Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and defender Alistair Johnston met with the media to discuss their Sunday game against Inter Miami CF. Watch or read their full comments here.
Gary Smith: “It seems like the schedule and the protocols that we’ve gotten used to now have become certainly more natural to the group. It seemed like the toughest window fo this week was going to be turning around from the Miami game [last Sunday] into Wednesday’s game against Orlando. So with the extra day – and it doesn’t sound a lot – it gives the plays just a little bit more time to recover mentally and physically. It give me a little bit more time just to set ourselves up and consider where bodies are at, what changes need to be made, and certainly to refresh my mind on the challenge in front of us. So it’s been a good couple of days, and we’ll certainly get the most out of tomorrow.
Alistair Johnston: “The past few weeks have definitely been a bit of a rollercoaster for sure. A lot of ups, which has been nice. Quite a few firsts, as well. It’s nice to be able to get into my natural position and sort of transition there.
It really isn’t that difficult of a job going into a backline that already has a backline of Walker Zimmerman, Dave Romney, and Dan Lovitz – who are US men’s national team internationals right there. It’s a pretty sturdy, solid backline already – especially with Joe [Willis] there, and we’ve got two pivots that are so good in Dax [McCarty] and [Aníbal] Godoy. So for me my job never was that difficult jumping in there, which was nice.
“Just in terms of this Miami game, we know what we’re going to get. Obviously there’s the talks of [Blaise] Matuidi jumping in there as well, which is going to be interesting. Bhey’re a team we just faced last week. We pretty much know what to expect from them. They obviously are going to be looking to get some revenge on us, but we’re hoping to get down there and hopefully steal more points.”
How can you use this time to find more consistency, particularly on the attack?
“I’ve said a couple of times on these calls that we don’t get a huge amount of time on the training field, and are not necessarily given the opportunity more time to work at specific areas of our game. More game-planning, and preparing for our opponent and what challenges may bring any given matchday.
“My big hope at the moment is that there’s a confidence that grows in players and teams when chances are created – even more so when chances are converted – and if you look at our opening period in the Miami game, there was – as you’ve rightly stated – a fantastic opportunity for Dominique. There was Alex Muyl’s header and goal that I still believe was a goal, but it wasn’t counted, so therefore it doesn’t count. There were moments in that early period that I certainly felt as though we’ve warmed to our homefield.
“I think the challenge when you go away from home is: Miami certainly have a lot of talented players. They’ve not started, I’m sure, how they’d have liked to have. And they’re adding quality all of the time to this group. So the feel around the place will be one of anxiousness to do well. When I watched them play against Orlando in their opening game of this new schedule, I thought they looked very, very upbeat and positive in their approach to the game, more so than when they came to our place. So that’s what we’ll be expecting.
“In terms of goal-scoring, strange enough we were discussing it very briefly before you fellas came on here: It really is about forwards and creative players getting into a groove. My hope for Hany and Randall is that the goal that they’ve combined to score on Wednesday night is a lead-in to what comes next.
Do you expect them to play the same way without or without Blaise Matuidi? Do you put together the same gameplan, knowing that it’s just a little tougher if they plug in a French international into the same system?
Smith “I don’t know Diego [Alonso], their coach, well enough to predict whether he’ll change lineups or shapes against us. They have played with a back three on previous occasions. I have to presume that whatever shape he’s been playing, however they’ve been planning or preparing, it was in readiness for Matuidi to come into that group. That being said, there is a hell of a difference one individual can make, especially the caliber of this player: World Cup winner who’s played at the highest level.
“Even if he’s not on the field to begin with, I think his presence around the locker room, the fact that he’s on the training field, and that he’s not a million miles away from competing will give everyone else a lift. I think we’ll feel that element of their team. They’re certainly moving in a more progressive direction with their players, and it’s going to be a challenging game, come what may.”
Does knowing that you don’t have to play a midweek game allow you to go with a first-choice lineup, and particularly play guys at right winger who have rested?
Smith: “Listen, I feel as though we visit this moment every time we’re on this call, Drake. Given the amount of games we have, it’s quite often. I can only say that any rotation of those areas is very much based around keeping some attacking positions in the team sharp, bright and purposeful. There are certain individuals and characters that I do believe – when I watch other teams – might help. When you take Alex Muyl, he is still working his way towards full fitness. Randall has probably played the most minutes out of anyone in those wide areas – and I would suspect he’s at his most confident after scoring at the weekend. What I have to consider is where are we at as a group? And it’s not just about any one individual here, it’s about what’s best for the team.
