Nashville SC

Press conference: Gary Smith and Dan Lovitz before Eastern Conference semifinal against Columbus Crew

Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and left back Dan Lovitz met with the media today to discuss their team’s upcoming game. Watch or read their full comments here.

How has the team’s preparation gone for the upcoming match against Columbus?

Smith: “It’s been great as you might imagine. A couple days for the guys to recuperate, to try to get their bodies back on track again. We’re not getting bundles of time to prepare for Sunday’s game, but I certainly think it’s a good enough window for us all to be mentally and physically ready again. The attitude, as always, has been spot-on, and as I’m sure everyone might imagine, there’s a great feel about the place, and everyone’s looking forward to Sunday.”

How is the body feeling after a long outing Tuesday evening?

Lovitz: “I feel good, all considering. I think, at the end of the day, one of the physical silver linings of this year and the schedule and the way it’s been is we’re used to the quick turnaround and it’s not some great hurdle that we feel like we have to overcome, and I feel like that’s a strength we have going into this, on top of being a fit team in general – since the beginning of the year, and all the work we’ve put in, I think we’re in a great place to continue to compete at a high level, first and foremost.

“Talking to the guys after the game, I think it’s been quite some time since a few of us have been in an extra-time game. So it’s nice to kind of get that out of the system, and come out on top, obviously. But it was just more of a growing experience for the team, and a positive one, obviously. Just something we’re learning from and moving forward. But the guys mentally and physically, everyone feels great.”

What is your mindset as you see the potential coronavirus issues Columbus is going through right now?

Lovitz: “For the players, it’s very simple: it’s not altered at all. We prepare to play when we’re scheduled to play. Obviously, we went through this whole situation and saga down in Orlando earlier: we know that the logistics can become really hard to follow and not really worth investing in because you’re not in control of it. We obviously had some news prior to the Miami game as well, similar this situation, and we did a very good job of sort of compartmentalizing it and being ready for what we knew we could handle, which is the game. Frankly, we will be prepared on Sunday. If they want to reschedule it, whenever that is, it doesn’t really concern us: we’re ready whenever, wherever, and it’s super-easy from our point of view.

Smith: “I don’t think there’s a lot more to say than that, Drake. You know, the key here is – for both groups – to make sure from a purely health standpoint that it’s safe and sensible, and whenever that may well be, then fine. As Daniel said, we’ll be ready. We’re preparing for Sunday. If it’s not Sunday and it’s a couple of days later, so be it. If it’s not to be, and we end up moving on because of it, whatever it is, we’ll be prepared.”

What do you remember from your team’s scare in Orlando, or when you had the false positive before the trip to Dallas about the stress of testing and not knowing what will happen?

Smith: “To be perfectly honest, it is such a difficult period of time. Whether we want to – in our own moment – say, ‘well, we’re living this now, and it feels a little bit more natural,’ it doesn’t. And it will be brutally unfair for Columbus if this game for some reason doesn’t take place, but it’s how we have to live at the moment. The only thing we can all do is be sensible, is make good choices, and even then, you just do not know. This virus seems to be incredibly contagious, and in the most innocuous of situations, it can cause the downfall of a group.

“So we’re trying to do our very utmost – it’s the only thing we can control, and the league, Columbus, whatever goes on there will take its course. It’s just – there’s no winner here. There’s no winner if it’s not meant to be, then fate deals its cards.”

Does the win over Toronto prove that you shouldn’t be considered underdogs?

Smith: “We first of all, I think we’re growing as the group with confidence, in belief of what we are capable of and what we can achieve, after every hurdle we jump. That would normally go without saying. It was a very very good performance all-round Tuesday night: not just a victory, but a comprehensive one against a very, very good team. So that does wonders for everyone’s morale and positivity.

Certainly as we go towards this away game in Columbus where we – but what was it, six weeks ago? Slightly more – fell foul of a two-nil defeat: it’s a tough environment. There’s not going to be, I wouldn’t suspect, a tremendous amount of difference in what both of these teams are capable of, and if we allow them to play their game, and to take control, then it will be an extremely tough night. But I think you’ve seen on multiple occasions, this group go about their business, they attack the game, they stick to a plan, and ultimately have come out on top where most people feel as though we maybe shouldn’t have. And that’s testimony to such a spirited and talented group that we have.

“And still growing! And I think that’s the thing as well: there’s still so much more to come out of this group. We’re starting to see one or two of the attacking players finds a little bit more form. We can say the defensive group in general have been at a very good level all year, but we’re starting to see that combination come together now. And I think there’s some more to come out of this team.”

How important was having all three DPs playing well at the end of the year and into the two playoff games?

Smith: “You know, if you look at all of the top teams in MLS, they’ve normally got a good complement of designated players in the group, and who are very productive, predominantly in a creative sense. We’ve been unfortunate enough that we’ve either had someone injured, we haven’t fulfilled all three salots, or, in the process of our growth, there’s just not been much of a connection. But all of those things are starting to come good now at the right time. The addition of Jhonder has, I think, helped the group. Hany is coming back from some niggly problems. Randall is probably in the most productive out of our attacking group of players. And now, to bring all three of them together and to see them producing on the field, I think puts a little bit of doubt in an opponent’s mind, but also gives the rest of the group another dimension and a lift. So it’s certainly very, very pleasing to see all three of them out there.”

How have Columbus and Nashville changed, particularly with the Crew not having a healthy Lucas Zelarayan when you played there?

Smith: “Well, no [Darlington] Nagbe that day either if I remember rightly, no [Josh] Williams. Those guys, that sort of spine – if you like – down the middle of the team, have played their last couple of games and of course their first playoff game. I have to suspect that Caleb [Porter] feels as though that’s his strongest group, and we didn’t see much of all three of those guys. If I remember rightly on the day, we actually played very, very well first period: had some good control of the game, and looked like we were in a very decent spot. What we found – and fell foul of – was some clinical finishing. Not many chances eitehr wya, but they were ruhless when they had their opportunity in front of goal, and came out two-nill winners.

“I think we’re a better team [than back then], I think we’re a more confident team. Some of the reasons I just explained. Are they a better team with those guys in it? For sure. =Darlington’s Nagbe’s a top, top midfield player, Zelarayan’s shown his creative capabilities. So it bodes well fore a very, very good game. We certainly won’t go there with any fear after Tuesday’s result. I’m more than sure we would have done anyway, but we certainly won’t after Tuesday’s result, and we’ll look forward to I think giving a better account of ourselves than we did six weeks ago.”

How nice – or even relieving – has it been in the past few weeks to have the attacking phase round into form to augment what has been a strong defensive unit all season?

Lovitz: “Yeah, sure. I mean, the biggest thing for us as a backline – or just in general, our identity as a team and the culture that we have – we defend with 11 players. I think the relief and the joy that we have from the defensive side of the field to see those guys finally get a reward for the defensive work that they put in, it’s just the best. Because they help us out so consistently: game-in, game-out, the energy that they put into the defensive side of the ball is… you don’t see it on other teams, and it’s a great advantage that we have, to have guys that roll their sleeves up and get the job done defensively.

“So, it was obviously a tough period when they weren’t really getting rewarded on the other side of the field and putting the ball in the back of the net. But we always knew that there was going to be a gear that those guys could hit and would at the right time. Like Gary said, this is a great time for them to sort of be syncing up and to be confident. For us, it’s great, we’re going to continue doing what we do and improve on the defensive side, but I still think we have an offensive next gear we can hit – and we’re slowly starting to sort of grow into and show – and it’s led by those guys that have been doing the hard work all year and are finally starting to click up top.”

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