Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and defender Dave Romney met with the media to discuss their upcoming game against league-leading Columbus Crew. Watch or read their full comments here.
How have you spent a whole week – no midweek game – to prepare for this contest?
Smith: “I think it’s been one of the most-normal weeks we’ve had in a long time. Last week, there was an early part of our training schedule we used to try and implement some recovery and just a mental and physical regrouping, if you’d like. This week has been back to what could be considered as normal. Some good work Monday and Tuesday, we had a day to recover on Wednesday, and then today and tomorrow are generally days that we start to look at our opponent, what we need to try and achieve, and some of the qualities that our opponent has. In this case, we’ve run into a very confident and in-form Columbus team. Their stats – have only one defeat – speak for themselves. I’m sure that they’ll be looking at this opportunity against us as one they should be adding to the points board and points tally.
“As I’ve said numerous times on this media broadcast, it’s not, I don’t believe, a straightforward or even a given [win] against us. We’re ourselves in a decent place. Of course, we’re still developing and improving, but i’d like to think – and I’m sure others do as well – that there’s a corps and a spirit in this team that’s already starting to show itself, which means for Columbus, it will be a tough game. No doubt about it.
You have experience with a number of players from Columbus. What does that experience with Gyasi Zardes, Emmanuel Boateng, and others help you prepare for a high-caliber team?
Romney: “Yeah, they’re a really good team. They’ve been extremely good defensively, but they’ve also scored a lot of goals. To have a +14 goal differential this early in the season is something they should be really proud of, and it’s something that we definitely have to take notice of. I’ve gotten to play with Gyasi for about three years, so I kind of know where he likes to run, how he likes to kind of fade off shoulders and make really good runs. I was roommates with Boateng, one of their wingers, for four years. I’ll be familiar with those guys.
“But outside of that, they’re going to be a good test. They’re going to be a really good test for us.”
How do you shift from facing a team that was losing confidence like Atlanta to one that’s brimming with confidence in Columbus?
Smith: “Well, I think we can say mentally, that they might be in slightly different places. For us, I don’t think there’s a huge amount of changes to be honest, Tim. We’re certainly very respectful of what they’re capable of. Their record is very, very good at this point. Having looked at them – and on numerous occasions – they’re actually a side that do a lot of things well, and you might think that that’s pretty straightforward for a team that’s in good form.
“But in terms of any one thing that they do exceptionally well, I’d have to scratch my head a little bit on that one. They of course are a good side, but they do a lot of things very well. To Dave’s point, some of the stats, their goal-scoring record’s good, which tells us they’ve got good dimensions. They defend well which means that they’re probably a very genuine group, and have, of course, gathered this confidence over a period of time.
“But if you look at the way we’ve performed away from home, if you look at the most recent run of four games where we’ve gone away, we’ve come back home, we’ve kept ourselves in decent shape, we’ve continued our improvement – as I’ll keep reinforcing – and we will ourselves believe, of course, that there’s something to be gotten out of this game: there’s no doubt about it. We’ve been to some difficult places under difficult circumstances, and this will be yet another test for us in difficult surroundings.
“I have full belief in the group. They’re confidence, they’re upbeat, and I think they’re ready for most challenges at the moment. And the one thing we do know is whoever we run into and whatever comes our way, we’ll be better off for it at the end of it, given such a new group and a new environment.”
Do you feel like the strength of the defense – with your contributions – vindicates what you’d said when signed, that you felt you weren’t always getting a fair shake at your previous club?
Romney: “Yeah. It definitely feels good: it’s something I knew I was capable of and I was confident of the previous five years I was at [LA] Galaxy, though. It was no surprise to me, and we have a great coach and great system here that does suit defenders well, and we have a lot of honest workers in front of us: this is by no means just a backline thing. We have midfielders who are working their ass off the entire game, forwards who press well: it’s definitely a full-team defensive thing, not just the backline or myself or Joe [Willis] in goal.
“I think defensively, everyone’s been playing really well. We’ve been organized, and I think the way that our team kind of shapes up is very suitable for road games. We’re going to defend well, we’re going to make it tough on the home team, and we can steal a point or three on the counterattack.
