Nashville SC

Presser: Gary Smith, Dax McCarty, and Hany Mukhtar after win over Atlanta United

Nashville SC earned a big win over rival Atlanta United last night. Read or watch their full comments here.

Head coach Gary Smith

“Well in a difficult rivalry game as we know this one is, we’ve fallen short on a couple of occasions this season to this group – without saying the obvious and saying they are a very good footballing side, with tremendous amount of ability in the team. But I felt that our guys showed a tremendous amount of passion and pride tonight. They’ve achieved something tonight that we haven’t done all season and that’s get ourselves on the scoresheet on multiple occasions. I felt there were some displays tonight that really offered a different dimension, not just for individuals but for the group.

“All in all it’s a fantastic result, we stay unbeaten here at the Tians’ Stadium and that’s something of course we want to try and reinforce. So all in all a wonderful night.”

You said earlier this week that Atlanta United had been something of a “bogey-team” for you. Does that make the three points a little sweeter?

“Absolutely, Tim. If you want to build a rivalry and a competition of some substance, then you know: you’ve got to be part of that action. Up until now, whilst I do believe the games have been very competitive, they’ve certainly come a way of having got the better of us. Tonight, it just felt – I said to the broadcast team as I walked off the field – sometimes you feel an energy and spirit within the group pregame. You know, we’ve had a week leading into this to think about what it means, how are we going to conduct ourselves, and what it’s going to take to beat what is a very good team. That is not easy. The other angle for us of course, is that we were trying to break the deadlock in any game on multiple goals being scored. With: we certainly understand that if we are going to give ourselves any opportunity of competing for play of positions, we have to hit the back of the net more often. Of course, tonight that is the most pleasing factor for me and the group: that we put in a great display and we’ve seen some reward for it.”

What is the positive feeling around finishing Phase One of the return-to-play with a win and the attacking players having breakout performances?

“It really caps off what has been a very good run for us. We’re four unbeaten now, and I believe two wins and two draws in that, which of course make a hell of a difference. We’ve shown that we’re capable without the ball, and there’s a resilience and a core element to this group that doesn’t give up, and shows such a tremendous attitude. But of course, again, the one thing that we’ve lacked is that real cutting edge in the final third.

“For the guys you’ve mentioned to have a breakout evening, it was… of course I’m delighted to see Dax score, but more importantly for guys like Dominique [Badji], and Hany, and Abu [Danladi], they’ve got themselves in some good positions. If we cast our minds back to the Orlando game, Abu was electric in the first 15 minutes, and worked probably two or three excellent opportunities for himself, and didn’t score. And it makes a hell of a difference to see him calmly take his opportunity under pressure. Not easy, coming out of mid-air – wonderful ball obviously, from Dax – but there is a quality that top strikers have. For those guys now, if you look at their performances tonight, the one thing that I’m sure they’ll all go home thinking is, ‘OK, that’s a great – I don’t want to say start point – but that’s a grat position I’m in now. How do I consistently achieve that?’

“Just finishing up, wonderful way to finish Phase One, and we obviously start Phase Two next weekend with one of the toughest teams in the league.”

How pleased were you to see Dax McCarty on the scoresheet?

“Delighted. He doesn’t make those runs into the box as often as I saw him maybe in the past. Certainly, the way that I’ve asked him to perform and his leadership well in the group, doesn’t always see him in that position. You know, I certainly know what he is capable of and I think the one thing that you can expect from somebody of his experience is that he makes those choices and selects those opportunities maybe far better now than he did when he was younger, when it was a matter of ‘tell you what, I’ll go from box to box for 90 minutes, and you know that’s not going to be too much of a difficulty for me.’

“So pleased to see him turn up at that point. I actually thought that Daniel Lovitz did a wonderful job out on the left. He looked like he was going to cross it two or three times, worked a terrific angle and of course the assist from him was sublime.”

Does being in a playoff position now add stakes to the game against league-leading Columbus next week?

“Well, Phil, you will forgive me for maybe not having to much to say about Columbus after such a great evening tonight. Our focus was solely on Atlanta, and how we were going to break our duck against them.

