Nashville SC

Presser: Gary Smith, Brian Anunga, and Anibal Godoy after Inter Miami CF win

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Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and midfielders Anibal Godoy and Tah Brian Anunga met with the media after this evening’s 1-0 win over Inter Miami CF. Watch or read their full comments here.

Head coach Gary Smith

Thoughts on the match?

“Yeah of course, delighted that we’ve come away with the three points. I think at one point that we should have extended our lead – in fact, at numerous points should have extended our lead again. I think in the end, it offers an opportunity for Miami to build some pressure, which really brings about some other qualities for this team. We’re in that world – same as Miami – where we’re trying to find some identity, some connection, and certainly try to reinforce some of the important qualities in a game. The chances had come and gone. A missed penalty is never good to see to extend the lead and give us a little bit of a buffer.

“In the end, there were some very genuine, determined, and character-based displays that gave us the three points. We’ve really ticked a lot of boxes tonight. Guys like Walker [Zimmerman] were an absolute colossus at the end. Ultimately, a wonderful return, pleased to be back here, and pleased with the display.”

What’s the process for selecting a penalty taker, and what was the reaction to Hany’s miss?

I believe Hany was a penalty-taker for his last club. There’s been numerous occasions where we’ve looked at penalty-takers in training – certainly in more enjoyable moments. But if you look at the way that Hany deals with dead-ball situations, I’d back Hany to score six or seven times out of 10 from the edge of the box, let alone the penalty spot.

“It’s disappointing. I thought he tried to be a little bit too aggressive with the effort, but nevertheless. We’ve seen it happen before, it’s disappointing for the team and for Hany, of course. But ultimately the result is most important. It created a difficult end to the game, but we certainly had enough moments.”

Was your midfield able to dictate the match even against a strong Miami midfield?

“Look, first and foremost, let’s look at Brian Anunga. His very first start in MLS, his full debut. He plays 90 minutes – I thought he was absolutely outstanding in midfield. In fact, there were probably only one or two moments in the game that I might have put a question in his display. It was exactly what the team needed: more bite, more energy. The guys who’ve played in there were certainly needing a rest, and it enable me to rotate that a little bit more. To that degree, I’m so pleased for the lad – he’s an incredibly genuine person.

“But you’re right: I felt that we lost that battle against Orlando. We needed a bit more energy in there, a change for Randall, b ut of a change of perspective and focus. Gives us a different adge and he’s a different type of player to Hany, of course. And again, it gave Hany an opportunity to just give himself a bit of respite, come in, and inject something into the game. I’ve got to be honest, I thought he was a real catalyst for the group when he came on: earns the penalty, gives us an opportunity, and all-in-all, that area of the field was one that tonight, we certainly looked more accomplished in.”

What was the difference in feel from the opener, which had nearly 60,000 fans?

“You’re looking at polar opposites. The opening fixture of the season was just electric. Probably exceeding, certainly, my expectations of what this stadium would offer and the fans, and just the support that we encountered. Tonight, voices are echoing around such a big arena. So it’s very, very difficult. It’s difficult for all teams that are playing without fans. And I think the one thing I’ve heard multiple times and totally agree with, and maybe we realize as coaches and players, football clubs, soccer clubs: fans are important, of course, but I don’t think ever before have we realized just how important the fans are: they are the game.

“You feel it tonight. The energy that the players have to create pretty much on their own. And of course, the excitement and the passion when you win a game. That’s lost this evening, and unfortunately we’ll probably have to wait a little while before we see it again.”

What was your take on Alex Muyl in his first start?

“Listen, Alex has had a two-week quarantine period coming from the Red Bulls – not easy for any players that are moving clubs at the moment, because they just cannot connect with their new teammates straight away. Alex is a very fit and determined player in general. I honestly felt he may need a little more time to get himself into the right sort of groove for the group. We’ve had very, very little time to work as a team, in a shape: for Alex to really take onboard maybe some of the different nuances between us and the Red Bull. But he’s shown he’s an intelligent soccer player as well as a determined one. I felt tonight there were occasions that he showed both sides of his abilities. He’s a really, really good team player when we haven’t got the ball. And you see that when the opportunity comes along, he’s in the goal-scoring zones, he’s in an area where he’s attacking the ball. I’m still yet to be convinced that it’s not a goal. He’s ticking all the right boxes at the moment. He’s got another hour under his belt after a real competitive display tonight.”

Do you feel a relief to get the first home win?