“I don’t think we’ve been played off the field in any of the games this year. We’ve kind of held steady with everybody except maybe the game in Orlando where we were a little leggy after a couple games in a row. Outside of that, I think we’ve played really well and competed home and away against every team in this league so far. This will definitely be a good test for us.”
Is finding the goal-scoring touch against Atlanta timely as you go on a trip to one of the best clubs in the league?
Smith: “The obvious answer, Drake, is I hope so. We’ve been waiting a little while for one of these breakout games where we score multiple goals. As a group, we’ve spoken at length about other fixtures and other games we played where we felt opportunities were there and sadly, not taken. It certainly makes games a lot tighter, and a lot more difficult to deal with when you don’t extend your lead or take advantage of your chances.
“I think most importantly of all, as we continue this road of development, and this year with all of the difficulties that clubs are enduring, I think you’re seeing multiple areas of our game that slowly but surely have improved, the guys feel more confident about, they go into each and every game feeling as though not only we are competitive now, but we should be getting more out of this. And there’s been multiple games that there’s been disappointment of not winning, or even losing and not getting a point.
“At some point, I think it would be nice for me to show the players – and certainly for us all to refresh ourselves – of what the opening couple of games looked like as a group, and where we are at this point, and of course where we’ll be in another nine or 10 games. That’s really what we have to remember. Yes, we want to keep adding points. Yes, we want to be competitive, but it’s all for a common aim, which is to continually improve, and to make sure that this group develops in the right way and can be a competitor in this league not only this year, but for seasons to come.”
What does the Crew’s 2-0 comeback for a draw last weekend against the Chicago Fire tell you about their mental resolve?
Smith: “Yeah, of course. I actually watched near-enough all of the first half of that game before I left for the stadium for our game. I’ll have to be perfectly honest: I thought Chicago played ever-so-well. They created some very nice moments before they got themselves in front and then extended their lead. I was a little bit surprised myself having seen the first half that the Crew got themselves back on level terms.
“I think yet again, it goes to show that there’s a good spirit, there’s a belief in the group. They were without a couple very integral players in that team. To dig in to your squad players and to see a good result away from home – especially as you said, from behind – it all will only enhance the way they feel about the team. I think we are very different to Chicago, as we are to a lot of teams – Columbus, to plenty of others. I like to think that in a position of strength, we might be able to come away from that game with all three points. Circumstances, obviously, are important.
“But look: we yet again come back to the point, this will be one of the toughest games that we’ve had. It will be a terrifically difficult environment, I’m sure. Whatever the outcome as we walk off of that field, we’ll be better for it. Do I believe that we have the credentials, the qualities, and certainly the fiber to go to Columbus and earn points? No two ways about it, of course I do. I will certainly be disappointed if we don’t.”
Where do you rate your former teammate Gyasi Zardes against your team this game?
Romney: “Gyasi, I think one of Gyasi’s strengths is the runs he makes. He times his runs extremely well, he knows exactly where to go when the ball is wide for service. He likes to kind of fade off your shoulder and have the wingers to whip in the ball across the six to get the defenders facing their goal. He just has a really good sense of where he should be, and the timing is really good, and he’s obviously got a lot of pace. Getting in behind and something like that are obviously some of his talents.
“Like I said, I got to play against him [in practice] for three years, so I like to think I know where he’s going to go some of these times, or where he likes to run. But he’s also a good finisher. He’s going to get two or three chances a game, and you know he’s going to put at least one or two of those away. He’s got eight goals this year already, he’s got confidence now, and he’s going to be a tough test. But I think me and Walker [Zimmerman] are definitely ready to play against him this weekend.”
How do you keep goal-scoring rolling against one of the elite defenses?
Smith: “We’ve just spoken to a forward in the other group, and most forwards are driven by confidence – not just in their own game, but the players around them, their supply lines, and their understanding of the individuals that they’re linking up with. What you’re seeing with the Columbus group at the moment is that there’s a lot of confidence in all areas.
