Nashville SC head coach Gry /smith and defender Walker Zimmerman discuss their team’s 1-1 draw against New England Revolution. Watch or read their full comments here.
Head coach Gary Smith
I think tonight’s game was one of the toughest opponents that we’ve run into here at Titans’ Stadium. The New England group, I thought, started the game very, very well, and whether it was a lack of rest – two-day turnaround – possibly shape of the group in the early exchanges, and I have to say, a group of players that weren’t at their best technically. The New England group certainly looked the better side in the first half.
Some changes of shape and bodies I thought made a difference to our second-half performance. And in the end, it’s a bit of a disappointment that we haven’t taken all three points having scored with I think just over 10 minutes to go. It certainly felt as though we might see that out. All-in-all, I’m very, very pleased with a point. It puts us in a terrific position having played the same games as teams in the Eastern Conference now, and puts us six and seven points away from the two teams chasing that playoff line.
You mentioned that the shape early in the game wasn’t working out for you. What didn’t work about it, and how did the shift improve your play?
“It was a very similar setup to what we looked at and used in Houston. There were very different outcomes in certain areas, and I have to say a lot of that was due to the quality of New England’s play, and probably the lack of tempo to ours. As I just alluded to, it’s very, very difficult to turn around in two days. It’s been tough for everyone, this schedule in this season. To get a group back out on the field and get playing at the sort of level and tempo that we played at just two days ago against Dallas, it was always going to be tough.
“So: a couple of changes. I hoped that a change of shape might inspire and keep things fresh in people’s minds. Unfortunately it didn’t work. The changes probably more so at halftime, to give us a little more balance and something that looked a little more natural, I felt paid dividends. We had a better foothold in the game, we made it more competitive, and our second-half performance certainly produced more efforts and more pressure on their goal, which was vital to us.”
What conversation did you have with Dave Romney and Walker Zimmerman after the final whistle?
“Yeah. I just said, ‘listen a terrific workmanlike display when you’re not at your best.’ And we certainly weren’t at our best tonight, and it took a monumental effort from every single player that walked onto that field to earn us a point in this game. And the very good sides, when they’re not at their best, they’re still able to make some progress in the league, and we’ve done that tonight. Their performances – whilst I’ve certainly seen better with the ball – the pair of them were strong, they were competitive, they gave us a great foundation, and we live to fight another day.
“You know, we’re unbeaten here [in the past eight games], I think everyone’s proud of that record. Some days, you’re not going to play teams off the park. We had a great night on Tuesday, and unfortunately, it wasn’t to be tonight. And it’s easy to buckle, it would have been easy to lose the game tonight, and walk off of there and make excuses as to why. But the players have shown the type of character and spirit that they have to add a point to the board.”
What is Hany Mukhtar’s status?
“He picked up a slight hamstring issue in Houston. He’s still in a position where he’s rehabbing. I don’t think he’s that far away. I’d like to think that, at some point next week, we can have him in the group, and maybe speaking slightly positively on this, but I’d like to think that he’s not too far away from the group for the Chicago game come Saturday. I doubt he’ll be around for the mid-week game – it’ll come a little bit too early – but it wasn’t anything major, and when I’ve spoken to Hany, he looks a lot more confident about it.”
Do you think there’s an opportunity to regularly play Daniel Ríos and Jhonder Cádiz together?
“Well if you look at the status of both of those guys, Daniel Ríos has given us a terrific 45 minutes tonight, but he himself has only very recently come back from a groin problem. So I’m delighted, I want to see how Daniel reacts to that, but as you pointed out: terrific 45 minutes. Jhonder’s still fighting his way, physically, to match fitness. What I want to make sure is, not just with those two guys, but with anyone in this schedule: there’s a very, very fine line between putting out a competitive group, earning points, and putting players at risk.
What we know is, if anyone has a problem right now, the likelihood is we’ll lose them for the remaining five games, and dependent on the problem, we might well lose them for any postseason work. So I’m fighting to make the right choices and to discuss with the players how they feel. The medical staff are doing a great job of working with the players to help their recovery. Listen, you must remember these guys are leaving everything out on the field and just two days later, somebody’s asking them to do it all over again. That’s mentally and physically very, very tough.
“But listen, to your point about having them on the field together, honestly, I’m all about an effective, a competitive, and most important of all, a successful side. And if those two prove that when they’re on the field together, we are more successful, guess what? They’ll play more together. And I think some of the other guys in the team see what a nice outlet they are. Jhonder’s making a great impression, he’s a terrific lad, and we’re moving forward very, very positively with him.”
How important is it to have a set-piece weapon like Walker Zimmerman on a night when the team is not sharp?
“He’s been phenomenal. He’s sitting in the room with me now so I have to be careful about how much praise I give him. But absolutely phenomenal. Yet again proves what a caliber individual he is. We’re not just talking about a goal that could have won us the game. We’re talking about a performance in that backline – whether it’s a five backline, a three backline, a back four, it doesn’t matter – and he himself is carrying his own aches and pains and difficulties physically. He’s knuckling down and giving the team everything he possibly can.
“What we don’t know is tonight, how vitally important that one point might have been. We’ll find out in the next couple of games, but a bit of pressure now for teams behind us. It’s not easy: I’ve been in that position myself. And whenever anyone has to win, it puts an awful lot more pressure on that fixture.
