Nashville SC couldn’t pull the upset in Kansas City. Head coach Gary Smith and rookie defender Jack Maher met with the media afterwards. Watch or read their full comments here.
Head coach Gary Smith
“I think it’s an easy one to see, a game of two very different halves, and one we lost in the first 10 minutes of the second period. I thought in the opening exchanges, we showed a real good attitude, positive front-foot display, terrific goal from Walker [Zimmerman] from a dead ball gives us a really nice platform, and really and truly the chat at halftime was about getting through the next 10 minutes. Kansas, understandably were going to come out with a renewed vigor and energy. To not make it through that 10 minutes was always going to be tough, and it was compounded, of course, with the sending-off. Which is out of character for Alistair, but a massive learning curve for a young player who’s been incredibly good for us.
“The winning goal was worthy of any match-winner. From that point, it was always going to be extremely difficult to get back in it.”
What was behind subbing Walker Zimmerman out of the game?
“We’re again, like a lot of teams, Tim: Walker’s been playing with a problem. I wanted to make sure that problem didn’t become an issue that we lose him for a prolonged period. He’s a warrior of an individual, and it was touch-and-go even in the warmup. To get a good hour out of him was, I felt, as good as it was going to get without pushing him too far.
“And the same can be said for Abu. The circumstances that Abu’s worked under: injury, 20 minutes only. The pair of them, I spoke to them before the game today, and they couldn’t have been more supportive and keen to try and give whatever they could for the team. For the pair of them, did a wonderful job.”
Jhonder Cádiz didn’t travel. Could he have played today?
“I don’t think it’s a case of he’s not prepared to play – the player’s desperately keen to show what he’s about. But with a quarantine period, and such a period of lack of playing time – I think his last game was in March, Drake – so maybe I’m being overly cautious with the lad. But I want to make sure that he’s in the right place, and to be quite frank, it was always going to be a push for this one.
“His quarantine finished, I think it was Thursday or Friday. To have little to no time with the group was always going to be a bit of a difficulty. But he’s moving forward nicely. So he’s available for us – as I said in the media a couple of days ago – but it’s just at the point now that I feel is the right moment.”
How did you assess Randall Leal’s performance in a clean game?
“I thought he was extremely bright: showed plenty of energy. In many ways, I think he was inspired by his role, and his performance, during mid-week. He enjoyed playing in that more central role. The plan was, at some point, to get him back into that pocket. And you know, hopefully show the same sort of signs.
“I’ve got to say: I’m disappointed that we’ve got beat. After being 1-nil up, that 10 minutes after halftime will be something that I myself and the group won’t forget, but we’ll learn an awful lot from that. Let’s not forget that this is still a young group, and we’ve got used to grinding out results. As far as decisions, experience: Alistair will learn bundles, as I’ve said a minute ago, from that rash challenge, and he’ll be much, much better for it.
“I’ll tell you this: The group have shown incredible spirit and resolve over the last couple of games. To go down to 10 men here – against a team that I think we’d all agree have some tremendously talented players, even though they’re missing one or two as well, there’s a reason that they’re constantly in the playoffs and competing for silverware – I thought they showed great character. I couldn’t ask any more from a group of individuals down a man, quickly a goal down, it’s not easy at all. I thought they showed tremendous resolve, and I’m delighted for the way that every single player on the field played.”
How do you make sure Johnston mentally handles the red card going forward?
“He’s absolutely sunk in the locker room there. He’s a young man whose world has risen to great heights in a very short period of time. He’s played, and he’s conducted himself with a very, very level head. He’s a hard-working boy, and at heart he’s all about making himself better, and keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
“I honestly think today – and it’s the first time I’ve seen it – their wide player Gerso caused him some serious problems in the first half. And he’ll look back on that video, and he’ll learn an awful lot from it against a very good player with very different qualities to maybe he’s run into before. And I do think that one or two of the decisions that he made in the second half leading into the sedngin off, may well have been associated with the difficulties he’d had in the first half.
“He looked frustrated. It’s a very very rash and wild challenge, it’s unnecessary, and I bet you he doesn’t do that again in his career.”
How do you deal with those pacey and talented wingers next time you run across one?
