Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith sat with the media this afternoon to discuss Wednesday’ game against FC Dallas. Watch or read his full comments here.
Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith
How do you maintain your undefeated home form?
“Well as you’ve just mentioned, we have this fourth game in this trilogy against Dallas, and at this moment in time, we’ve been able to take the better end of it, as it were. The backdrop to that of course, as you’ve also said is trying to keep a very good unbeaten run going. But what I suspect is a rejuvenated Dallas side. When we ran into them – I think it was only but about 10 days, 14 days ago – they had a couple of injuries, they were struggling with some omissions, and they’ve since had a couple of really good victories. I’m sure they’re confident, they’ll certainly want to get a little bit more out of the game than they did in their last appearance at Titans. And it is going to take a real concerted effort both defensively and offensively to try and replicated some of the performances that we’ve had against them before.”
With the fourth game against the same team, is there any schematic tinkering left to do, or do you basically roll the ball out and know what to expect?
“Yeah, I know what you mean, Tim. I’m sure both coaches – I know I am – you’re fully aware of, more important importantly, their roster. They did have, as I’ve said before, a couple of omissions last time out. They’ve got a very bright and creative front line who have shown in the last couple of games that they’re in a good place again. They went through a little bit of a barren spell, results that weren’t quite going their way, but I think they’re starting to show their true colors again, and we’ll be clear, and we’ll be aware of all of the different dimensions they have. I think the one thing that we certainly need to be ready for is making sure that we come with the same sort of energy and same sort of desire that we did in the last three-nil victory. There was a real appetite about the game, it looked bright, it looked purposeful. We’ve had a couple of tough, very tough games here against sides that in one way, shape or form have been really, really committed. We ourselves need to try and get back onto that front foot, and be a little more aggressive in our own approach to the game on Wednesday.”
Ball retention was an issue Saturday, what is the solution going forward, or is it just about playing better against a good possession team?
“I think, first of all Drake, I think all teams want to be around the ball, all teams want to have good possession. I think there’s certain teams that, in terms of the way they’re set up, and maybe go about their business, they just put a little bit more emphasis on that. The Chicago team was definitely one of those, and we can say to the flipside of that coin for them, they’ve conceded a lot of goals, as well. So there’s always a downside to any sort of style of play.
“As far as we’re concerned, I think if you look at one of the difficulties that we’ve run into – and I know when I look at other groups – there’s a huge turnover if players. So many games coming this and fast that you’ve got a rotation of bodies that some days look like they’er really firing on all cylinders. Other daysthey look like they’re just missing a beat a little bit, and it doesn’t take an awful lot for a team like Chicago on the weekend, or New England when we played them, in spells, to take advantage of.
“The other side of it is, of course, fatigue. When you’re turning around Saturday to midweek, and then weekend again, there’s not only a physical element to it, there’s a mental and emotional element to it as well. For that fact, that’s why you see teams move their players around, they bring some fresh legs, some fresh minds into it, but it does break up the continuity. So as part of our development – and I said this after the game – we have to find a platform and a consistency about our play. I think we’ve found that in other areas of our game, it’s just been something that on one or two occasions, we’ve just faltered slightly. If we were perfect in all areas, it would be very strange for a brand-new franchise. So we have to continually work at that. It’s something the players very aware of, and certainly want it to become more of a frequent element.
How do you balance that squad rotation with making sure you have the best available lineup out there?
“The first part of it is very difficult, Ben, as I’ve just said to Drake. You’re rotating lots of players not just before the game, but within the game. The five substitutes have helped enormously for all teams, so that you get that, you try and keep that group as healthy and energetic as you can, but it also presents its problems.
“Lots of changes in any team create inconsistencies with relationships. As far as keeping the players focused and ready and buoyant, I mean it’s something that, I think we’ve all overlooked a little bit – I know I have myself – that we’re in a very, very good position, and without continually giving the players a pat on the back, because I think everyone wants to be reminded of what is good and what we need to continually work on. They’ve had a tremendous run of games. I think it’s, what, two defeats in 14 or 15 now? Unbeaten in the last four, with eight points out of the last 12 in a run-in scenario aiming for the playoffs, that’s not to be scoffed at at all. The players are their most critical element of any media or myself. They’re constantly looking for areas that they can improve, and amongst each other, they’re always keeping people and their teammates accountable.
“So I want to be, I want to keep some sort of reality about this, that we are building, that we are going to make mistakes, and when we do, I want everyone to know that we’re working as hard as we possibly can to keep that development and form going. But I also want to be cognizant of the fact that they’ve done a terrific job. We’ve come through an awful lot of difficulties like a lot of others teams, and there are always going to be those moments where we’re just not quite at our best.
“We’ll keep ourselves honest. The players work tremendously hard anyway. I see no reason if we’ve got, I believe, a home playoff now, minimum. We desperately want to put that sixth spot under pressure, and we’re doing everything we can to try and make that happen on Wednesday?
Does the current form of Randall Leal and Alex Muyl giev you the chance to be more cautious easing Hany Mukhtar back into the lineup?
