Nashville SC fell 1-0 to FC Dallas Wednesday evening. Watch or read full comments from head coach Gary Smith and midfielder Aníbal Godoy here.
Head coach Gary Smith
“Well of course it’s disappointing to finish up this homestand with a defeat. It’s been a while since we’ve tasted that here. And there were moments in the early exchanges that I just felt Dallas were able to find some little pockets of opportunity as we settled into what is a slightly different shape again. What I would say is, beyond that – and I think we can see through the stats in the second half – that the attitude and the spirit of the team gave us real impetus. I thought there were some very good passages of play, possessionally, we’re in a much better place. in terms of our front-foot and aggressive approach, much better place.
“I think we fell down in the final third, and it was always going to be a concern with limited attacking players, and of course, the quick turnaround and nature of the schedule: having to offer some other players a little bit of rest. So very, very disappointed, but certainly not disheartened with the way that the side has played. in fact, I think that we’ve come out of this with a number of positives that we can certainly take towards what will be our next game here, and a playoff game.”
Do you feel like No. 6 finish in the table is still realistic?
“Tonight’s result, Drake, was really a pivotal moment for that, I believe. It’s not to say that we can’t go to Orlando and get a victory, but that’s what we need. I think tonight’s efforts and the way that the guys have gone about this fixture shows you that they were very, very keen to fight tooth-and-nail for that sixth spot. But getting beat tonight certainly puts a dent in that. I know that New England have got a very tough game – as have we – and so have New York Red Bull who are the other side, obviously, in the final sort-of chase for that.
“So listen, we’ve not lost hope. We certainly know that it’s a much tougher challenge. But more importantly, I think leaving here after today’s game – and the next time we’re here, may well be when we’re in the playoffs, and I wanted the guys to, if we can’t get a win tonight, which we certainly fought hard for, to leave here having achieved some things that I think we’ve just gone away from in the last couple of games.”
You mentioned the change in shape. What was the philosophy behind that, and was Jack Maher’s injury a temptation to change tactics?
“There was a couple of things, Tim: we’re missing multiple attacking bodies again. Jhonder’s still working his way towards being able to play longer than maybe half a game, and I want to be careful – given our injuries – that I don’t push to far with him. Daniel Rios is carrying a problem as well, which prevented him coming out second half.
“So there’s multiple attacking players that we’re without at the minutes, and I was desperately trying to get Randall – who has been one of out shining lights recently – into a more central position, where I know he and the team find him very, very capable. And that meant, in doing so, we looked very, very light in terms of wide players. I’d seen what we’d achieved in Houston, it wasn’t quite the same output against New England. But I just felt that the attitude and the personality of the players that were going out there would give us exactly what we got, which was a front-foot approach, a very aggressive mindset. I thought there was some terrific energy in our game, and real appetite, but as I’ve said, the one thing that let us down or really didn’t offer us the type of foundation we needed to win the game were more attacking players on the field.
“Unfortunately, if they’re injured, it’s very difficult to change that. Personalities are what we have, and I don’t have an issue with that. But when it comes to creation, it can be somebody’s DNA and somebody’s feel in a game that makes a difference, and that certainly tonight was the difference between the teams.”
Do you feel like this was a step back from your recent run of form?
“I think there’s a couple of things to that, the first one is – as I’ve said to you – we’re suffering, and I think anyone can see that. The injured list, and even sort of half-injured players are Accam, Badji, Danladi, Mukhtar. We’ve got – as I’ve said – Daniel Ríos who’s struggling and has played a decent 45 minutes. You can throw into that that guys like Alex Muyl – who has been terrific for us – has got through a tremendous amount of work.
“So number one, we are without bodies, and that does make a difference. In terms of confidence, I can’t believe that the guys have not felt on top of the world with what they’ve achieved. I know indeed they are. And the last thing is: when you look at the way that the playoffs are going to be structured this year, I think it’s going to be very very difficult for any team to take whatever momentum they had in the season into the playoffs.
“The first playoff game is two weeks after the last game – which is Sunday for us. If you’re in the top six, it’s going to be three weeks, and I defy any team that have been playing two games a week – as we have for the last three weeks – and gotten into that routine, to then go into a quiet phase, and keep the same mentality, the same sharpness, the same appetite. It’s just not easy.
“You’re still going to see good games, but please don’t tell me that everyone’s going to feel exactly the same two or three weeks down the line, because they’re not.”
What tactical adjustments did you have with Anunga and LaGrassa after the half to produce more offense
“The guys that you’re talking about were instrumental in this game, and were instrumental in raising the attitude – and by that I mean the positivity – in the group. It’s not their game, as we know, to be in attacking pockets and connecting and creating. A lot of their game is about industry and possession and just great spirit that lifts others around them. So as I’ve said, there was always going to be a little bit of an issue with us creating opportunities. I was disappointed that we couldn’t get Randall and Daniel in the game a little bit more. And what you found in the first period that when we hit the final third, the creative third, we just looked a little bit toothless.
