Nashville SC

Presser: Gary Smith, Randall Leal, and Hany Mukhtar after a draw against Orlando City SC

Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and two of his players met with the media after their team’s 1-1 draw against Orlando City SC. Watch or read their full comments here.

Head coach Gary Smith

“Well I always thought from the outset that this was going to be a really tough task. Orlando – for the first time in I think the games that we’ve played – starting in this first phase of the schedule, showed at their place what a very talented, and I think competitive side they were. A bit fresher, in a better spot than we were I believe at their place. I thought this was going to be a real test for us, and it proved that. However, after I thought a bit of a scrappy first half from our point of view, what can only be classed as an absolutely fantastic strike from one of their players has given them a halftime lead. Aside that, I felt it wa… we made some corrections to the was we played art their place. We got ourselves into some reasonable spots but showed a lack of quality.

“The second half started off on a completely different note, and I think it identified what we are capable of if we can only produce that in a more consistent fashion. So the second period was certainly a far better one for us from that standpoint. In the end, a very, very good point.”

How relieving is it for both Randall Leal and the team that he’s able to score on Hany Mukhtar’s assist?

Absolutely, it’s just nice to see those two combine. There was just a real energy about the opening exchanges. Delighted to see those two in the thick of it. We’ve been in some very very good positions, and Randall probably more so than Hany has had some great chances to open his account, and hasn’t been able to. So it was very, very pleasing not only to see him score, but obviously to get ourselves back on track so early, and give the group a lift in that second period.

How do you evaluate Hany Mukhtar‘s season to date?

“I’ve said multiple times that I believe the creative players and that connection and synergy in what is a vital area, you’ve got to play quickly, you’ve got to show disguise and finesse in tight areas and under lots of pressure. It can be one of the last areas of your team to fire on all cylinders, as it were. Hany’s a very, very talented lad. Listen, let’s not forget: he’s come from Europe, he’s had to readapt. We’re living through some real difficulties – stop-start season. We’ve discussed the fact that in our first four games of the restart, Hany had jumped on four flights and played four games and got back home at an hour or hours that he could only have dreamed about when he was in Europe. There’s a lot of adapting in his world, let alone in his game.

He’s running into opponents that he’s not seen before, he’s working with individuals in his own team that he’s still trying to build relationships with. I see flashes of the quality that he’s capable of, and I think with all of our creative players – not just Hany – we’re just looking for a bit more consistency. There’s no questioning the aptitude and attitude to the work of supporting the team and being team players. But slowly-but-surely, we’re starting to see some signs of what they’re capable of with the ball, and certainly in front of goal.”

What sort os message did you deliver at halftime that changed the fortunes, particularly in the connections with Leal and Mukhtar?

“There was a discussion at halftime about two-three areas of the game, and certainly that was one of them. In the first period, it was far too easy for their defensive shape and team organization to deal with two of our most creative players.

“Randall spent too much time in front of defenders, and in a position where he’s easy to mark – or certainly he found it very very tough to get away from anyone. There were two instances where he stayed wide and got himself in good positioins, and he actually created – on his own – two shooting opportunities.

“Same applies to Hany. Slightly different to Hany, you know. When we’re building out, he’s got slightly more license to overload areas, but he’s at his very best when he’s behind midfield players, in front of defenders, getting in those half-pockets and on the half-turn, and asking questions of the backline. Second half, he did that more often.

“We’re going from game to game. We’re spending more time making sure the players recover, and they’re physically in the right place, and they’re being looked after in that fashion. We’re having very, very little time to work as a group under no stress or pressure. All of the development’s coming in match play: points being played for. And that’s always difficult. I think these guys are doing a fabulous job as a brand-new group with all of the troubles that we’ve had to deal with. I don’t think anyone should forget that. We’ve had three breaks and three preseasons. And these guys are now five-six games into the new phase. Five games? We play five preseason games. We were off for five months. They’re doing a wonderful job. Can we improve? Absolutely.”

Did you feel your midfield was overrun in the first half? And how did that change after the break?

“There were two areas that we all felt they took some serious advantage of us in Orlando: one was down the right-hand side, or out wide in general – their fullbacks did a wonderful job, good combination play, they looked very, very bright. The other one was Pereyra getting into pockets and asking some very, very big questions of our midfield Players.

“But I would disagree with you. I thought they had some nice possession, and the majority was in front of us. Other than the actual goal – which was a wonderful strike – I don’t remember too many moments that I was worried that they might extend their lead. Which tells me they spent a lot of time in front of us, and one or two of the troublesome spots I felt we dealt with very, very well.

“The difficulty for us was actually building and gaining some traction in the game. We squandered the ball too easily, it wasn’t precious enough to us, and in the second half. I felt the team did a much, much better job of just working Orlando over, and making them run, and asking them some defensive questions. That started from almost the first two or three minutes of the second half.

“I was happy with the way the players went about their business: we had a plan. We got beat 3-1 down there after actually creating a ton of chances early on, but as the game went on at their place, it became ever more difficult to contain them. Tonight’s a different question. I see improvement, I feel as though we suffocated a very good team. And we found ourselves with less chances than usual, but still managed to come away from this game with a point, which is very, very important to us.”

Does the condensed nature of the season lead to more rotation up top, and is that making it difficult to get into a rhythm?

“You’re spot on. I think there are multiple positions as you see – the wide areas, I’ve tried to keep some continuity in the back line, but those guys are getting through a ton of work, the two central midfield players are very, very important to this group, but we’ve seen Brian Anunga and Derrick Jones offer some support there, and we’re sure to see that in the future again, as well – but you’re right: if you’re asking players to be explosive if you’re asking them to take chances, and to offer themselves up in exciting places, it takes a lot of energy, a lot of willingness, and you’re not always rewarded for it.

