Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and Daniel Ríos sat down to discuss their team’s 1-1 draw against Chicago Fire. Watch or read their full comments here:
Head coach Gary Smith
“Well, it was always going to be a very, very tough night: I’ve watched this Chicago team evolve and develop and they are an extremely footballing side. I always felt that we were going to have our hands full tonight. Delighted to go in front, you know some nice qualities – albeit broken up with maybe some below-par possession play. But all-in-all, a very competitive first half and disappointing to go in at 1-1. The second period, I just felt that we lost control of that central and midfield area. Their possession and ability to get down the flanks as well was causing us problems: there were one or two things that weren’t quite right on our right-hand side. All-in-all, I think in the end, we can safely say it wasn’t our best night at the office, but we were able to show some of the qualities that we have before. Foundationally strong, spirited, and that earned us a point tonight.”
Is there a common thread to some of the recent games where you’ve given up a lead and had to settle for a draw?
“I think the goal that they score – not long after we did – can certainly be put down to (and we’ve seen before), maybe a mental fatigue. You know, we had been defending slightly too deep. Randall got dragged into almost a fullback position, and the backline was not anywhere near as sound as it should have been: Alistair was a little bit too deep, and wasn’t looking at the line, and played on that lateral run.
“I don’t think it’s anything that we should be overly concerned about: let’s keep in mind this season, in general, is really umbrellaed by what development we can consistently keep adding to the group. There’ve been many, many qualities, and obviously delighted to be where we are in the league. We’ve shown some very, very good signs: wonderful win in mid-week against Montreal. And listen: it’s not gonna be perfect every game that we play, especially the amount of games that are coming as thick-and-fast as they are.
“So yes, there’s things that we can look at. We don’t get bundles of time, nor do any team, to look at them in training. But all-in-all, we’re learning game-by-game what exactly each opponent’s about and we’re facing many, many different opponents.”
Did you feel like your guys were physically up to the task, particularly late in the first half and into the second?
“Listen: they have some really good technicians. They’re a well-coached and good footballing side. I said to Raphael [Wicky] at the end of the game: you know, one of the best, if not the best footballing team that we’ve had come in, and I expected that.
“As far as your question about were we up to the task: I think they played at a very good pace, they played with urgency, and they played with a mindset of last-chance saloon. They must win games. They’re depserate to get up the table, and I think you saw that in the way that they played.
“If you cast your mind back but 48 hours, everyone’s enjoying and excited by the fact that, in our very first year in the league, we’ve got ourselves into the playoffs, and rightly so. Now, emotionally, that’s a huge load and a drain on the players. Now you’ve got to switch gears in the space of 48, 72 hours, whatever it is, and play a game. And I thought the guys attacked it incredibly well. Yes, we can improve in certain areas, and yes, we will continue to improve. One thing is for sure: we keep being reminded – which is great – that if we want to move forward in the playoffs, that there are areas of the game that we have to consistently work at. And we’re no different to any other team. But unlike a lot of other teams, at the moment – and I don’t see any reason why that will change any time soon – we’re very, very difficult to play against.”
What is Hany Mukhtar’s status going forward?
“As far as Hany’s concerned, he’s physically healthy. He’s been out the best part of two and a half weeks now, and he needs a little bit more work. He is in the group, he’s working well, and he will be available for selection come Wednesday.”
Were your fullbacks’ positions part of the gameplan you had going in, or were they moved around a bit by what Chicago was doing?
“As far as the fullbacks are concerned, I think they were selective in where and how they tried to get forward. Mainly because in the first period – and probably even more so in the second period – we were unable to find that entry pass that would get set, and switch play, and never gave the pressure that they were putting us under. Therefore, they weren’t taking chances and consequently we ended up absorbing more pressure. Now, the bottom line is we have to find a way – and as I said, we are improving in many, many areas, but there’s a continued improvement – to try and navigate that press and to navigate the competition that is thrown in front of you. I think for the most part the guys are doing a great job, but that’s probably why the fullbacks were a little bit deeper than they should have been or wanted to be and it wasn’t intentional.”
Did you feel like your team’s lack of possession is sustainable in earning wins against better sides like Orlando or Philadelphia?
“I would question that: I’m not sure they are. The results tell us they are, but if you look back at the game on Wednesday night that I watched, Chicago absolutely dominated the game. Related to your point: they were 70-30 possession in the first 20 minutes against Philadelphia, who but four days before had absolutely demolished a Toronto team five-nil. You’re talking about a team here who base their whole game around possession.
“Now I’ve just said to the guys in there: the reason that we’re sitting where we are and they’re not, is because we have other qualities. We’re working and building toward some of those qualities they have, but we’ve gone about our business in a slightly different way. Is it sustainable? No. But you have to have a strong core and foundation to compete. So you know, as far as this group’s concerned, and when you look at the challenge we faced tonight, yes we constantly want to take a step forward. We face different challenges every week, but as far as tonight goes, it wasn’t our best performance for sure. But I think I’d have been a hell of a lot more disappointed having not played well and got beat. It would have been very difficult to take.”
What did you see on the set piece that resulted in Daniel Ríos’ goal?
“Well, I think if I’m right in saying and recollect well, it was a corner that really, I think it worked out: it was flicked and cleared out the far side and I can’t remember who actually crossed it in [Randall Leal], but it was a very decent ball whipped back into the near post, and I have to say Daniel Ríos’ movement in the penalty area was very, very good. He gets across his defender, he’s still got an awful lot to do and he guides and glances that header towards the back post. You know: almost perfect center forward play. I’ve got to say, Daniel’s output in front of the goal, his ability to be a goal threat, and certainly some of his qualities since coming back from injury – and even before, he’d score two in two [games] before he did his groin and he’s now, I believe he is our top goal scorer with four – he’s moving in a very, very good direction and I am delighted with where he’s at.”
Striker Daniel Ríos
“It was a good cross to the second post, and a good play for Randall to play the ball inside. Then, the flick to the second post that the keeper couldn’t stop and it was a nice goal for me. It was a difficult game. There were some hard times when we couldn’t control the game because we were not retaining the ball as we usually do. But this is part of hard games, playoff games, that we need to understand and know that we need to do better if we want to have easier moments in these games. Because there were hard moments, but in the end, a good point for us.”
How did you think Chicago’s physicality impacted the way you guys were able to play?
“Yes, yes, I think we let them have the ball and we dropped. We were, I think, a little bit too deep. When a team doesn’t have the ball, it gets frustrated, and you have to run more. And the game goes and you get more tired and tired. Those are the small things that we need to improve for next games.”
How close to full fitness are you, and how does it feel to continue your reign as the club’s leading goal-scorer in MLS?
“It feels great personally, individually, because this was my main goal at the beginning of the season and the year. I think it’s not over, but I still have chances to score more goals. Yeah, I’m getting my full fitness, but I still feel like I can get better, because I have played a lot of games, but maybe with more minutes that I am having, I will get the best of me – talking about fitness.”
Which team is the one you’d most like to score a fantastic goal against?
“I don’t know. Maybe LAFC because Carlos Vela is there, and I think it’s a good platform for me to show what I am capable of.”
How did you see the strategy for this game play out? How does it affect the way you play the final two games?
“I think it didn’t go the way we wanted, but we managed the game really well. I mean, we have a point, so it’s great for us. We feel more like they missed a chance to have two more points, so I think it’s a good result for us. It put us in a good position to go and win the next two games.”