Watch or read the full press conference after Nashville SC knocked off Houston Dynamo 3-1 in BBVA Stadium.
Head coach Gary Smith
“Well, you know it goes without saying: the first-half display was absolutely sensational from the group. And when you take into consideration the amount of changes, the change in team shape. But the output and the professionalism of the group to give that sort of display with just two days of preparation is remarkable. These guys, for me tonight, absolutely are heroes. They’ve put so much into that.
“There was always going to be a period – it came in the second half – understandably, players were committing forward in the Houston group, and this is not an easy place to come and get a result, a victory. They have a fantastic home record for a reason, and they have a lot of very, very talented guys. After the goal was conceded, I did feel that there was a very, very important five or six minutes coming up, and if we could just navigate that, then we might be able to see it through, and we did just that. In the process, we saw three or four unbelievable one-v-one opportunities, and to be quite honest, we may well have extended our lead ourselves.”
How much of the change in shape was a design, or was it largely the player availability due to the injuries?
“We’ve had some issues with guys, and their health. You see tonight so many changes to try and give the group a shot in the arm of energy. They’ve put a tremendous amount into that Kansas game at the weekend with 10 men, so I felt it was a big opportunity for some guys that have not seen the field as much, and they game up trumps.
“But to your point, I just felt that the guys we had available, the shape actually lent itself better to the group than necessarily trying to fit them into a shape that might have been a little more awkward for one or two individuals. And they took every single facet of playing in this 3-4-3 shape to a ‘T.’ Defensively they looked sound, and we obviously gave ourselves some exceptional attacking moments.”
Was there anything more that you would have wanted from Hany, or is that the full picture of what you want?
“I think you’re spot-on Drake: his performance tonight was where I think he would like it to be for sure, and knows he capable of, and of course everyone else – coaches and players alike. He’s an inspiration when he plays in that way. It wasn’t just the goals – and both goals were terrific, by the way. Very different goals, but they gave us such a boost – it was his general play. He played with enthusiasm, energy, he was a spark for the team, and as I’ve said, he was an inspiration for the other guys around him. On nights like tonight, it’s so very important that some of your top talent, and your top creators come up trumps, and he certainly did that tonight.”
How did you feel Tah Brian Anunga and Matt LaGrassa played in their pairing together?
“Well, I thought it was sensational: absolutely sensational. You know, there were some very, very important ingredients in that midfield with the pair of them, and I think they ticked the boxes. It wasn’t necessarily going to be a game where they were going to get on the ball and dictate and really run the show in there with possession, but it was going to take a lot of energy. It was going to take a really determined effort. It was going to take a lot of patience and a lot of belief in what they could do as a pairing.
“And they were helped: with Alex [Muyl] on that right-hand side dropping in as we got into a deeper line, and of course Derrick [Jones] towards the end. But the industry that those pair showed was absolutely phenomenal. For Brian to turn around from the weekend and give the type of output that he’s given the group tonight is – as I’ve said – sensational. I thought the pair for them were absolutely magnificent in there.”
What did you think of Jhonder Cádiz’s debut?
“Listen, Jhonder’s working through his integration in the group and getting back to what we would class as a match-fitness scenario. Tonight’s performance gives him 20-odd minutes 23, 24 minutes to try and build that base. He looked physically very capable, he’s a mobile boys as well. Once he gets a little sharper and more upp-to-speed, you can tell he’s got that little trick and disguise to go beyond someone and a little turn of pace. So, you know, everything that we all saw of Jhonder, I think you saw in very small doses there.
“He’s obviously not fully fit, athletically. but great to see him in the group. Again, a really big lift for all the other guys out there and around the team, and you can imagine that the fellas in the locker room tonight are absolutely bowled over with their performance and excited about what comes next now.”
How did Taylor Washington and Eric Miller perform as two-way players?
“The wingback role in this system is probably the most difficult to try and nail down. Again, I couldn’t be more complimentary about the efforts that those two guys have shown. Neither of them have played that shape this year in the group. Taylor has played in that system for me in USL, so he had a bit of an understanding, and Eric has in other teams.
“But where you get the pressure on, how deep you’re going to drop, how you feel you can dictate to the opposing team: really gives the group the type of platform to either be a midfield, possession team, or repossession team, or you end up being a back-five consistently. And those two guys got themselves on the front foot, they showed a lovely balance, I felt, of attacking quality. Of course, Taylor supplies the second goal, but Eric showed enough in his game in an attacking sense to keep his opponent on his toes. And it unbalances groups that play in the shape that Houston have. It’s not an easy area for them to press if we can get on the ball. But defensively, I thought the pair of them were almost flawless.”
Do you feel like Randall Leal’s performances are starting to build up into consistent form?
“Well again, yes his performance was very decent at the weekend, but I think limited to a large degree because of going down a man. I honestly felt as though his Minnesota performance was up there with his best displays: he played in that withdrawn role, and in this system, again, he has more freedom to roam, to pick up awkward pockets and areas against the opposing defense.
