Nashville SC head coach Mike Jacobs and General Manager Mike Jacobs – the former assistant GM at Sporting Kansas City – spoke with the media in advance of their team’s trip to SKC this weekend. Watch or read their full comments here.
What is the latest in preparations for the weekend’s game?
Smith: “Well, we’re in the midst of a tough run of games here. We knew that from the very onset, but I have to be perfectly honest: the guys have, I think, shown and given a tremendous amount already. If we look back on the New England and the Minnesota games: two very different displays, but I think it portrayed the type of spirit and character that this group has, combined with some real nice quality, especially in the first half against Minnesota.
“Guys are in a good place. Mentally, I think if we look at where we’re at in this run, and how many games we’re having to try and contend with, mentally they’re in a really good place. They looked very bright and very buoyant today, and we’ll certainly go to Kansas with a positive attitude, and a team that will look to win the game. We’re in a very decent run, all things considered, and whilst Kansas have got plenty of qualities and tools to themselves cause us a problem, it’s definitely an opportunity for us to put more points on the board.”
You were part of the Sporting Kansas City franchise 2015-17 with a lot of success. What are you looking forward to in being there as a visitor?
Jacobs: “I’m obviously very excited about the opportunity to come back to Kansas City and play there with our own team that we’ve built and worked with here. It’s very special and fond memories about being there. The reality is I don’t play or coach, so while it’s important to me, really, it’s a sidebar on the game. My role won’t happen on Sunday.
“Looking back on the experience that I had in Kansas City, one of my chief responsibilities was managing the three “properties,” as we used to talk about: our first team, our B team, and then the academy. I had a front-row seat to see some really good teams play. The first team, as you mentioned, had great success in winning US Open Cups in ’15 and ’17. We started a B team with the Swope Park Rangers, and – you’d probably have to fact check – but it’s one of, if not the only team that’s ever gone to USL Cup in each of their first two years. Certainly proud now of the success that group had.
“There were players that moved from that team into the first team, and along the same lines as that, also with the academy. We had the opportunity to see four different guys that we signed there as well as two others since then who moved on from the academy into the first team, a couple of those guys through the B team. It’s really encouraging to have watched those guys grow up, and then now have the opportunity to see them play in the first team, and see them this weekend.
“My last day with the club in 2017 was the US Open Cup final against New York Red Bulls. It was humbling, I think: both the goals that our team scored, both were by young kids that we kind of brought along in Daniel Salloi and in Latif Blessing. Ironically, that Red Bull team in the finale also had Alex Muyl on that team. It’s nice after getting smacked by Alex in the USL Cup final in 2016, and then having to play him in ’17, it’s nice to have him in our group now.
“I think it’s a special opportunity to go back and see friends and people that I consider family. But I’m also really, really proud of the fact of taking this group that Gary’s coaching now, and taking them into Kansas City to test them against one of the best teams in MLS.
Has finally having that high-caliber striker that SKC has lacked for so long changed the way that the team plays?
Smith: “First and foremost, Peter [Vermes]’s done an incredible job there. I thinkI was still in the league when Peter first took over, and it’s been, as Mike’s already attested to, a process there of not only building teams that do well, compete regularly, but consistently do it. And I think that’s the key. You can often put a team together that’s going to compete in any given season, but to be able to do that year after year, I think is a testament to not just the quality of the coach there, but the organization that he’s put together in that group.
“As far as the forward goes, look: the guy’s a very, very talented center forward. I believe he’s away on international duty which will be a real help for us, of course, because he’s extremely capable. What I will say is that if you have somebody that leads the line the way that he does, it gives plenty of the other players – in fact a lot of the supporting players in that group – it gives them a bigger opportunity to shine. I think what you see is when Pulido’s playing, he brings more out of the guys around him, and certainly his goals create a very different dynamic to any game.
What are some of the principles that you’ve applied after learning at Kansas City?
Jacobs: “I think when you look at the teams that they’ve had a lot of success with, they’ve always had a great blend with their piano players – their creative players, their artists – and their piano carriers. When you look at the team in ’13 that won MLS Cup, it’s easy to point to guys like CJ Sapong or Kei Kamara before he left, Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi. You had guys like Todd Nagamura who helped kind of hold things together, and I think do a lot of the dirty work, sometimes they don’t always turn up in the statsheet.
For us, I think Gary also has got a really good balance of the creative artists – those piano players – and the piano carriers. I think for us, trying to create a mentality that we were going to be hard to play against was really important. When you look at the likes of guys like, I mentioned Alex Muyl, Dax McCarty, Aníbal Godoy: you have like this gritty, grind-it-out type group that I think takes a lot of pride in making the opposing team uncomfortable, and I think that’s always been a hallmark of the Sporting teams: on both sides of the ball, trying to make teams uncomfortable.”
Having the schedule finally set, and going into the final set of back-to-back road games, do you have more opportunity to control the rest and playing time of some of these guys?
Smith: “We’ve all tried to do as good a job as we can, Drake – and that’s not just myself, but you look at the medical department and our sport science department – I think everyone’s done a fabulous job of trying to offer the best possible recovery for the players, and of course preparations for the next game. It’s not been easy. I’m sure all clubs are dealing with the same issues. We have found ourselves in the midst of some injuries. Fortunately the core of the group, and a lot of players, are still in good shape. They’ve been able to compete, and not just compete but they’ve put in some fabulous displays.
“My hope as we move along this – what will be classed as the lead-in stretch, if you like – is probably two fold: the first one is to continue to add points to the board, and do the very utmost to be in that postseason. Secondly, slowly but surely, to make sure we’re all clear on what the best group is, what the most balanced group is, and then when push comes to shove at the right time, maybe in that postseason period, that we can put that group together without too many problems – and when I say problems, I mean injuries.
“So it’s a fine line. If you make too many changes, then you can see a lack of continuity in the group. But I’d certainly like to think that everyone’s been able to see a really good picture of the depth of our group. Certainly for some of the younger players and the less-experienced players, I think we’ve found out an awful lot, and there’s been three or four of the guys that I know both myself and Mike are absolutely delighted with. It’s been a challenging time, but I think it’s been very fruitful as well.”
Have you had the opportunity to text some smack-talk with Peter Vermes this week?
Jacobs: “We do talk and text pretty regularly. I have to tell you”: as strange as it might seem, we actually do not talk an awful lot about the game or about each others teams in relation to preparing for each other. It’s been very cordial. I think up until kickoff, it’s like a sibling rivalry a little bit. Obviously we’re very close, but I think at the end of the day, his focus is more about preparing for our opponent as it is talking trash with me.”
What is Jhonder Cádiz’s status for the game Sunday?
Smith: “Jhonder’s been part of the group. He looks in a good place. Very pleased to have him around the group: he’s been, I think a lift and an inspiration for the other guys to see on the grounds and working. He’s available for us. That’s all I’ll say at this point. He’s available for selection at the weekend.”