“Dominique worked tremendously hard in the first half, but I think we all could have been forgiven for forgetting he was out there. He had little to no opportunities or sights at goal. But the second period, we started to see a little bit more connection and understanding, and the game opened up for him a bit more.

“That’s an area of the field we have to try to keep fresh: it’s the focal point of the team, and yes there is more rotation and there will continue to be.”

Did the lack of travel have the expected result on your second-half energy, and lead to that improvement?

“I think it helped enormously. I think I saw an Orlando team there that were starting to show some signs of fatigue, as you might expect. When we faced them just over a week ago, I believem they’d had six games down in Orlando, they’d had an opportunity just to recover and regroup, and if I’m not mistaken, they’d been beaten down there in Miami, and were back at home, back firing on all cylinders.

“Tonight, they showed the signs. It’s not easy. You get up early in the morniing, you want to get to your venue as early as you can so the players can settle in, have a rest – possibly even a sleep – get the right food in order. They’re not in their natural surrounds. Tonight – not just tonight – I felt as though we showed some very, very good signs against Miami. That’s two games at home now since the difficulties that we had and this new restart. I’ve seen some really positive aspects of our game. I think the players, just as importantly, are starting to find some relatiionship with this stadium, field, and their surrounds and gameday situation. We’d had one game before that, don’t forget. And we’ve now come back and earned ourselves four points. It’s a very decent tally against two very good groups. IIt bodes well, hopefully, for the future.”

Is consistency of schedule a key to getting into a groove to get the results?

I think you’ve seen some consistencies in our game, in terms of the way that the group have developed a spirit and understanding on the field. I’d like to think that we don’t look like a team that have just been put together in this first year. There’s far more appreciation of what they’re trying to achieve. But to your point: of course. This is no normal year,. We’ve played five games in 21 days after a five-month break, or more.

We’ve played four of those games in the early stages away from home. It’s a really, really tough turnaround for us, and whilst there are some things we definitely can improve on, slowly-but-surely I think you’re seeing not just the team, but individuals as well warming to stadium, the city, their teammates, the league, their opponents. They’re understanding more and more what playing – maybe Hany and Randall, more so for Hany. He’s come from Europe where I doubt very much he’s experienced the type of humidity asnd heat that he has to deal with every day of the week now. It puts a huge demand, with the travel, on any individual.

“I’ll be the first to be critical if need-be. But I think you’re seeing a group of players slowly-but-surely that are showing good signs, and they’re starting to show some form of identity.”

Randall Leal and Hany Mukhtar

How exciting was it to get your first goal for the team?

Leal: “I’m very happy. I’m very happy but we will go home disappointed because we want to win. But it’s OK: now we have four points in two game. Now we have to go to Miami and try to get the three points, and then go higher in the table. Now we know the other teams have two-three points maximum, so we can catch them. Now it’s time for recovery, to try to be good for Sunday.”

How did the play on which you assisted Randall unfold?

Mukhtar: “Yes, we train a long time together, and we find each other, and the connection will get better with more games and more games. I’m looking forward to it.”

What was the difference at halftime, and what did Gary say in that time?

Leal: “I think at halftime he spoke with us. It was technically-wise no good for us. We were giving a lot of wrong pass and everything. He told us in the second half we hve to show something more, and we can do it. I think the second half, we go to the pitch with another mind and everything, and then we get the first goal quick. Then we tried to take a goal, to score the second one, but ah, it’s OK. We cannot do nothing, and we draw.”

How do you feel like your season has gone so far? How do you feel you’re adapting to the new surroundings?

Mukhtar: “Obviously I hope that I score more goals and make more assists, but in the end it is more important that the team is successful. I try my best to help the team as much as possible, but for me it’s a tough year. I don’t want to panic soon or anything. I need to work hard, and come to my level, where I already can help the team with more goals, and with more assists.”

You’ve seemed frustrated at times this season, do you think this goal can give you confidence going forward?

Leal: “No, I think it’s not frustrated. We were losing. Of course, we are at home, so we cannot lose. We were not doing well, and it happens, I think. We have to win all the games here at home, so always, it’s pressing at home. Now, I think the goal is less important for the moment, and the important thing is we are getting points – important points – and we have to go forward.”

With the weird nature of the season, are you handling your off-field preparation differently than you have in the past?

Mukhtar: “Of course. We need to do everything because we have so many games now in a short period of time. Actually, I can’t even remember when we had the last time a day off. But it’s also a good thing because we have a lot of time where we need to take chemistry, so it’s good for us now to have the games.

“For me personally, I need to work harder, and then everything will come with time.”

Leal: “Personally, for the moment, the games are too quick. I think we have no time to do special things outside of training. I think we just play, training, sleep, play training, sleep. For the moment, we have to take care: a lot of games too quick. Every four days, so the most important is take care of us. The time to go out, to do extra things outside the training is coming.”

Did you feel the pressure to come in and perform right away for a new team?

Mukhtar: “I don’t feel pressure, to be honest. I have always had high standards for myself to get better, and to get better. For me personally, I never played with this heat, so for me that’s the biggest difference, and the league is very physical. I need to get used to it. It takes sometimes time. But I will do everything that I can do to do my best and to get there: where I see me, and where other people see me.”

Did you have a special celebration or message for people in Costa Rica after scoring the goal?

Leal: “I don’t have to [dedicate the goal] because my family is here. I think it’s good for them. They can’t come to watch the game but they are at home. They are there waiting for me, so it’s good, you know. The most important is that we are playing good, we are going up as a tema. For the moment we have to keep working, and don’t look at what you do personally. We have to see what we do as a team.”

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