Nashville SC’s head coach and two of his key players met with the media after their team’s scoreless draw against Minnesota United Tuesday evening. Watch or read their full comments here:
Head coach Gary Smith
“Very, very pleased that, obviously, we’re unbeaten. The way I saw it, we were the certainly brighter and more positive in the first 30 minutes of the game – and probably looking back on it, missed our opportunity to win it right there. They came out with a certainly different attitude and made the game very difficult in the second period, and I thought were certainly the better team in the second half. They’ll probably be disappointed that they didn’t take all three points based on the way they played in the second period. But yet again, with no recognized forward on the field for the majority of the game, and a very, very quick turnaround of course, I couldn’t be more proud of the way the guys have gone about their business. Of course, disappointed that we haven’t won at home, but still pleased to be unbeaten.”
You considered the Houston game a “bad draw” and the New England one a “good draw.” With the same final result, which category does this one fall into?
“I would say that this is an acceptable draw, Tim. Yes, they’re struggling as well for bodies, but let’s put this in context: this Minnesota group have, in their own expansion year, had some difficulties and have taken a good while to get to the position they’re in. And the position they’re in is a very, very strong one. They’ve a very good group of senior players on their roster. When you look around their group, you’re looking at individuals that have got real experience, and they’re – the majority of them are – battled-hardened at this level. and what you saw in the second half was a group that understood how they were going to go from a team that were going to get something out of the game, to a team that wanted to get everything out of the game. That again, I think, smacks of high-caliber individuals.
So I’m very pleased with the point: I’m always pleased to add to the tally. When you look at the standings as we sit right now, that was our game in-hand, and we are in eighth place. So, anything that goes on tomorrow is a game in-hand for us again. We are in a decent spot. Of course, we would love to have won the game, but I am pleased again to make sure we keep our goal intact and add to the board.”
Was Hany Mukhtar available tonight even though he didn’t make the matchday 20?
“Hany was rotated due to the schedule that we have. So the answer to your question is: yes he was, but my decision to try and give Hany a longer opportunity to recover and to be ready for us again at the weekend in a brighter and more purposeful place was what you saw.
Do you expect Jhonder Cádiz to be available soon, and is there more urgency to getting him in the lineup?
“Of course, the need up front is one that we all see: from my position to all of the fans looking in on it. It’s a difficulty that we have at the moment with injuries, and of course with Jhonder dealing with his quarantine and being ready to compete at a sensible level. Jhonder’s not played since, I think it’s March – he’s had six months of, certainly, match inactivity. He’s going through his paces at the moment, he’s working hard, and we’d love to try and fast-track him into the group, and be ready for us as soon as possible. But that could be said about Dominique Badji, Daniel Ríos, David Accam. And of course the real positive tonight is to see Abu Danladi on the field for 20 minutes, and come off in good shape: that gives us a little bit of a lift as we work toward the Kansas game at the weekend.
“I think just about everyone can see some of the troubles that we’ve run into with injuries, and a lack of firepower – if that’s the way of putting it – up front. But I’ve got to say: the guys that have filled those boots have done it with incredible determination. The guys that you’re looking at in Derrick Jones, Alex Muyl tonight, and of course Randall: those guys have given it everything that they possibly can. It’s not easy: they’re square pegs in round holes, but I think that they’re getting a decent job done. Good enough to have won the game in the first half: as we know it, it was a nil-nil and if we’d have scored, we’d have won it. But it wasn’t to be.
What sort of energy and atmosphere did the fans provide?
“First of all, it was fantastic to see such a crowd in the arena again. I think everyone is looking forward to getting back to normality at whatever point that is, but to see people in the seats and getting behind the team was a real lift for everyone. The first period of the game – and when I saw the first period, the first forty-five minutes – was, without a shout of a doubt, our best period of the time. Whether the guys were lifted by the fans, whether they were incentivized because they were back at home again and they’ve been confident in this stadium, or whether it was just the fact that Minnesota had been on a long flight and we were trying to get ourselves off on the right footing. I think maybe a combination of all three, but the opening thirty minutes was played at a real good pace, and there were some terrific passages of play from us. Some terrific passages of play.
“The one thing we’re missing is serious penetration and a spearhead up front. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about that at the moment. We can only play to our potential, and the guys did in the first half. We missed our window of opportunity and they showed some other qualities in the second half when they came under some pressure. Terrific courage and determination to get a point out of the game, because I’ve certainly seen teams wilt under the sort of pressure that Minnesota can put us upon.”