But what I will tell you is I watched them before I came to the game tonight, and yet again, you see a team that is extremely well-drilled. They have a wonderful group of players there, and they’re in a very good run of form. So my expectation is that that game in Columbus is going to be as tough or if not the toughest that we’ve run into, and it’ll be another test for this young group.

We’re still developing, but we’re moving in the right direction at this point in time. What I hope is, there’s not too many bumps in the road, but when there are bumps, you’ve got to regroup, you’ve got to learn by your mistakes, you’ve certainly got to move on in a better fashion. The one thing that Columbus know is that we’ll go in there with a very competitive attitude. We’ve proved not that we are capable of multiple goals in a game, and maybe that’ll just give them food for thought as they prepare after their draw this weekend.”

Does the added motivation of having a new striker on the way simply coincide with an offensive breakout?

“No, I’m not one for coincidences. I think it’s definitely a situation where, if you look at what is going on in maybe our counterparts of Miami, coming into the league this year as an expansion group, it’s no shock to me that they added [Leandro Gonzalez] Pírez, they added [Blaise] Matuidi, I know they got beat today, but that’s not an easy place to go in Orlando at the end of a tough week, and we suffered there as well. But you do get a feel and an air and something a little bit extra.

“I think I said in the week in the media call that I had: competition is always a key factor in the way players play. Those guys know that there’s someone coming in. They’re certainly looking over their shoulder, and maybe feeling they need a little bit more out of themselves. Whatever it takes, I’ll accept. The fact that three of our front four tonight have scored is something brand new for us. I’m going to enjoy that.”

Do you think you’ve found confidence and a settled starting lineup after a rivalry win and headed into a key match?

“Of course a victory’s a much-needed boost in our rivalry with Atlanta. we certainly didn’t want this to be a one-sided affair, so everyone’s very, very pleased that we’ve put our mark on this close-quarters competition with Atlanta.

“As far as going to Columbus and them being No. 1 seed or top of the division, this is early days for us, and we’re trying to go about our business as best we can. First of all, we want to be competitive, which I think we’ve shown. Secondly, we want to show improvement, which I think we are. And thirdly, you know, when we get to a point in the season where playoffs, seedings, and other situations become more apparent, then that will play into our mind. At this point in time, we’re taking the proverbial every-game-as-it-comes, we know we’re going to have a tough game next week. You might expect that everyone’s going to enjoy this win, myself included, and when we get ourselves back together on Monday, we’ve got a good week to prepare for a good side. And it’s going to take a week to get everyone back together again and be in the right shape to go and compete against the top team in the division.”

What was your evaluation of Alan Winn’s performance after a long time out of the lineup?

“Circumstances are everything for all players. And we’re without Randall Leal and David Accam for different reasons tonight. Alan’s been drafted into the group, having trained exceptionally well on the fringes of the squad. He’s endured some difficult moments, and emotionally I’m sure he’s felt very disappointed that he hasn’t been part of the 20-man group. But I have to say, I thought he showed all of the desire and endeavor and passion that this group has really become and been starting to [be] known for.

“Listen, I thought his performance was terrific when he came on. We needed energy, we needed a lift. The two guys out wide have put in a wonderful shift against what I would class as possibly the best wide- and outside-back combinations, and we needed those two guys to fulfill their role. Both Taylor [Washington] and Alan did a wonderful job. As far as Alan’s concerned, with a performance like that, he puts himself in a very favorable position when we’re talking about the 20-man group again. And that’s all he could do. An he fulfilled it exceptionally well.”

Midfielders Dax McCarty and Hany Mukhtar

You joked after the game that it was the best performance you’ve had. How did it feel?

McCarty: “Maybe on the attacking side of the ball, but I digress. It was a fun night out there.”

How did it feel to finally get that long-awaited goal?

Mukhtar: “Yeah, I’m happy to help the team finally. It’s been a long time, so yeah. We need to get better and better from game-to-game.”

You mentioned that you’re a primarily defensive guy, so with a goal and three assists, how good does it feel to be integral to the offense?