“I think you get into a world where you’re looking at displays – obviously performances of the team. You’ve been away from home, it’s been very very difficult for the group full-stop. I’m of course pleased with a win. I’m actually delighted that the guys get to taste victory again. I think it was necessary for us just to give us a bit of a shot in the arm after some really good periods and moments away from home that I genuinely feel should have bagged more points than we have.

“But in the end, the table doesn’t lie. We didn’t pick up points against Orlando when the early stages of the game really warranted that. So the pressure starts to build a little bit. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are: when you come back home, you really want to get the very best out of your home field, and there were many, many things tonight that have taken us in a positive direction.

“There was a lot of possession and management of the ball that we’ve not achieved away from home as well. We still managed to find ourselves three or four very good goal-scoring opportunities. We’ve kept our goal intact – albeit at the end with some serious pressure. But I think honestly that’s born out of some missed opportunities. And I’m hoping will learn from that.

“This group’s got to learn how to dig in and learn how to win games. And tonight will go a long way to building character in the group.”

Did you play Godoy in a different way with Brian Anunga next to him rather than Dax McCarty?

“You’re talking about a very, very intelligent and high-caliber individual. Anibal’s probably been more renowned for some of his defensive play and possessional play. And his record will tell us that he doesn’t score many goals, but honestly I think he’s an extremely capable individual. The one thing that Anibal is also an experienced player at, is seeing moments.

“The goal comes out of a set piece situation, goes out at the back post. He finds himself in a good position, he doesn’t get excited. When we needed it most, somebody has come out of nowhere, an individual that we probably least expected, and he’s shown some high, high quality. It’s a difficult finish on his unfavored foot – he’s naturally left-footed – but he’s shown wonderful quality, and that’s a deserved picture of the game.

How do you prepare for Orlando on a quick turnaround?

Two days is not a long time to get ourselves back on track and try to get ourselves in a place to compete again. I think we’re seeing across the league teams are having to dig deep and rotate players and make sure the team that they put out on the field is competitive. In many, many ways that offers opportunities that might not have happened for players in a regular season. If you look at somebody like Brian Anunga, maybe that moment wouldn’t have come along if we’d been playing weekend after weekend and no midweek games. He himself has given a display that certainly puts him in a very positive light in my mind.

“We’re going to run into one of the in-form teams again on Wednesday. I watched their performance against Atlanta, and they certainly look as though the tournament down in Orlando has given them a tremendous foundation. One: to put them in a very sharp and strong physical position: six games is certainly more than most have played at the point at which they’re in in the second phase of the schedule. And secondly: that’s given them confidence. They’ve got some talented players in that group, and they look very, very fluid. There’s some nice connections. They’ll come here thinking that they can certainly earn all three points again.

“The hope is, I think, guys that go out there are certainly buoyed and have a shot in the arm from tonight’s result. We’ll certainly be putting our best foot forward and trying to make this a result that we can turn around from five-six days ago.”

Does the experience of having had to have a quick turnaround against Dallas give you an advantage when you have to do something similar against Orlando?

“I don’t know if it’s an advantage, Tim. I think we certainly came away from the game last week, last Wednesday, and realized just how good they were in certain areas, just how effective someone like Nani still is. It’s our first opportunity to run into what is a very good team. They’re in a good place, they’re confident. They’re fresh, they’re sharp, they look strong, they look as though they’ve really got the bit between their teeth.

“There’s many, many aspects of their game that are tough to stop at the moment. Both their fullbacks are very, very attack-minded. Indeed, their left-hand side produced their opening goal last Wednesday.  Their midfield looks extremely well-drilled. They’ve got talent galore up front and good rotation.

“We won’t have long. We certainly will keep some of those qualities in mind, and hopefully on our home field with a confident result tonight, it will put us in a better place.”

What did you learn about Daryl Dike that you can take into the next contest against Orlando?

“You’re right, he was very influential in the game last week. He’s a young player that looks like he’s full of desire and passion. He’s a very, very strong boy with a good ability to bring others into the game. But for all forwards, hitting the back of the net gives them a huge, huge, lift. For him, in his first appearances in the league, he’ll feel a million dollars, there’s no doubt about that.

I think the simplest answer to your question is that Our two centerbacks, obviously should they be playing, will have a much much better understanding of what the boy’s capable of. They won’t have run into him before, they may well have been caught off-guard. We were certainly in a position of fatigue – there’s no two ways about it. Not sure that’s going to change an awful lot on Wednesday night. But nevertheless, those two guys will be ready for whatever’s thrown at them. I think the game last week will serve them well for whatever’s going to be thrown at them this week.”