How did you feel the chance-creation to finishing equation was tilted on this night?
“I think there’s a two-part answer to that question. If you look at the majority of our games prior to the injuries up front, creating chances wasn’t an issue for us: it’s the execution of those chances that has let us down fundamentally. At the weekend, we entered into a fixture with zero forwards available, changed shape, went to a difficult environment against a good team, and I thought we showed a lot of courage, a lot of endeavor, and some incredible determination to get away with a point.
“The challenge tonight was: back at home, to maybe control our destiny a little bit more with the ball. We certainly didn’t and weren’t able to achieve that in New England, in Boston. Tonight, I felt there was a completely different picture. The players played with a lot of confidence, they looked bright and purposeful, and unfortunately that execution again wasn’t where we needed it to be. You could say the same obviously for Minnesota. They had one or two moments late-on, or certainly in the second period.
“Look: it’s been an achilles heel for us in the season so far, and we’ll keep working hard to try and correct that. But in the process of a team evolving and obviously getting stronger, we have to have some foundation, and that foundation is a strong core of individuals who take a lot of pride in keeping their goal intact.”
What do you make of the team’s defensive effort?
“I think it’s just reinforcing what I’ve said: You’ve got guys – that backline and Joe Willis, Joe the man of the match at the weekend, he’s had an outstanding performance – but we’re seeing not just a backline, but a group of individuals that take a lot of pride in keeping a clean sheet. It’s a quality in the modern game that I’m not sure you see too readily.
“I want to make this clear: we do not spend every minute of our time mid-week working on how we keep our goal intact. We certainly work on our defensive attributes, and maintaining high standards, but there’s an awful lot of work that goes into our management of the ball, our appreciation with the ball, and of course creating goal-scoring opportunities.
“What I will say is: the most expensive players in the world are the players who can put the ball in the back of the net. It’s the most difficult thing to do in the game, and that’s why they’re so expensive. At the moment, we’re struggling when it comes to that defining moment of being clinical. The rest of it, we’re seeing some wonderful performances and attributes.”
What is the status of Daniel Ríos, and what are you missing without him available due to injury?
“Daniel, before his injury, you know, had – in a side that we’ve spoken about here have struggled to score goals – put himself in a grat position, two in two games, was looking confident. For forwards, I think we can all agree that if they’re finding a way through to hitting the back of the net, it gives them a huge boost and a big confidence lift. Lots of forwards base their game on that. Daniel was in that spot.
“Unfortunately, he suffered a minor injury – as we could describe it – and my hope is Daniel will be back with us in training in the next week or so. It’s not a serious injury, fortunately, we do have to monitor it obviously ongoing, but my hope is that Daniel will certainly be available for selection in the coming week or so. And it will be a big lift for everyone.”
What will it take to get Miguel Nazarit on the field after his second straight bench appearance?
“I think that’s a really, really easy answer, John. This is one of the best defensive groups in the league at the moment. Not just for an expansion team: I think there was a fact up on the jumbotron before the game started that we equalled Seattle’s record of goals conceded in MLS history in the first 14 games.
Listen, Miguels’s a terrific kid, he works tremendously hard, he’s a god professional. But you’re talking about two of the best central defenders in MLS at the moment. He’ll continue to work hard and wait for his opportunity. That’s as simple as it gets.”
Forward Abu Danladi and defender Alistair Johnston
How did your return to the pitch feel?
Danladi: “It definitely felt great. I feel like, out for a little bit, we were missing a lot of forwards, so it was very, very important
to be there, to be an option. Just try to help out the team as much as I can, you know that’s what I’m here for: try and help the team, whatever the coach needs me to do, I’ll do. It was a very hard-fought point and I’m really happy to be back.”
What are your thoughts on being able to come away with another shutout at Nissan Stadium?
Johnston: “It felt good again. Our back line: I’m sure we gave a couple chances but I think we felt pretty good again with Joe back there, which we talked about before. The is a reason why he was on the MLS Team of the Week is he’s been super steady for us back there again made a couple big saves when we needed it. At the end of day as the backline, our first priority is to keep a clean sheet, so we can’t really
complain too much about that. I think it was important for myself and Dan Lovitz to get up and down the flanks and try and get some more offensive service, because that’s something that we were kind of lacking. With that formation that we were playing, that’s something we were really focusing on, getting up and down as fullbacks and getting some service in. So I thought we did a decent job of that and unfortunately, we just couldn’t grab anything more than a point. Again, keeping our unbeaten streak at home keeps that momentum going and it’s something to build on for sure.”