McCarty: “Yeah, honestly it feels good, on a personal note, any time you can help contribute to a win. Like you said, my role on this team is more defensive. Me and [Aníbal] Godoy, we try our best to control the middle of the field help our back four defend, and usually leave the attacking for our attackers. I don’t think it is any secret that our attacking front four have been creating plenty of chances and we’ve just been a little bit snake-bit in front of goal, but the fact that I was involved in four goals tonight is something that I do not believe is sustainable but I certainly am extremely happy that Abu, Dom, and Hany all got their first goals for our club, because I am going to score one or two goals a season, it’s not going to happen often, that’s not my job but when our attacking players score goals, when they get confidence, our team is going to become really dangerous. So the more important thing tonight is that those three guys had great performances, got on the scoresheet and now, I think you’re just going to see them take off and give our team attacking platform to where we’re going to be really dangerous.”

What did you see in terms of spacing on the pitch to provide for teammates?

McCarty: “For the most part, I think we try to work on set pieces. To see a set-piece that we’ve worked on numerous times work in the first – I don’t know what it was – minute or two minutes of the game, we exploit that near post. Actually, Atlanta switched it up on us. They usually play man-to-man, but they went to a zone. But Hany stuck to his guns, he played a great ball in to the near post, and my job was just to flick it, get something on it, try to get to the far post. IT’s exactly how you draw it up, and when stuff like that happens, it’s really exciting. Actually, we had two set pieces against Miami that we worked on that were actually both really dangerous, so to see one go in was great.

“And then the other goals, it’s just the second one – the one that Hany scored – it’s just a second-assist, a second ball that we do well to win that Hany does well to finish, and that’s pretty much all just him. And then the third one, when guys like Dom and Abu are on the field, we can play into space behind a high backline. I missed one – I hit a terrible pass in the first half trying to find Abu – and so I told him to keep trying to make that run, and I’m just really glad that he did, and I was able to find him, and that he was able to finish it off.”

Mukhtar: “Yeah, it’s good. It’s good for our confidence to get great chances. Also, that three offensive players scored, it’s very good for our team. Good to give us the confidence we need.”

How does this game’s performance serve as a culmination of Phase One and lead into a better Phase Two?

McCarty: “Yeah, it’s a massive result for us. I looked at it – we didn’t talk about this inside – but I looked at this game as a must win game. You know, playing against Atlanta three times this year (they had already beaten us twice), at home to end phase one we are three games unbeaten but two draws where we could have probably had wins. It was really important for me and for the group to get three points tonight to really continue to set our momentum, and in a positive way. It feels really good. Obviously we have a lot to work on. I don’t think we’re by any means a finished product, but you know, when you’re an expansion team and you can put together four good, positive results in a row, that’s just going to continue to help the team grow and help the confidence grow. So I am really proud of our group: we have been through the ringer literally and figuratively in terms of just crazy stuff happening to us in this year and it’s been a frustrating stop-start season. But now that we’ve got a little bit of a platform and some momentum on our side hopefully we can continue the good momentum in phase two.”

How comfortable were you with the space Atlanta was giving you guys to get behind their backline?

Mukhtar: “Yeah, it’s good. Also the combination between me and Badji was better. I think it will come with games, and like I’ve told so far, it’s important: confidence has a massive impact on this game of soccer, so yeah we’ll get better and better.”

Do you feel pressure to get involved in the offense when the team is struggling to score?

McCarty: “I don’t necessarily feel pressure to get forward and help the team score goals. I don’t think it’s necessarily a strength of mine. I think that I can do it, but I think that any time we can get Randall, and Hany, and Badji, and [Daniel] Ríos, and Abu, and these attacking players on our team in better positions with the ball around the goal, it’s going to be better for our team than if me or, let’s say Godoy or a defender’s up there.

“I put pressure on myself every game to just do my job and help the team win games. I try to take what the game gives me. So when I play in the midfield with a guy like Aníbal Godoy who’s been just tremendous this season for us, we try to play a little bit off each other. Maybe when we’re on the road, both of us will sit a little bit deeper and try to make the game from deeper positions, but when we’re at home, I think it’s incumbent upon us to just be aggressive, to try to be the aggressor and to try to really put teams under pressure. Whether that’s Godoy going forward, or whether that’s me, it doesn’t really matter: we needed to support the attacking players.

