Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and goalkeeper Joe Willis discuss their upcoming game against New England Revolution. Watch or read their full comments here.
How has the week of preparation been so far?
Smith: “With no game during the midweek – I think I’ve said this before – it gives us a bit of an opportunity to get ourselves back into a physical recovery place, and mentally just put ourselves back into a bit more of a normal world. The quick turnaround can make life incredibly difficult for the lads and the players. Just to quickly refocus their thoughts on the different opponents and the competition. There’s a lot of preparation goes into each team, as you can imagine, that we play.
It’s been a good week. The players, after feeling really disappointed at he weekend after conceding a late goal have been in good spirits. I would expect nothing less. We’ve shown, I believe, very very well in the last six-seven games. You don’t always get what you want, but I think the vein that goes through the group and the form has been progressively decent, and we look forward to the next challenge at the weekend.
You will coach your 300th game this weekend. What does the milestone mean to you?
Smith: “I mean, it’s a nice landmark, I’m pleased I’ve made it to 300. There were certain times I’ve felt that it certainly wouldn’t get that far. I’m pleased to be at 300 games, but the game at the weekend is all about – as per usual – the performance and points on the board.
“Be nice to have a beer or a glass of wine afterwards to celebrate a decent landmark, but until I double that, then I don’t think I’m going to be too excited.”
Are you excited to be on the verge of a personal record for shutouts?
Willis: “I don’t think the preparation’s any different. I think you go into every game trying to earn a clean sheet. We know they’re a good team with a lot of attacking options, so we’re going to have to be organized defensively, and we’re going to have to stay compact like we have been, but we’re going to have to get after them a little bit and try and score some goals. But as far as the clean sheets are concerned, the most important thing is getting three points. Whether that comes with a clean sheet or not, it’s kind of… it’s not as high a priority for me as winning the game.”
You talk a lot about liking to be involved in games early, but does that make it even more disappointing to lose the lead at the end?
Willis: “Yeah, It’s really disappointing. I think, like I’ve said before, it’s nice to get a lot of touches on the ball, and you feel like you’re really a part of the game and having an effect on it. Then to go down in the last minute – not go down, but it felt like we went down to drop two points that way in the last minute was heartbreaking. It’s something that we’ve talked about. I think throughout the year, we’ve done a good job of bending but not breaking, and we finally broke.
“I think we’re just going to have to reassess some things, and come into this next game ready to stay organized, stay compact, and not have any cracks and not have any leaks.”
What is the injury status of Daniel Ríos after he left the game with injury?
Smith: “Yeah. It was very disappointing to see Daniel limp off. That’s two [goals] in two [games] for Daniel, and if you look at the very very fine line of the goal that was called offside – and I’ve made my point on that in the media after the game: I just don’t believe that the powers that be had meant it to be this way. You’re taking away excitement from fans.
“That aside, he’s had a very good run, Daniel. He’s looked in a good place. We’ve all felt that if we can get Daniel in and around those goal-scoring areas, he certainly has the talent, and he’s starting to prove that. So we’re disappointed he’s limped off. Nowhere near as bad as I think anyone expected. Although Daniel is going to be in a race for the weekend, he’s certainly in a much, much better spot than we all thought when we came off.
“Dominique Badji is still rehabbing from his hamstring. Again, nowhere near as bad as we thought, but Dominique’s going to be probably in a mission for this weekend, and then we’ll reassess as we work towards Minnesota. But I’m pleased to say Abu [Danladi]’s in a really good place. He’s been out training this week, he’s been in a good spot, and I’m quite hopeful that Abu will be part of the group this weekend.”
What is the status of Jhonder Cádiz’s availability going forward now that he’s in Nashville?
Smith: “Jhonder came in, landed – I think it was Tuesday, and I saw him yesterday. At this point, I can’t tell you exactly where he’s at physically, although we have some feedback on where he’s been and how he’s been working, out in Portugal. He looks in good shape: first time I’ve seen him. He’s one of those types of athletes and players that doesn’t carry an awful lot of weight. So he certainly looks in a nice place.
“He’ll be in the group next week. The hope is that he’s not far away from starting immediately. I won’t know until we actually get under way and get him in the group. He’s got work to be done away from the group as we speak at the moment because of the current COVID circumstances. But I’m fingers-crossed that the way he looks reflects on the way that he trains immediately, and I would look forward immensely to having him in the group almost immediately.”
What have you seen out of New England in your preparation for the weekend’s game? They’ve been one of the better teams in MLS for the past year or so.
Smith: “Yeah, I would agree with that. They’ve got some nice dimensions to their group. I think any team that puts work into all areas of their game become very difficult to play against. I think you’ve got a group pf players here that are resilient when they need to be. They’ve got a very good core of competitive players. They’ve got a nice amount of energy around the group.
“They have some real talent with Bou up top, and I think the addition of Lee Nguyen. He’s had a terrific time in New England before, and some clubs, some places, players excel. It didn’t go maybe how he wanted it to in LA and maybe down to Miami, But this is a place that he knows and understands. And a manager that has seen an awful lot of him across the years. I thin kthat combination is starting to offer some rewards and some success for the New England group.
“Then you look out wide, and the young boy [Tajon] Buchanan looks an incredibly talented player. I haven’t seen bundles lot of him but what I have is he’s bright, he’s talented, he’s got pace, and certainly a very bright future. Then on the other side is almost the complete opposite: a very experienced guy in Teal Bunbury who’s having, I think, having a really good time at the moment. That probably comes from the type of group that he’s playing in, and the confidence that they’re playing with.
“Away from home, on that plastic pitch, I think all of our guys will expect a very, very tough challenge. They’ve proven with their league position at the moment – and I think it doesn’t lie – that they’re one of the in-form sides. It certainly won’t be easy up there, but I think we’ve shown over the past – and I don’t think anyone should be writing us off – that we’re more than capable of going to these places. Even in the very early stages of our franchise, we’re capable of going to these places and getting results. And I certainly believe we’re capable of that.”
Do you know when Cádiz will be medically cleared to debut?
Smith: “Tuesday’s too early. If I’m right in guessing, we’ll certainly have him in the group a day or two beyond that, and he’ll be then cleared to play. Any point from, I think it’s Wednesday on, we can have him in the group.”
What have you seen from Matt Turner that’s allowed him to have his levels of success?
Willis: “Yeah, he’s been a great goalkeeper. I think his biggest asset is probably his shot-stopping ability. He’s very athletic. He’s a solid goalkeeper, he makes the saves that he’s supposed to make, and then every once in a while, he makes the save that he’s not supposed to make. He’s been tough to beat, and we’ll definitely have to be aware of him.
“I think we have good attacking players on our side, and although the goals may not be flowing right now, I still think the ability is there, and I have all the confidence in the world in the attacking players that we have that we’ll be able to pick one or two up while we’re there.”