Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith, left back Taylor Washington, and striker Daniel Ríos sat down with the media in the aftermath of NSC’s 1-0 victory against DC United Wednesday evening. Watch or read their full comments here.
Head coach Gary Smith
“I’ve felt the last couple of games, we’ve controlled nice periods in our stadium here. That, for me, was a big key to today’s game against a side that were always going to be very difficult to break down and play against – a very rugged group, a very determined group. With two up top, they were going to be looking to possibly counter in a bright and positive way. So the early exchanges – and indeed, most of the first half – I felt as though we had some real nice control, managed the game well, lacked a bit of sparkle in that final third. And of course, the loss of Dominique [Badji] was going to be a big problem for us going into the break.
“The sending-off, of course, makes a huge different to the way that we attack the game, and I’m sure the way that they felt as though they needed to. The second period was one of, ‘were we going to find that moment?’ And fortunately, we did. It comes from another set piece, which is wonderful. I’d like to have seen us extend our lead – and we had some very nice moments – but all-in-all, terrific three points and delighted again to play here.”
How do you continue your four-games-unbeaten run at Nissan Stadium this Saturday?
“Every single game is going to be difficult. You have got teams coming that – in one way, shape, for form, some terrific talent, creative individuals, top goal-scorers in the league – whatever area of the field you are looking at, you are looking at top-class players. So, there’s no easy games here, that is the first thing. I think the guys have done a wonderful job of setting up a tempo without any fans and that momentum tat they can bring. And I do believe they are growing in confidence game-by-game, and there’s no doubt in my mind that, whilst Houston are extremely effective with some wonderful front-line players, we have shown here that we’re very, very capable and I’m sure they’ll know they have got a tough task on their hands.”
Have you gotten an update on Dom Badji’s injury status?
“It’s always difficult at this stage. It sounds like he had a bit of a hamstring issue. To what degree, we’ll find out over the next 34-48 hours. It’s never easy. Our medical department will do their utmost to try and get him back on track as quickly as he can. Dominique knows his body well. I’m hoping it wasn’t anything too serious, but to see him leave the field is always disappointing. We’ll certainly have a better idea in 24-48 hours.”
What did you see from the players who had to step into the lineup, particularly Taylor Washington and Alan Winn?
“Both of those guys have made a real nice impression with the opportunities that they’ve had. Alan’s now had two appearances off the bench, and obviously a start at the weekend, and I’m sure he’ll be full of confidence after seeing the field as much as he has. We know an awful lot about Alan Winn: bright, purposeful, he wants to try and be aggressive with the ball. But, as I’ve said on the broadcast call, the details are vital now for these attacking players. It’s not just enough to be shoving the ball beyond someone or picking out an area of the field that you just hope the ball’s going to turn up or that you’re going to find a connection. You’ve got to be thinking ahead of the game: when the ball comes in to your feet, the game’s moving at a much faster pace that you’re used to, and for Alan and Taylor – whilst they’ve both terrifically well tonight and I’m delighted for Taylor, his first full appearance for the group and his full debut, who did a real sterling job there at left back, and he’s filled in for one of our most-experienced players who’s been an ever-present up until now, so they’re not easy shoes to fill, either – so for the both of those guys, they’ll be better-off for their appearances, they’ll be better off for the minutes, and I’m sure the confidence that they’ve gained from this has done a world of good as they move forward.”
When you’re looking for that moment of ‘sparkle,’ as you call it, do you get worried that you won’t be able to find it, even against a 10-man group?
“Of course. I mean, look: the first period, there were two or three really nice moments. One or two good efforts at goal. I feel Daniel’s was the best chance probably, it was a header back across goal that he doesn’t connect with especially well. We have two great opportunities from dead-ball situations, and don’t make the goalkeeper work, which is always frustrating. But the one thing we can always say about this group is: they keep working away, they keep trying to do the right things, they get in good areas. Alan’s effort from a wonderful cross in the second half, and two or three other moments that really test the goalkeeper, is what this is about.
“You’ve got to put the goalkeeper and the goal under pressure, and funny things will happen. You know, you get a bit of fortune, you see some true quality and edge to the game. We’ve had some nice efforts tonight, albeit against 10 men, but in the end, we found a way to get the job done. There’s no easy games at this level – none at all. So to break the deadlock and to keep a clean sheet again is a real positive from the group.”
Joe Willis wasn’t under a ton of pressure, how did your defense manage to protect him?
“I think away from home, Drake, teams certainly have a slightly different mentality, but to your point, those two center forwards are very, very capable. Our two centerbacks did a wonderful job against them and kept them under wraps, so to speak – offered them very little to work with. Yet again, the guys in front of them – Dax [McCarty] and Aníbal [Godoy], especially in the first half – did a wonderful job. And I honestly felt as though the guys went about their business and stuck to the plan that we’d really tried to work at, which is, with a reasonably narrow group, I felt as though they might pack that central are of the field, which they did, use that front two as a positive outlet.
“So we needed to make sure our centerbacks were on top of the game, and we utilized the flanks area as well as we could. In the end, we didn’t find a breakthrough from any of that quality, but ultimately the pressure counted, and we were able to make a difference. At this stage, especially here: to win games to earn points, to put them on the board, to keep ourselves moving and to keep that confidence grow, is very, very important.”
How did you evaluate Derrick Jones’s performance in the central midfield role?
“Without a shadow of a doubt, Derrick’sbest performance since he’s been here. He looked buoyant, he looked really up for the occasion. There’d been one or two occasions where Derrick has got so much quality, so many physical attributes, that there are many times the expectations on his shoulders are very very high. I do feel as though he’s let himself down on a couple of occasions. He’s just not been able to show that.