“It just happened to be me tonight. It was Godoy when he scored that fantastic goal against Miami a few weeks ago. So as long as we have that balance and we have one guy sitting in front of the backline, we’re going to continue to try to help our attackers go and score goals and win games.”

What have you done individually to improve, and to build chemistry with your teammates.

Mukhtar: “Of course, I have, for myself, high expectations when I came here, when I arrived here. Yeah, I was for the last three-and-a-half years a very, very important player for my old team [Brøndby IF] and it’s always difficult to come into a new team. Different characters, different players, so you need to adapt your way of playing and learn about your teammates more and more because in the end if you know more about your teammates, you can get better on the pitch. Si, yeah, that will take time, but I try to do my best every day and work hard. My job is to help the team.”

What was your pregame reaction to Atlanta centerback Miles Robinson’s comments about the respective talent levels between the teams?

McCarty: “I knew this question was coming eventually. Yes, it was talked about before the game. I think Gary touched on his a little bit. But it didn’t really affect us too much. I think that, when you’re an expansion team, unless you’re spending millions and millions and millions of dollars like Atlanta did, or like LAFC, teams are always going to look at you, maybe as inferior and try to get the best of you.

“I think we’ve shown throughout the year that we’re going to be competitive. Every game we’re going to be competitive. Sure, we may not be as talented as other teams, but I certainly don’t think we lack in that department at all. And we’re going to make up for it in other ways.

“Look, I have to say, a little bit of unsolicited old-man advice for Miles Robinson. I think as a fan of his game, I think he’s got tremendous talent, I think the future for him is extremely bright. But when your team is going through a tough time – and I think Atlanta has been rpetty spoiled in terms of the trophies that they’ve won, the fanbase that they have, how good their team has been, the expectations that they have – their team is not in a good place right now. Their team is struggling, and so for me, if I could give Miles a little bit of advice, I would say to him: talent is only so valuable, and it’s only going to take you so far in this game, especially in soccer. Because there’s so much more to the game than just talent. So when you’re going through a tough time, I would say that things like character, things like hard work, things like humility, they go a long way to help get your team out of a tough time.

“I think for us, we just continue on our path, regardless of how teams look at us: it’s not going to affect us in our locker room.”

Did you think your team was able to play more relaxed, and yourself individually?

Mukhtar: “Yes of course. Obviously my strengths are with the ball and I’m always comfortable when I have the ball. I think that’s what I said also before: we need to know our teammates better and better, and then we see their strengths, and then we can everybody win on the pitch, and can shine. That’s important and it will come with the time.

How weird has the repetitive nature of the schedule been, and how excited are you to see some fresh opposition?

McCarty: “It’s a good question, it’s been really strange. I think that nothing in this year surprises anybody. It’s been just such a frustrating, once-in-a-lifetime – in a bad way – type of season. That being said, soccer is not even really the most important thing right now, but we still have a job to do. We still want to be an outlet for people who may be struggling and may be frustrated. Being able to be on the pitch and being able to do what we love is obviously a little bit of an escape.

“Playing the same teams over and over again is so difficult. You know each other very well, they’re always a little bit cagey games. The frustration level gets high. You keep kicking the same people over and over again. But when you get to prepare for new teams, I think it always give you a little bit of life; it always give you a little bit of energy, if you will, to go into training preparing for a new opponent, an opponent that you haven’t seen. So obviously they’re different teams, they all have different characteristics, and I’m sure we’ll cross those bridges when we get to each individual team.

“But for our group, we’re going to enjoy this win tonight. I think it was well-deserved. I think we were the better team on the night, and it could have probably even been more goals for us. But once Monday and Tuesday come around, we’re going to start preparing for Columbus, who I think has shown that they’re one of the best teams in the league. We’ll enjoy it and then we’ll move on.

Dax McCarty photo from file.


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