“My hope is that the weekend… ‘blowout’ if you like – four goals, not just four goals but plenty of other opportunities to have added to that tally – will be a huge lift for our front line. We saw Dominique [Badji], Hany [Mukhtar], and Abu [Danladi] all in our front line for the first time in any game scoring multiple goals, which is always great to see. We’re seeing Hany, without a shadow of a doubt, getting into more aggressive areas. Building that relationshipi with Dominique and Daniel [Ríos], and the center forward in the group. And he himself, I believe just looking at him, is in a more confident place.
“You have to remember for all of these guys: some have been able to pick up the baton from our position of missing out on the Orlando tournament quicker than others. You see one of those individuals on the screen here, for the likes of Dave and Walker to name a but couple, they’ve been able to get into stride quickly, do their job, form their relationship, and give us a really strong foundation. Sometimes, for the attacking players and creators in the group, it doesn’t come as easily. Not being disrespectful here one little bit. Because of the foundations that we have, we’re always in a good place, but creation and scoring goals are of course the hardest things in the game to do, otherwise games would be 10-all and 15-9 and silly scores like that. But it’s not.
“I’m very, very pleased at how we’re progressing as a group. I believe we look more comfortable in possession. We’re building out of areas, still work to be done of course, but certainly on the right track. We look more accomplished in our opponents’ half of the field, and don’t forget at all: there’s never, ever a lack of energy and endeavor in our group on both sides of the ball. When we win it, there’s guys in the group who are desperately keep to get forward and get beyond and be a nuisance to defenders, which I can tell you doesn’t happen in all groups. As soon as we lose it, there’s a great attitude to try and draw themselves together as a group in making life difficult. Again, that doesn’t happen in all teams. You see teams that are really good defensive groups and are not getting much joy going forward. Or you sometimes – most of the time – see a lot of teams that are good going forward, and then look painful when they haven’t got the ball. We’re building a group here that can do both, and hopefully that confidence from the weekend is shown to some degree up in Columbus.”
Does the postseason feel like a tangible goal, or is it something that you can’t worry about at this point in the season?
Smith: “I think, given the way that the league table is set up this year with 10 teams in the East getting into that postseason, l don’t think I’m speaking out of turn when I say that every single team will be believing that they can get into postseason. So I don’t necessarily think that us sitting in ninth position at the moment with a game in-hand is where our mentality should be at.
“What we know is: if we continue on this pathway of improvement, of confidence, of competitiveness, we’ll achieve our aim, which is to be in the postseason. In what position? I don’t know. But I don’t think there should be anyone in our group – be it players or staff – that are looking and compartmentalizing where we should be. Saying ‘well, if we make ninth or 10th, that’s success.’ I firmly believe that this point that we are in charge of our own destiny.
There’s no reason that we can’t finish in the top three or four of the league. I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest: There’ll be a lot of people that question that given the goals that we’d scored before last weekend. But we have reinforcements coming in, we’re looking confident, and of course we need to take every game as they come, but on an unbeaten run as we are, we’ll be, certainly, trying to keep that run going. Just as much as anything, I’ve said yet again, the improvement of the group. It’s our first year, while one result does not make a season good or bad and we have to keep moving forward as a collective. I think the players have bought into it massively, and there’s no reason why we won’t continue to do that.”
Do you have more opportunity to tinker tactically with no midweek game?
Romney: “We usually use the two days prior [to a game] to start doing film, so we already started doing stuff on Columbus. Just focusing on our defensive shape and how we kind of build out of the counter-attack. How we wanted to build out of our backline. But we haven’t yet – I’m assuming we will tomorrow – watch some film on Columbus, see what they do to break things down, what we want to do defensively, stuff like that, how we manage our set pieces against them.
“I can only speak to what we’ve done today, which is kind of focus on how we want to take advantage of them pressing half the field, and how we should counter-attack them, as well as a couple other things. I’m sure – Gary can speak to it – tomorrow we’ll focus more on what they do well, and how we’re going to defend them, stuff like that with the film session.”
Dave Romney photo via Zoom.