“I think the pair of them have been in really good form. The one thing I’ve seen a little bit more of out of Alex is him arriving and getting into more-aggressive areas. Goal-scoring opportunities, final-third moments where he can start to be creative, If anything, that would have been – and I know has been – one of the only fingers pointed at Alex, because his energy hass and his teamwork has been phenomenal since he’s come in.
“As far as Randall goes, I think we’re seeing the best run of form of his time here: goals and assists, a real catalyst for the rest of the group. I think there are numerous players looking at him now and really trying to offer him as many opportunities as they can to make a difference.
“For me, adding Hany back into the group will be an added dimension, and of course a real positive as we work towards the end of the season, and of course towards the playoffs. So my hope is that by the time the season and the schedule’s over, we’re as close to full health as possible. We’ll get a minimum of two weeks to work and to prepare, and at that point, if everyone is in the right place, it will give us a wonderful opportunity to be ready for whoever our next opponent is.”
For these final games, is there an element of going with what has worked, do you want to try to expand the player pool with Jhonder Cádiz finding fitness and Handwalla Bwana available, or what is the bigger-picture plan there?
“I think it’s a combination of all of them, Drake. What I’ve tried to balance throughout the season has been: earning points, short-term success – which is just that: adding points to the board – keeping people healthy, making sure that the rotation is right at the right time to keep the team in-form and on the boil, and to make sure, lastly, that we continue to develop. Now along the way, as you’ve pointed out, we’ve had players either coming back from injury, new players added to the group, generally trying to balance off what is right for the group and for success, and what is right for the long-term. And that’s not going to change. Yes, Handwalla will be available for us for selection on Wednesday. Jhonder’s getting closer towards having more minutes and looking a little bit sharper. I still think there’s plenty to come out of Jhonder, and he knows that as well.
But we’re slowly-but-surely moving, I believe – all of those things being said – in the right direction. We have been on the good run. It maintains confidence in the group, and I think slowly-but-surely, to your point, there is some confidence and a lot of confidence in certain areas of our game. And there are other area’s we’ve got to keep improving. The guys are fully aware of that, so there’s an across-the-board challenge that I think all coaches generally look at, and it’s been no different for me.”
Do you have a preference for how the final standings play out as it relates to your playoff matchups?
“I’m not sure that there is when I look at the teams that we could possibly run into. As I’ve said, we’re confirmed with a home play-in game should we be 7th or 8th. It’s yet to be decided who those 9th and 10th teams are going to be.
“We’ve just recently run into a very, very bright and efficient Chicago team. If they make it, they’ll be in a confidence mood, you can suspect that. Atlanta, then you run into your local rivals, and whilst things haven’t gone the way they would have liked it to have, you can bet your life they would want to come in here and upset us, so I don’t see that being very appetizing. You could run into a very capable Montreal team, A DC team that are coming up on the rails, and we’ve seen before that teams that get in at the last moment, they’re normally the most dangerous.
There’s multiple teams, and then beyond that should we be fortunate enough – or even if we can pinch 6th spot – you’re straight away looking at an away game at this present time in either Orlando or possibly Columbus, which themselves are tough, tough games. There are no easy ones. It’s a long way round of saying: whoever we play – a home game in the play-in game was something we really wanted to try and achieve because our own form’s been good – whoever we play it’ll be tough here, and if we’re lucky enough to be in sixth, we get a bit more time to prepare, but we know we’re in for a real challenge away from home, whoever it is.”
How do you balance playing time for forward to make sure you don’t take Daniel Ríos out of his run of form while still providing more minutes for the other options?
“I think competition, No. 1, is vital for all positions, but none more so than up front or in the creative and goal-scoring areas: those guys being really on their toes, as sharp as they can be, being pushed, being in-form. As you’ve said, Daniel’s in a great run of form, I think it’s four in five, which is lovely place to be. Jhonder’s not quite there yet in terms of fitness – I’ve already mentioned that – but he’s certainly getting closer. I th8ink for me, No. 1, is keeping somebody who’s earned that spot, and is scoring goals in that group. You know, there’s nothing better than having a confident striker who’s having an effect.
“However we achieve that, nobody’s assured of a place. Places in this team are only confirmed through form, and the way that their performances and the level of their performances are going. And at this moment in time, it’s a case of Jhonder beating out whoever’s in there. If he can do that, it’s for him to make sure that his form is of a particular level.
“But the one thing that we can probably be assured of at this moment in time – and with not many games to go now – is that games have come thick and fast, I’ve got to make sure that players are at their best and I’m not pushing them too far into that world of breaking down. And beyond that, it’s going to be making sure that if you do have a little bit of a problem, that you’re back quickly and you’re challenging again.
“There’s a lot that goes into it because of the schedule, and there’s going to be those moments that probably you’ll see the pair of them up front. I’m not averse to playing two forwards, especially if you’ve got two good forwards. I think in the modern game, if you can put defenders under pressure, it’s a great place to be. And the rest of our group is really maturing nicely if you look at the way that they constructively and competitively go about their work. So don’t be surprised if you see two forwards on the field.”