“The game’s not won in the first minute or first 60 minutes, you’ve got to win it over 90 minutes. Sometimes there are slightly different gameplans that can get that job done. I certainly won’t allude to who’s playing, but this is our seventh game in 25 days, so we’re getting through a lot of work here, and these guys, I believe, have put in a terrific effort so far. It’s my job to make sure that I look after them, and to get a side on the field as well that’s very, very competitive. I don’t think anyone’s going to thank me for giving up a game without a fight.”
Do you feel Joe Willis is improving over the course of the year?
Smith: “Do you know what? I couldn’t encapsulate it any better than that. I was only saying to [goalkeeping coach] Matt Pickens after the game: Joe’s a big man anyway. He has a tremendous presence. But I do feel as though he’s warming to his role, not just on the field, but off it. He’s a terrific character. I think we’re starting to see the qualities and the signs of an individual that we knew was a good addition to the group.
“The save late on in the game at 1-1, of of [Júnior] Urso, it wasn’t just a good save – and I think we’ve all seen goalkeepers make saves for the camera, as such – there’s a lot of bravery in that. You’ve got to dive at someone’s feet, you’ve got to throw your body in the way.
“He’s been a great addition to the group, and you’re right: he’s getting better and better game by game. All I can hope is that with a strong backline and group in front of him, it’s not only giving him confidence, but he’s likewise doing to the group.”
You mentioned that fullback is your preferred position, what makes you more comfortable there?
Johnston: “Definitely the most natural spot, just because you could ask our assistant, Steve Guppy, he’s gone at me night and day about doing stepovers. Then he came up to me a couple weeks ago and said, ‘Alistair, you know what? You’re just not a stepover guy.’ So there’s a couple things like that, there’s been some small hints and clues over the season that I’m probably not a winger at heart. And for me, I have a defensive mentality, so defendings always going to kind of come first.
“Offensively, I prefer to come on an overlap, and I prefer to come late and kind of cause an overload. That definitely lends more towards being a fullback than a winger. That’s kind of where I’ve gone with that. It’s just nice to get on the field obviously, but to kind of get in your own position and that’s where you feel most comfortable, it’s always a nice thing, too.”
What do you expect from Miami’s attack now that you have some familiarity with them?
Johnston: “Yeah, whoever’s out on the field at the fullback position, with them – especially with guys like Pizarro and stuff – they’re super comfortable, they all kind of play that inverted, they’re fine to drift, they all have free rein underneath the striker. So yeah: it’s a very fluid system. As a fullback there, you just need to be super switched-on, because if you just turn off for one second, these guys are smart enough to find gaps and come into pockets where they become really difficult to defend.
“No matter what side you’re on, you’ve just got to be aware, and ready for runs in-behind, runs off your shoulder, and guys showing into pockets. I think for whoever’s playing at fullback, it’s just all about being aware, and lots of communication between the fullback and the centerbacks.”
Do you have to make a decision at some point to rest Dan Lovitz, or to sit him to prevent a yellow-card accumulation suspension?
Smith: “Have you noticed how Alistair, very quickly, has got into the routine of not mentioning who’s playing? I was very, very impressed with that.”
Johnston: “Cheers, coach.”
Smith: “I thought you were trying to lead him up the path with that there, Drake, and you know, he didn’t take the bait. Very experienced, and he’s growing up very quickly.
“As far as Daniel goes, when you look around at individuals that are capable of dealing with multiple games in a short period of time. Daniel certainly is an impeccable professional looking after his body to be able to get through that. Now as far as the booking goes, yes it is a challenge. You know, point at some stage do I even need to say, “OK, look this is an opportunity not only to have a rest, but to also get you further down the line. But I know full well Daniel will want to play, I know he’ll want to be part of the group, there’s nobody in our group who’s complaining, moaning or groaning, or in any way being negative about the amount of games they’re playing. I can only say their attitude toward the work has been spot-on.
“I’ll have to make a decision on that. It’s not easy to handle: I don’t feel there’s a straightforward answer. In the best backline, Daniel’s in it. It’s a case of just trying to manage that. Whether he starts and I bring him off, or whether I decide that maybe this one’s not for him and he needs a rest, and we move a game further down the line.”