“There’s a couple of things here, Drake. The first one is this is our third game in a space of what, eight days? We’re on our second away trip, the guys are going to be leggy and fatigued. There’s point number one. Point number two is that Alistair and Daniel [Lovitz], when they’ve run into those other opponents, have worked out exactly what was needed, or have had the opportunity to work with others to get the job done.
“If you look over to the other side of the field, as well: Johnny Russell creates the first goal. Gerso is involved probably mentally in getting Alistair sent off. Their wide players were terrific today. They made a difference.
“It’s a combination of good individual play – and both of our guys are capable of it to your point: they’ve produced before. Away from home, it’s getting the right balance between committing players to attack, and also making sure that they help their fullback wherever and whenever they can. Listen, this is partly my job as well. How do we bridge that gap between being one of the most difficult teams in the league to play against defensively, but also releasing players – by the way at a very, very difficult time when we have few forwards fit and available – how do I get more out of the guys that are in there? How can I release them to give us more going forward?
“I’d like to think that you wouldn’t be too critical about our first-half display. I think when I looked at shots – on-target and otherwise – we just nudged it in the first half, away form home and we go in a goal up. For me, it’s a great first-half performance. The game, as I’ve already said, was really turned on its head with a sending-off. Even their equalizer, 11 men on the field, given what we saw with the 10, you’d back us to get something out of this, surely.”
What did you think of Jack Maher’s performance in his debut?
“I thought he was terrific. We’re looking at, certainly over the last half-a-dozen or more games, one of the best central defensive pairings in the league, and it’s always going to be tough for Jack and any of those other guys who are trying to find their way into that group. With these first 15 minutes or more in the game, I thought Jack showed us some of the qualities and signs that we can look forward to in the future. It’s certainly my job to give him the right opportunity and platform to keep that development going.
“Centerbacks, in my mind, invariably take a little bit longer to mature, and to find their feet, given the position and the pressures that they encounter. Jack again is a very focused, hard-working, and good professional. And I’ve seen all the signs that I believe will see him in the group in the very near future for this team.”
Do you need to boost the morale before heading to Houston Wednesday?
“Honestly, I don’t think the morale is a huge problem with this group. We get beat today under extreme circumstances against a very, very good team. Wednesday’s game will come around quickly. I think the challenge for all of us will be recover: making sure that we have the right combination of fresh legs, and obviously rest to get a very difficult job done again. Houston are renowned for having a terrific home record, and as Drake mentioned there, their front line, when on form, is one of the most devastating in the league.
“It’s not going to be easy. Three out of four away games: we always looked at and knew it was going to be one of the tougher stretches in our season. Somehow or some way, we’ve got to stay in the race, and give ourselves the opportunity when we go back home, and take advantage of that.”
Defender Jack Maher
“I think first and foremost, the culture that Gary’s created is that everywhere we go, we should be expecting to get the result. Whether it’s a draw, whether it’s three points, I think that’s something that, talking about the culture that Gary’s created, that’s something that we expect each and every day. The result, needless to say, just didn’t fall our way today. Despite that, I think that getting my debut is something that I’ll surely remember for the rest of my life. Hopefully first of many here for Nashville, and hopefully able to wear the Gold for years to come.”
Did you get advice from Alistair or some of the vets about handling the nerves, etc. in a debut?
“Absolutely. Alistair and I talk about it probably each and every day. Just little things, little tendencies, especially playing with guys like Dave Romnery, Jalil Anibaba, Walker Zimmerman, guys have certain tendencies and stuff like that. Alistair, he’s my roommate and someone that has done extremely well so far in his young career. We’ve been talking about it a lot, and he’s been somebody that I’ve been able to look up to as a young rookie with Nashville.”
How did it feel to be sort of thrown into the fire, a man down in your debut?
“I think it’s something that, regardless of the opportunity that I get, I’m going to go on and give it my best. I think the situation that we had with the red card certainly altered how you would normally play. Just being able to come in and play next to guys like Jalil Anibaba, Dave Romney, Joe Willis, Eric Miller, Dax [ed: it sounds like he accidentally said “Tex,” which is funny], I mean, these guys are MLS vets to say the least, and have had a very successful career up to now. So for me, just being able to go in and play next to them creates a very smooth pathway for me.”