What was the feeling of making your return against your former team?
Danladi: “As you said, just getting back, it’s – just getting back was the most important thing. Getting back and playing against my old team is great. It was more like having a point to prove. Also, it was also good to see all the guys – you mentioned Kevin Molino – I think when the team came to MLS, I was with them and he was like an older brother to me. He’s helped me so much with guiding me and giving me advice. It was very, very good to see him. He’s more like a good role model. Very, very good, but I really wish we could have won this game. It’s always good to beat your old club and that was what I was looking forward to, but unfortunately we couldn’t. But you can’t get any complaints: one point is good enough.”
You guys found a lot of early success on your side of the offense, was that something you emphasized with Minnesota’s LB, Chase Gasper unavailable, or did it just happen naturally?
Johnston: “It was something that was discussed once we realized that Chase Gasper was going to be out. It wasn’t something that really changed our gameplan at all: we knew that we were going to be a pretty narrow formation in terms of our lineup that we were putting out, with the threes [front and midfield lines] and stuff. We knew that the width was going to have to come from myself and Dan Lovitz – whoever was playing the fullback position.
“It was nice that first 30 minutes. All credit to our midfield and our front three just working hard to win those second balls, win those first balls, and win those battles up top. If we’re not doing that, there’s no chance that myself or Dan is getting up the field to help the attack. I think it was just really important, especially in those first 30: you saw us keeping the ball, keeping possession in their third, and that lets those fullbacks push on, and get some joy down the flanks.”
What allowed your team to find a final wind in the last few minutes of the game – the opposite of what has happened in a couple recent games?
Danladi: “I feel like: it’s our home, you know? At home, it’s mostly knowing that it’s the home team that puts pressure. When I came in, I tried to bring as much energy as I can, knowing that backline and how they play, and just trying to take advantage of any errors they try to make. That’s all about pressure, and I think for me, that’s my part, that’s what I came in to do. I think when you do that, the team’s behind you, everybody’s going to push, everybody – the whole 10 players – everybody was into it, and everybody moved the ball. Everybody had the second balls, and the pressure was something like: looking like we needed a goal, and that was what all the pressure was for, to make sure we get a goal. It was working for, and I feel like if we had a little bit more time, we would have scored.”
Did something schematically change after that 30-minute mark when you guys had the most success down the flanks?
Johnston: “I wouldn’t put it down to necessarily specific adjustments, but I think at the end of the day, that front three that they’ve got that plays underneath the striker are some really nice players, and it’s a really top-level front three in The MLS. So I think these guys kind of make decisions on their own. You can see it with Molino drifting inside, then once [Emmanuel] Reynoso started getting on the ball, and [Ethan] Finlay was using his pace in that final 15. I think when you just have smart players and good players like that, they’re obviously going to come into their own – and we knew that was going to happen, we knew it wasn’t going to be a one-way street the entire game. It was just a bummer that we couldn’t capitalize in that first 30. I know everyone – we were trying to snag one pretty bad there early, but that’s football. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily a specific adjustment, I just think when you’ve got talented players, they’re going to find a way.”
What was your feeling about having the fans back in Nissan Stadium?
Danladi: “You can tell the difference between people not being there, and people being there. Even though the crowd was 3,000? 3,500?, you can tell the presence. At some point they started chanting, and I was like, ‘wow look, there we go.’ It looks you have the same, getting the fans back, and I think even though sometimes it feels like you’re not hearing them, you definitely do, and it helps a lot. It helps a ton, and if you’re playing, it affects you in a lot of ways that people don’t comprehend. I think it’s very, very good to have fans back, and hopefully we’ll be able to get everybody at full capacity.”
Johnston: “I’ve got to give them credit, too: for 3,500 it sounded like a lot more. I thought once they got going with the chants, and one they kind of felt the momentum go in our favor: they were getting on Minnesota’s backs. I think it’s a little more personal, and I think it’s kind of more fun when it’s only that many: you can hear every single insult and every single comment a little more clearly. I think it adds kind of more of a personal touch to the game. So for me it was enjoyable. I mean it would’ve been great if we’d have been able to score one and celebrate with them, but there’s more home games to come and we’ll be looking forward to doing that.”