Midfielders Anibal Godoy and Tah Brian Anunga

How was your MLS debut?

Anunga: “I just felt like it was an awesome game. As a debut, playing against Miami and having Anibal next to me, he was guiding me and helping me. You have all the guys: Walker, Dave: they all helped me to make my debut much easier. I couldn’t have been more happy to be around these guys. They just made everything easier. It was great.”

Thoughts on the goal?

Godoy: “It was a great moment for me, because it was for the team. For me, if the team wins, it is actually more important for me. I don’t if I score or whatever the score is. I think for me it is more important this moment. I feel happy because we take the three points home, this is what we need, and this is what we need to continue on the next couple of games.”

Did you feel like you were deployed in a different role than usual?

Godoy: “I like to play box to box, you know. for example, when you have one player like Brian, he’s a more holding player, he’s a more tactical player, I think I feel more more comfortable to play a little more higher, because I have support behind me. This is why for me, I don’t have a problem if I play play like holding midfielder or box-to-box: depends on the moment, depends what is the formation, what is the shape we have in the team. But I feel great if I play central midfielder or box-to-box.”

What is the experience like playing without fans in the stands?

Godoy: “It’s difficult, it’s difficult. We know everybody wants to play with the fans. We know that what happens in this moment is a difficult time for everybody in the world, but we need to play. It’s great if we could have fans with us but I know we understand what happened in the States or in the world. This is why we need to continue to play like this because it’s more important for us, tomorrow is
another day we need to start to think about Orlandoon Wednesday. I think this game we need to forget now, too quick because we have two days for rest and to start to play again. For the fans, for us, it is great, but we need to play like this.”

When you played against Gary Smith teams with Charleston Battery, did you imagine yourself playing for him in MLS?

Anunga: “Obviously, I played against Gary, and it wasn’t fun back then. I always looked forward to playing against Nashville because obviously as a player you always want to play against a good team. Gary was always up to the challenge and putting out a good team. Charlestonback then, we always had a good team, so it was a good game and it was always a pleasure.”

Did you feel like the team’s ability to forge connections fell apart a bit when you left the game?

Godoy: “No no, it’s the moment. We need to try to find the moment. The team understands what happened after the goal. This is not about one player; this is not about only me: this is about the team. This is why we have so many players in this team – a lot of quality. This is why we need to be ready for the moment. I think we played well, sometimes we need to play like this to play to win the game.

“For sure if Hany scored the second goal, for sure the other team will try to go after the game. You need to sacrifice sometimes: yourself to win the game.”

Does the team need to play more like tonight’s game, or were there positives (despite fewer results) in other games that are more important?

Anunga: “For me, I just think we have to sometimes have a gameplan, and we always try to stick with the gameplan from the coach. Obviously, we try to control the game, but sometimes the game gets away from you with lot of games played. Anibal’s played almost four full games with heavy legs – very few rotations in the squad. I just feel like we’re getting there, and it’s not going to be that easy.”

Godoy: “We want to win every game away from home. But when you play home, you have desperation to try to win more, because you’re home. We played really well the last three games, but sometimes the futbol is like this: when you play well, you lose, when you play bad, you win. This is why sometimes we need to stay in the gameplan. if the gameplan is not right, we need to change on the field. We need to try to take the moment short one. When you think inside the field, it’s too short: you only have a moment to think. This is why when you have one team like Miami – they try to play – you need to try and control and defend. This is what we did tonight.”

What can you take from the Orlando game last week into the upcoming game against them, particularly as it relates to the OCSC midfield?

Godoy: “Not only their midfielders, they have a lot of good players in front. They have confidence now because they win the last two games of the season. It’s tough. For us, every game’s tough. But we need control it, we need to try to control the game. We need to stop the more key players for this team. I think Nani, Mendez in the midfield, Perreria, they have a lot of good quality, but also we have a lot of good quality here too. This is why we’ll see: we start to rest up tomorrow, and start preparation for the game Wednesday.”

Anunga: “I watched the game and obviously Orlando has a lot of good players, and I felt they have a lot of momentum coming from the Orlando tournament that we missed. They had a lot of good momentum where they have that cohesion from the midfielders. They know exactly where to move and how to play. They understand each other where we’ve had so many [fewer] opportunities to play, and little setbacks. I feel like we’re getting there. I feel like to play Orlando, we need to make it a little bit tougher for them: restrict those guys to have time on the ball to be picking up those passes and finding Nani and the front players.”

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