Nashville SC earned a 1-0 win against Montreal Impact Tuesday evening. Watch or ready the full postgame comments from head coach Gary Smith, along with wingers Alex Muyl and Randall Leal, who teamed up for the lone goal of the game.
Head coach Gary Smith
“I thought it was an outstanding and professional performance tonight. Difficult away fixture for all sorts of different reasons – the main one obviously being that Montreal were touch-tight to us. From the very outset, I thought that we showed our intentions. There was some positive, bright, and energetic play going forward. We created good opportunities, and what we also were able to do that we’ve shown to a very large degree all season was keep them, when they did have good passages of play, in areas that were not dangerous. It wasn’t until the closing moments that, with a few bodies that they threw forward – and of course the anxious nature of the last few minutes of the game – that they even looked like, I felt, equalizing.
“My only disappointment was that we didn’t extend our lead. But all-in-all, a very, very good away performance at a very, very important time.”
In those final moments, were you confident that you’d be able to prevent that equalizer, were there truly scary moments in there?
“I had a lot of confidence in the guys, you know, in the moment. To be honest, Tim, I think the only disappointing part of that, as I mentioned, was that there was numerous opportunities to extend our lead, and then ultimately we go into the final moments knowing that even a bit of fortune for Montreal could put a dent in what otherwise has been a terrific display. So I have confidence in the guys: they work tirelessly every day at making sure they work with the right attitude and offer the right type of qualities for those moments.
“And there’s no better guys for me, personally, in this league at the moment, than Walker [Zimmerman] and Dave Romney, and they’re flanked by a couple of fullbacks that have done a phenomenal job. And they’re part of a backline that I think we’re all going to be very very proud of come the end of the season.”
Muyl and Leal seemed to be more involved defensively in this game, how important is that ability to be a two-way threat?
“You know, I’ve said this on numerous occasions that the best sides work both sides of the ball. By that, I mean when we attack, they have the ability, they have the mental aptitude and intelligence to go and join in and try and be creative. I think we could probably say that both of those guys – to varying degrees: Randall’s been extremely bright going forward, and Alex has shown, I think, coming back to his old club and a stadium that he knows well was probably inspiring for Alex, as well, and I thought he was great going forward. But for most attacking wide players, they tend to not necessarily switch off when the defending part comes along, but there’s a difference between going through the motions and just offering a tepid attempt at trying to defend, and individuals that really roll their sleeves up and work for the team.
“To your point, both of those guys do a wonderful job in both areas of the game, and it gives us the dimension that we need. And at times when we’re under pressure, we can rely on those two wide attacking players. At times when we’re in the ascendency, you can see both of them come to life, and both of them offer a very nice, bright, and creative edge. But the one thing that you do need: the determination and a lot of energy. And if you’re prepared to really dig in with both of those, then you get what you got tonight: two good performances.”
What will Anibal Godoy bring to the Panamanian National Team?
“Listen, Aníbal’s a top, top player. When you’re looking at midfield players, again, that are capable in possession, ability to break lines and to start attacks, competitive, you know, we’ve got – I think we’re fortunate in the fact that – we’ve got two midfield players, two senior midfield players that can not only fulfill all of the qualities that you might expect from that area of the field, they can manage people around them in the game so well. When the game needs speeding up, they make good choices. When the game is slowing down and we need some possession and a bit more management, they make good choices.
“The two of those guys – and we’re talking about Aníbal now – when he goes with his national team, I think they’re getting a player that I think they know full well, of course, but he’s in a really good vein of form, he’s in a good mental place, and as per usual, I’m sure he’ll perform to the highest level for his country.
Your counter-attacks fizzled out when Montreal started pushing up. Was there a specific cause for that, or was it something that wasn’t a problem?