How is Abu Danladi’s health progressing?
“Abu’s fine physically at the moment. Abu’s part of a group of players that in the past have had difficulties physically. And he’s one of those individuals that I’m desperately trying to make sure I give the right among of time to. I think he’s very influential in the group, he offers something that not many can with his pace beyond, and as you rightly said, in the first period against Dallas, he looked very bright and created some great moments. And he give a good dimension to the group.
“The difficulty is yet again, two days later, I’m asking somebody who has had some serious issues, who is doing his very. very utmost to not just look after his body and recover, but to turn around again and play again. So he’s part of the process of rotation. He wasn’t at his best tonight, but he certainly gave everything he had, and I don’t think you can ask any more of a player when they do that.”
Was subbing Aníbal Godoy planned or a gameflow situation?
“Aníbal, as you well know, was unavailable for a period of time. He’s getting back to fitness. He played, I think, an hour the other night against Dallas, he’s played an hour tonight against New England, and Aníbal himself is working his way into the sort of sharpness and form that we saw before his omission. Listen, I could go through multiple players in the group that are giving everything they can for the team: they’re making themselves available, they want to be part of this successful process, they can see the finish line in front of them, and they’re desperate to get over it.
Aníbal’s no different, but it was a planned substitution. Dax came on, he himself has been carrying a slight calf problem, but was phenomenal when he came into the game. A real captain’s performance. It’s not easy stepping off of the bench and coming into a game that quick. Look: although we haven’t won the game tonight, I couldn’t heap more praise on the group in a difficult period of time, a difficult night, having earned another point.
What are you looking forward to against Montreal Impact?
“We get a day or so longer, which everyone feels a hell of a lot better about. Turnaround’s not quite as tight. What we know we’re going to face is a very good footballing side. I think Thierry [Henry]’s influence on that team is starting to show. They themselves have their own difficulties in the current schedule, and staying away from home I’m sure is not easy for that group. But as far as importance, as far as maybe the effects on this Eastern Conference, a result in New York against a Montreal team that are in and around us and fighting for a playoff position: very, very important. I’ll see how the group recovers, what some of our difficulties in terms of ailments and slight knocks and injuries are, and we’ll make a decision on what the best group is to go out and get a result for us in New York.”
Defender Walker Zimmerman
“Well I think everyone would say it probably wasn’t our best performance, especially at home. But we felt, with how bad we were in the first half, coming in at 0-0, we felt we had a lot more to give. Came out in the second half, put together a little bit better run of play, ultimately got the go-ahead goal, which was huge. I think based on the first half, you’d have said ‘yeah we’d happy with the point,’ but any time that you gain a lead at home, it feels like you might have let some get away. Ultimately, yeah, it wasn’t our best night, but when you go up and get a lead at home, you want to see that through.”
Do you feel like playing as poorly as you feel like you did – and still getting a result – is something that this team could have accomplished early in the year? Or is this a sign of the growth and raised expectations?
“I think so. I think at the beginning of the year, we still felt like we were very sound defensively and with our hard work. Even though, if you look at what happened before the stoppage of play in March, we had lost our first two game but felt really good about limiting the chances that the opponent had had. So I think we were confident in that, but we weren’t necessarily getting results. Now we’re in a stretch here where we’re getting some results, we’re being very sound. You can see how frustrated we are when we just give up one goal, because we have a high standard for ourselves. We want to be the best defense in the league, we want to be hard to break down – and we’ve proven that – but we want to continue that, and make sure that we’re a difficult side to play against.”
What conversation did you have with Dave Romney after New England got the equalizer?
“I think we were just talking about how we had to be hard in that moment. I’ll have to watch the goal again, but I think that we had four guys around the ball, and I felt like we – if everyone knew that was a big moment, we need to recognize that. How can we somehow put our bodies on the line – whoever it is – Me, Dave, Brian Dax, I think those were the four around the ball – how can we prevent that shot from taking place? How can we get a foot on it? Because we made a lot of other really good plays in the game, and that one somehow managed to sneak through. With where we were all positions, I feel like it was not a good goal to give up.”
How do you feel physically tonight, and going forward?
“I feel good, I mean certainly you’ll pick up things along the way, and thankfully this is a time where having been around for eight seasons now, you kind of know a little bit more about your body, and what are things that you feel like you can play through, what are things that might endanger you. This is a moment where I think I said on the TV broadcast tonight, you’re showing up a little bit earlier and leaving a little bit later from the facility, just getting all the treatment you can, doing a lot of recovery at home, and trying to take care of myself so that I don’t have to miss any games.
“I spoke earlier about the importance of wanting to be out there with every game, and trying to win with the boys. Yeah, we’re going to have aches and pains. I’m sure everyone’s feeling different things – I’ve had my own share – but certainly if I feel good enough to get out there, certainly I’m being on the field.”
What do you have to do to prepare for Montreal on Tuesday?
“This is a big game Tuesday. Montreal is a side that is very close to us on the table. They’re a team that is under a new coach in Thierry, and so they’ve now had about 19 games to figure out how they want to play. It’s important for us because three points for us also means zero points for them, and vice versa. It’s a chance for big movement in the standings, and ultimately for us to get where we want to go, we need to make sure that we’re the team with three points.”