“The second period, I just felt the guys came out of their shell a little bit more. Maybe took more chances becayse we were a goal behind. I think maybe they were buoyed by the fact that we were getting into good areas, and that we were on the front foot and felt like there was an opportunity to be had.
“Listen, all I’ve said to the guys in there as well afterwards was: out of a difficult situation, there were a couple of things that I felt we needed to feel again. Our last couple of home games, whilst we’ve earned points, have I think not seen us play in the style and the fashion that I know that these guys are capable us – and I certainly know will win us more games here, which is on the front foot ansd being more aggressive. And we’ve seen that tonight.
“Secondly, we’ve controlled the game more so tonight than we’ve done certainly in our last two home games. Admittedly a different opponent and different circumstances, but I felt the guys needed to see and feel the moments when you’ve got to work a team over, we’ve got to maintain possession and manage the game. The one thing we missed was creation and finishing. And unfortunately, as I’ve said, when you’re missing so many bodies, that can sometimes fall down.”
Is there a systematic thing or a skillset issue that some of your guys couldn’t take the moments to get forward?
“I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. If you look at any player around the globe in certain positions, they have a particular style and, like you say, skillset. And Eric’s is energy: he’s a talented player on the ball in his possession and choices. Eric’s capable of creating a crossing moment, but he’s not going to do what Randall or somebody of that ilk is capable of.
“So, we’re in a position here where there were many, many good things out of that game. What I want to remind everyone is this: that when you play a little bit more open as we have done tonight, there is the opportunity – or there is the possibility – that teams will take advantage of that. And finding the balance, as you’ve all seen, and I’ve seen many, many times, is never easy.
“I realize the team needs a little bit more impetus and front-foot play, and I think we’ve seen that tonight. But I will reinforce this: we didn’t earn any points tonight. And unfortunately, there are going to be games where you have a real go at it, you really show all the energies and the qualities that you hope from a home team, and you don’t win. And you don’t earn any points. And we don’t score a goal.”
What did you think of Handwalla Bwana’s debut?
“Listen, he’s only been in the group for a couple of days training fully, and I’m delighted with him as an individual. He’s a bright personalist, he’s fit in very well quickly, and he’s got his first opportunity on the field. I think his moment of the game was the cross late-on that he just lifted and lent to the back post – and I think it was Walker and Jhonder that collided.
“But I think he’s got a bright future. He has lovely talent, he moves very, very efficiently, and my hope is that as we push on here, we’re going to see more and more of those individual moments that we’ve been talking about: difference-making moments.”
Do you know the extent of Jack Maher’s injury?
“It sounds like Jack has either just tweaked his knee – the outside of his knee – but on first tests it’s nothing too serious. Although most of these things do tend to take 24-48 hours to settle down and to get a clearer picture of what’s gone wrong. It does seem that it’s maybe something that’s a little bit more incidental than too aggressive.”
Midfielder Aníbal Godoy
“It’s a tough game. It’s difficult when you lose at home, but the effort for the team is great. I think we always try to fight because we always, when we go inside the field, we want to win. Nobody want to lose and nobody want to tie. But this is the football: the football is like this sometimes. They have only one or two chances, I think and they score.
“But I think we controlled the game. More the second half, we tried to control the ball, we moved the ball side-to-side. The other side, we tried to find good pass. But we need to do better, we need to try to finish the action. Because sometimes when the game is like this – too close – if we have only one chance we need to score on this chance, because I don’t know if we will have also another chance.
“We need to continue to try to fighting, because we have other final Sunday. If we want to stay in the top six, we need to win in Orlando.”
Did you have to take responsibility to direct the attack tonight?
“Gary’s the coach, he knows like everybody wants to play, everybody wants to start. We have so many rotation today because we play so many game like Wednesday-Saturday, Wednesday-Saturday. But this is not only about the formation, or about the players that go in, because we have good team, we have good players, and we always want to go inside the field to show the best performance we have.
“In this shape, we tried to press a little bit more higher. In the first half, we press really well the first 15 minutes after Dallas tried to find the best way for them and tried to break the pressure, and I think we’re doing well in this one. But when they break the pressure, it’s so difficult for us to try and recover quick, and I think this is the option for the goal they have.
“They break the pressure, the guy play the ball behind the Jack [Maher]. This is a hard ball for us, but we need to continue to work on it.”
How much a priority do you guys put on the position in the table knowing the home game/bye/etc situation between 6th and 7th?
“We have to finish in the best, in the more higher position if it’s possible. But now we know we only have the chance to finish in sixth. Because we don’t have a chance to jump more than sixth. Tonight is the really chance if we would win, to try to jump into the sixth position. You know the playoff here in the MLS, if you have the best position, you play at home, you know?
“This is why this group try to fighting to stay in the top six. We have a chance now. I think it’s a little bit more difficult because we need to wait also about results. A result if New England win Sunday, if we win we don’t finish in the top six. Now it’s more difficult. Now we need to wait also on the other team.
“But we continued to fight tonight. What I say: this group is top strong. We need to recover tomorrow, and we need to try to come back more strong Sunday.”
Aníbal Godoy photo from file/courtesy MLS