lot of a young player. I’m asking him to adapt to a new team, and tactically take onboard a lot of information. And he works regularly regularly day-on-day with Steve Guppy at his own game, his own techniques, his own one-v-one situations that we know will make a difference not only for the team, but will be a huge boost for the player as well. He’s working incredibly hard for the team, and I can’t be more complimentary about his attitude for the group.
“Question before about changing the team up and giving players a rest: we’ve got players – like Randall – who have had such a stop-start season, they’ve now played four games away from home. I’m sure Randall has never gotten a flight, gotten off a flight, played a game. For two of the last four games, he’s not been home before two o’clock in the morning, and we’re playing again two-three days later. It’s a huge demand on his body. I think Randall’s coming to terms with what this new season, or this season looks like.
“I think it’s my job, it’s Steve Guppy’s job – with some feedback from Randall on how he feels and where his body and his mind are at – but what I will tell you is he’s a very genuiine young man. He’s obviously desperate to do well, and we’re all desperate for him to be showing the sort of qualities like you said, in the first two games, we saw.
“I’m really likening this period of time to preseason – I know they’re for points, which makes it all the more difficult. But we came off of a 4-5 month layoff. We have had no competitive games in that time, other than amongst ourselves. I would never have played these players – including Randall – for 90 minutes four times in the space of what is just over two weeks. I would never have done that in preseason. They’re being asked to do a lot more than they probably would have been. That’s because their qualities and my respect for them is that high. But on the flipside, it takes its toll.
Ii think this is an ongoing process now in an environment that none of us has experienced before, and we’re all pretty much learning on the job. So we’re all doing our best and I think Randall is one of those players.
How do you interpret comparisons between yourselves and Miami as the two expansion teams.
“The only comparisons that you can make are – it doesn’t matter who they sign to their roster, the likelihood is those players have never worked on the same field together before. Maybe one or two of them. You’ve got a brand-new coach, a brand-new environment, the players have got a brand-new city to settle into, and of course they’re dealing with the same problems with regards to logistics and schedules as we are. So the seaosn’s been stop-start for them.
“I looked at some of the press that surrounded them when they left the Orlando tournament. I thought it was completely uncalled for: five games beaten, I don’t know, some sort of record for a brand new franchise, or the worst start for a brand-new franchise. I would imagine – and you put yourself in their shoes: they played two games at the start of the season, I have no idea what their preparations for the Orlando tournament was. We suffered our own problems there, so I can only imagine how difficult it was for them to settle in, as with all the other teams.
The difficulties are, that we’re both encountering, is you’ve got to find the time to find a rhythm and an understanding. the one thing that both teams need are games. They need games, they need time to work together on the training field, they need an understanding between individuals. It’s not just about the season being fragmented: it’s the way that people live their lives at the moment. The training ground is a different place to what it looked like before COVID. Players are not allowed in certain areas together – if at all – during the day. We’re going around in small groups at best, to make sure that we keep our social distancing, and I could go on and on: eating times, you’ve got a takeaway or food that is given to you as you can eat on the move. Whereas those times are normally good times for players to sit down, to interact, to build relationships, and I think they’re the only comparisons you can make.
They’ve signed different players, They have probably a different budget, and a different idea about how they want to go about their business. That’s their way, and there are plenty of other teams in the league that are going that way as well.
The only things that are the same are what Iu’ve mentioned, and it can result in inconsistencies. We’ve seen it in their team, we’ve seen it a bit in our team. Until we get into a rhythm and the players are more appreciative of each other, it’ll carry on that way. We’re hoping we can turn the corner this weekend and get on a reasonable track. Every time you see some good signs, you see one or two things that you know you’ve got to improve. Unfortunately, that’s the way with expansion teams. It doesn’t stop you having the ability to win, it doesn’t stop you having the ability to be passionate. But in terms of identity, you’re probably not going to see that shine through until a little bit further down the line for both teams.
Gary Smith photo from file.