“Tonight, he did everything that we asked of him and more. He covered a tremendous amount of ground, he was a wonderful team player. His strength and ability to protect the ball – whilst also being a nice positive addition to the group given that we were missing a couple of guys, and of course even more when Domninique went off – there was a weight on his shoulders, and he rose to the occasion. I’m really, really pleased. He’s starting to show some of the qualities that we all believe he has.”
What did you see on Daniel’s goal, and particularly the physical and aerial threat he provides to the front line.
I did a “talk about” question. It’s going to be hard to put into words exactly how much I regret the error.
“Number one, it’s not easy playing up there on your own. Derrick – whilst he had a wonderful game and I felt as though his connection with Daniel was as good as maybe I have seen it tonight – but [Rios]’s still on his own and he has got to deal with two very good center backs. I felt Daniel’s link play, his intelligent movement, his constant energy in the game, caused the center backs some real difficulties. The goal comes from him being alert, alive, and ultimately listening to what his role is when we are planning with the set pieces. I watched a lot of their dead balls: they’ve got some real good air individuals that load up that near post and it’s not easy to deliver a ball immediately to the back post. It’s a tough ball and ends up getting a lot of air under it and the goalkeeper comes and gathers. With someone like [Bill] Hamid in goal, he will gobble those up. Getting somebody in a position where they can work the ball there, maybe draw some attention to the near post, but ultimately make a difference at the back post: not easy, and doesn’t always come off, but tonight it has. He’s listened to what his role is, and he has fulfilled it to the team.”
Do you feel like, with a solid run of form from your team and Houston’s recent struggles, do you thin kyou’re catching the Dybamo at the right time this coming Saturday?
“Look, I think everyone’s going through the same traumas and troubles this season: games coming thick and fast, players that you want available that are not, traveling on the day, dealing with the physicality of the match and then turning around again and flying back: it’s no different for anyone. Whether we find people at the right time, guess what? We ended up playing Orlando at the end of a four-game away streak and got beat 3-1 there, and the guys looked out on their feet. No doubt, Houston coming here at the weekend will already have looked forward at the schedule. We actually play Houston at their place in exactly the same circumstances. We go to Kansas, and then we’ve got to go to Houston two games later.
So I don’t know it’s whether we’re catching people at the right time. You’ve certainly got to take advantage. If you look at our group tonight – and I’ve mentioned it and so have you guys on here – we’re missing some big players. Dax has not been well, which is why he came off, Daniel Lovitz is suspended, Hany is not available, Randall has not been available for us for two weeks, we lose one of our center forwards, we’ve already got two wide players, two forwards, two effective forwards on the bench. This ain’t easy. And these guys, I think, have put a tremendous amount into their game. And Drak, they will do at the weekend again.
“What I’ve got to try and do – to the best of my ability – is make sure, not just that we have a competitive team out, but we’ve got a team that’s full of energy; they’re going to conduct themselves here on our own field in a way that can win a game. And if I force too hard, if I push too hard – like most coaches would understand – you lose players. It’s not just about the players that fit, it’s not just about the teams that are coming here and when we get them. It’s a lot to do with where we’re at as well, and the players are in a good place coming in when they play at home.
Defender Taylor Washington and striker Daniel Ríos
What was your take on how your goal came about?
Ríos: “It was a corner and Dave Romney win the ball and flicked it right. It was a matter of ‘be ready’ and to finish that ball, because I thought it was coming. It was good ball. It was a good goal and good confidence for the team. Great three points, we are looking to scale in those standings.”
You earned your first MLS start, how does that feel?
Washington: “It’s phenomenal because we won. Being able to get a win today is not just great because I started, it’s great for the team. It’s a great momentum going into Houston: coming off of Columbus we needed three points. Daniel did what Daniel does, scores goals, gets over the guy, puts the header in, and it’s a great momentum for us going forward.”
How do you continue the current home-field unbeaten run?
Ríos: “I think that the mindset that the team has when we are playing at home, it has been awesome. To continue it is, we need to be on our front foot when we are at home – and we will keep doing it. Aalways trying to win the games and achieve the more points possible here at our mark.”
How does the feeling of an MLS start compare to some video game thing?
Washington: “Definitely, definitely tonight. The better feeling is getting a win in the debut. I think the boys battled hard. D.C. even though they went down a man, you know they’re tough to break down, it’s not super-deep. Everyone says when it’s 11-v-10, it’s going to be easier – and yes, we did dominate the ball – but they were still at points hard to break down. I’m glad we were able to not only break them down and Daniel score, but hold on and get the three points. The Warzone dubs come a lot, so, this is better.”
When you go into a game with a specific game plan and a player who is important to that gameplan – Dom Badji – goes down early, how difficult is it to adjust?
Ríos: “No, no, no, I had to adjust. Whoever is on top, we have to adjust for his different style of player. Having Dom and then having Alan over there, it’s a different movement that I have to do, where to go. Because they have different styles: they just cross it different, they come inside or out wide. Having a new player coming from the bench, just an adjustment.”
Did you feel the goal coming, or was it just about preparedness and being right-place right-time?
Ríos: “I think it was a combination of both. I was in the right place at the right time, but also I felt it. I felt it before, I felt it during the game: I felt that I was going to score. I had the confidence; I felt ready for the game. Yeah, I think it’s great that I have it, I’ve worked for it, and not just me, with all the help of my teammates.”
Taylor Washington and Daniel Ríos photo via Zoom.