“I think it’s a combination of a couple of things. We finished in really what could be described as a 4-4-2; the final moments, I tucked Daniel Lovitz in and Taylor Washington ended up in a back-five just to really deal with the last couple of minutes and crosses. But to your point, you’re asking players moving at real pace to time their pass well, to accurately place the ball in a good area of the field.
“Two real examples of that maybe that you’re thinking of was when Abu Danladi came on, and the very first moment that we had, Randall broke down the right-hand side. Abu had made a terrific run into the channel, and there was just a miscommunication. The ball really should have been played in down the side of Abu, and Randall tried to play it inside. So, to that degree, we can say that they weren’t on the same page. We also had another very, very encouraging position, and I think Randall’s pass was over-weighted. So there’s all sorts of different reasons why it doesn’t quite work, or it doesn’t come off.
“What I will say is: we created more than enough chances. I believe 16 efforts at goal, 12 from inside the 18-yard box. We had enough moments, aside some of those breakdowns, to have really put this game to bed earlier than we did. And as I said at the very start, that’ll be an area we certainly need to continually keep pressing the buttons on, because as the stakes get higher, there’s the possibility that players in a nervous or anxious end to the game, make a mistake. And if you’ve played as well as we have tonight, then we really should’ve been out of sight and not having to concern ourselves about the final few minutes.”
Is your group exceeding your expectations? Did you see this potential at the beginning of the year?
“The easy answer is ‘no,’ of course. Because when we all first came together, we’re a brand-new team. There was a hell of a lot of work to be done, and with the group in general, a lot of relationships to build. We can go through the catalogue of difficulties that us and every other team have had to deal with with Covid, and that only makes life all the more difficult.
“But what has happened is that, slowly-but-surely, with a run of games, even with some adversity with players omitted from the group at particular times, others have stepped up, fulfilled their role well, and put themselves in a positive position. And we’ve been able to put points on the board regularly. And it’s vitally important through the very difficult schedule, the middle part of the schedule, when you know, most people would look at it and go, ‘OK, we’ve still got 12, 14 games left.’ But you can’t have those games back, and the good teams can keep adding to the board.
What we’ve now done is won three out of the last four, and we’ve elevated our position on the back of some confidence. I think the addition of Jhonder [Cádiz] gives everyone in the group a real lift. He’s slowly-but-surely making his way to match fitness, but his presence is felt constantly. And it’s also, I think, more competition and dragged more out of guys like Daniel Ríos and Abu and the attacking players. It’s given a huge lift to the defensive group, knowing that we can create the chances we have tonight, and come away from places like this with a victory – and a clean sheet, by the way, again.
“So yes, you’re right in what you say, but I think it just goes to show that when a team’s in a good place, they’re confident, and they’re comfortable in each other’s company and ability, anything’s achievable.”
Midfielder Alex Muyl
“A massive three points for us. You know, strange situation to come back, and it’s like a weird dream to come to Red Bull Arena and play against Montreal in front of no fans. But it wqas fun, it was good, and as soon as the whistle starts, you forget about all of that, and it’s just about having a good performance and trying to get the three points, which we did.”
Was it nice to score as a visitor to Red Bull Arena and not have to do it against your own team?
“Yeah, it was – I’d be happy to get a couple against my old team, as well. It was a familiar situation. For me, it’s a fun way to come back, and it’s a nice kind-of trial run for when we come and pay the Red Bulls.”
What’s the conversation about where the season stands as it relates to the playoffs?
“I think, obviously, when you’re an expansion team in that first year, a lot of people kind of create that storyline which is like, ‘are they going to make the playoffs or not?’ But I think we’ve shown that we’re very much good enough to make the playoffs, and that really shouldn’t be the goal for us. For us it should be placement, how high can we go, how much can we continue to build on form and continue to get points and move our way up the table? I think we have guys in this team who are very ambitious, where just making playoffs, as much as that might be an accomplishment, that’s the very least for us.”
How do you explain how quickly you were able to get integrated with this Nashville team?