What we know is Randall’s never going to lack energy. He works both sides of the ball, he’s constantly trying to help his pals when he doesn’t have it, but he’s also – as we saw tonight – when he gets caught in one-v-one situations, as good as most players in one-v-one situations in this league. However, what I will say is consistently he hasn’t done that. So therefore, the key for Randall and obviously for myself and the team is that we get him in those positions more often, and he grows in confidence, and slowly-but-surely, he becomes the individual he knows he is, we know he can produce, and a match0winner for us. I think he’s really unfortunate not to get himself on the scoresheet tonight.”
How important is the slightly longer rest over this week? Do you expect it to get most of the unavailable guys healthy?
“Yeah, I mean a big part of the decision-making process tonight was to offer guys like Dax [McCarty] and [Dan] Lovitz the opportunities to really rest, and not put them in a position where they were going to put themselves at risk with injury, and they were able to do that. There’ve been other guys in the group, and we’ve mentioned them coming on in the game, and that works towards them being in a good spot.
For the guys that’ve not had an awful lot of football up until now, there’s not a player on that field tonight that hasn’t put themselves in a wonderful spot in my mind, and also shown what a very good squad we have. Again, this is a tough, tough place. Those guys, a lot of them, have not player a lot of soccer, and they’ve really, really come up trumps tonight. I’m so, so pleased for all of those players.”
You’ve been quoted as saying 26 points is the magic number for you guys. Do you feel that’s right?
“I think, given some of the analytic background work that has been done – of course it’s extremely difficult in a season that is so unnatural to be perfect about any number that we need to hit – but that seems to be a bit of a benchmark for the group. And I have said to a number of people that going back home, having four games at home, will certainly give us a lift. Does it make it any easier to win a game? I think it gives the players more confidence, it certainly keeps the process of each match simpler in this difficult schedul and campaign we have.
“But tonight’s win obviously puts us in a position that we might not have expected before we got on the plane today. And we still have plenty of work in front of us, there’s no doubt about that. But tonight, we just made that challenge a little bit easier, and whilst we’ve got some very, very difficult games at home, we know exactly what we’re running into. The guys will be full of confidence and ready for that challenge.”
Hany Mukhtar and Jhonder Cádiz
What did you think of the performance?
Mukhtar: “Yeah, it was a good performance. I’m very happy for the guys because many new players played today. They were waiting for their chance, and we have a great squad – we have many players that are able to play, and I’m very happy for them that they showed it, because they show it every day in training, and they well-deserved the chance.”
How did you feel about stepping into this moment finally?
Cádiz (translation via NSC media relations): “I felt very well, obviously, it’s been seven months that I’ve not been able to play, so I feel tired. I don’t have that game rhythm or match rhythm, but I’m happy. I’m happy for my teammates, I’m happy for the win, and I’m happy at the collective level. At the personal level, I need to continue working and get ready for the next opportunity.”
In addition to the goals, do you feel like this was the most complete performance you’ve had for this team?
Mukhtar: “I would say I am the most critical person to myself – with my dad. I’m always looking for doing better stuff, and better things. But yeah, today was – I really liked the connection with Taylor, Matt, and Brian, and it really worked really well. I know them from training, and I know especially the guys behind me, what their strengths is, and they really work hard against the ball, and I told them that, ‘when you have the possibility, try to find me, and try to bring me in the game.’ I think it worked really well, and I will always work hard, I will always continue, because I want to make this team better, and that’s why I am here.”
What did you see specifically on the first goal?
Mukhtar: “To be honest, the first, I wanted to chip the ball, but the goalkeeper waited pretty long, so I decided just to put it in the corner. I’m happy that I could help the team with the first goal. The most important is that we are coming close to the playoff spots, and I think for us as a team, it’s important for us to see that we are able to score goals, that we are able to play attractive football. Every football player – Jhonder is a striker, me, I’m an offensive midfielder – we want to play, and that’s very important for our teams, for the next steps, because we have many goals for the club.”
How do you take on the expectations of being the big mid-season signing, and finish strong both individually and as a team?
Cádiz (translation again via NSC media relations): “As a team, obviously our goal is to make the playoffs and go as far as we possibly can. As a person and individual, you see I was signed to score goals – that’s my job, and to help the team. My goal is to do exactly that: score more goals, have some unity, help the team to get that objective.”
What have you seen from Jhonder so far in training?
Mukhtar: “Yeah, he’s a box striker, you can see that from the beginning. He’s a – how you call that, I would say in German if you translate it – ‘wall player’ [hold-up striker], who can hold the balls and give it for the guys which are coming from the midfield. The most important, we as a team, we need to support him that he can show his best level. It’s not about making pressure on one player – that’s not what our teams is about. We are 11, 18, 25 good players. If we can, the 11 on the pitch with Jhonder, the other 10 have to help him, have to lift him, that he can show his quality. Of course, he has a lot of quality, but we as his teammates need to help him, especially in the beginning that he has a good start here.”