“It’s obviously a big switch-up, especially in the middle of the year. A year like this where I hadn’t really played much for 6-8 months because there just weren’t any games, and then to come here. It’s definitely been a a transition and I think that I’m still adjusting. There’s a lot I need to learn, but the first thing is the players, the way that they all welcomed me: it’s been amazing. It’s not easy to come into a new locker room, and they made it very, very easy. For me I’m just very thankful for these players, and then, again: it’s the staff. The staff has been super-welcoming, the GM, everyone. Starting fromCristina, when I first met her when I did my first media. Just the way they welcomed me in the club, it actually makes a big difference on the field. The off the field stuff really makes a big difference.
“And then for me, it’s just: I’m here to learn, I’m here to get better if I can. I know I’m not a perfect product, but I want to just improve and do as much as I can for the team. so I think that chipping away at becoming fully integrated it kind of my goal.”
What did you expect coming into a brand-new team, and what have you learned about what’s made this group successful?
“For me, honestly, I didn’t know what to expect at all. I get told I’m being traded, the next day I’m on a flight down to Nashville, which is crazy. I didn’t say bye to my parents, I haven’t seen them in like months and months. But you know, as soon as I got down here, talking to Dax, talking to some of the guys, they made it clear that we’re a team that is not going to give up much going against us, and then we’re going to create stuff going forward. I thinkl that, while that can create a lot of 1-0 games, this is the kind of team that does well in playoffs, and it’s exciting to be on a team like that.
In the past I’ve been with the Red Bulls. We’ve been great throughout the season, and then when it comes to playoffs, something’s been missing. And being here with this team, I really feel something different. That’s very exciting for me, it’s obviously, again, that doesn’t mean anything when playoff time comes if we don’t do our jobs, but I think that this is a team that’s going to be able to come into tense situations, games where there’s not much chances created, and there’s a lot on the line, and I think we’re going to do well.”
Will you guys have a chance to try to watch the Atlanta and Miami games tomorrow when you can officially clinch the playoffs?
“No, I mean. Obviously, you know it would be nice in another year, but this year it’s not possible. Everyone’s obviously sticking to themselves. We’ll probably – definitely – watch the games. Maybe we’ll Zoom and look at it. But yeah: maybe on another year, but this year definitely not.”
Going into the next two games, what has made your team so strong playing at Nissan Stadium thus far?
“I think we’re making it a fortress. I think since I’ve been here we haven’t lost at home, and I don’t really know what it is: the fans coming in has definitely been helpful. The fans are amazing, they’re so excited. Coming from here [Red Bull Arena], where the fans are sometimes… they don’t really get behind you, it’s amazing to see the fans in Nashville. They’re so excited, and they’re so supportive.
“I don’t really know what it is, but we’ve been able to make it a fortress and that’s really going to pay dividends in the long run. If you can not lose at home and win most games, that’s the foundation for a very good team.”
Midfielder Randall Leal
“I think it was great for us to won one step closer to the playoffs. That’s unbelievable for the team. But I think we deserved, because we worked too hard every week , every day, and this is what God gives us for working that.”
What has been behind your breakout in the past few games?
“I think that I never think when I score or I get the assist, I think I always try to think about the team. We are a strong team, it’s not only three-four games before, it’s all the season. We try work hard, and now we are in a good position. Again, this is we deserve, because we are working hard, all the players and this is what we wanted, what we spoke every day, about what we want to do for the games. Now we have a good result, and this is what we want to keep doing: try to get all the points that we can and be in the playoff, because this is unbelievable for us to be in the playoffs the first season for Nashville.”
Did you and Alex have a hand signal? Was it just something you guys both saw?
“I think when you are in the game, you need to be always concentrating. Concentrate on the game. I noticed a lot of things that you have to do, but you always have to be smart. I think I just saw him to stand up so fast, and then I made the run, and he saw me. That was good for us: we won, and this is what we can celebrate today, but tomorrow we have to think Chicago.”