Nashville SC

Nashville SC press conference: Gary Smith and Daniel Ríos

Daniel Ríos photo via Zoom/maybe Interscope Records

Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and striker Daniel Ríos met with the media this afternoon. Watch or read their full comments here.

Ríosexcited are you to have signed an extended contract with Nashville SC?

Ríos: “Yeah, I’m really happy, I’m excited to help Nashville build something special here. I’ve been seeing it the past couple of years. Well, more commitment by myself to the team, show what I can do, and fight for better things during the season.”

What does it mean to your team to have the very first player signed to an MLS contract, how nice is it that he is sticking around?

Smith “Well, for all sorts of different reasons, it’s very very pleasing that we’ve been able to get a new deal finalized and we’ve got Daniel here for the future. In terms of what he brings for the team: his finishing, I believe, is as good as anyone, if not the best in the group. He’s proven that at both levels, USL and MLS, that he’s more than capable given the opportunity when he’s in and around the penalty area. He’s a fantastic character, and if you look at the type of locker room and identity that we’re trying to move forward and develop, Daniel’s a very, very big piece of that. He shows all of those characteristics that are such big foundational pieces for us, and of course for the fans. There’s fantastic continuity from USL – where he was incredibly successful in front of goal; I think still to this point the only player to score back-to-back 20-goal seasons – and of course, they see him in all his glory in MLS now, and doing exactly the same thing in the very top echelons of soccer in this country. So I’m absolutely delighted, and I know the club and the fans will be, too.”

What is the privilege of being able to have someone like Daniel sort of bridge the eras of this team, especially as a striker?

Smith: “First of all, I think you can see now that Daniel, whilst playing in USL for us and for Carolina before that, was really a top-flight player. The goals that he scored, the way that he led the line and what he was capable of achieving at that level was far, far better than the standard than he was playing at. And we’re seeing that now in MLS.

As far as the connection and understanding, time offers the opportunity for Daniel to understand what I’m asking for, for the team. It gives Daniel the opportunity to build those connections and rapport with some of the other players around him. Admittedly, been a lot of changeover into the MLS group, but I think his appreciation of not just me and the group, but of course getting to grips with a brand-new league and a language as well has been absolutely phenomenal.

“And he’s an incredibly intelligent lad. I know he’s on the screen now, and he should be blushing with all of the compliments. But it’s been terrific to have him for this period of time, and my only hope is that we haven’t seen the best of him. I’m sure that’s the case: he’s not even into his prime yet, and I;’m looking forward to Daniel really getting to grips with MLS and getting into double digits.”

What sort of advantages do you have with the continuity in comparison to last year when you built a new team from scratch?

Smith: “We’ve been in just over a week now working together. Of course it’s only natural for me to sort of draw on last year and make those sort of judgments and connections from where we were at this point a year ago. And I’ve got to say: for many, many different reasons, we’re in front of that point last year where we met in Tampa, and the group first met each other. Lots and lots to try and contend with down at IMG last year.

But as I look at the group, how they’re working, the workload they’re getting through, take a step back and the work that they’d got through before we’d even step foot on the field together this year was phenomenal. And it’s given us a great opportunity to really push on. Some of the work that we’re achieving right now, I probably wouldn’t have contemplated last year. I don’t think the guys physically or fluidly were capable of what they are at this point.

“When we’re looking at Louisville at the weekend, 11v11 comopetition games are always the acid test. And whilst we’re not going to see exactly what we will come the start of the MLS season, I’m excited to see where the group’s at. I’m excited to see a couple of the new players, and how they fit into the group, and just overall excited to get the competition games moving.”

Do you have benchmark numbers in mind for targets this season scoring-wise?

Ríos: “Yes, I have my goals for this year. I set them to – like the coach said – double digits. I hope that I can score more than 10 goals this year. Last year was a good year, but difficult year for us because of the pandemic and an expansion team, but I think the work was good. This year will be better, that’s what I’m hoping for.”

Do you foresee the flexibility to play around with different systems this year?

Smith: “I think the last piece of that coming sort of fits that more than any, which is – if we play with a back three, there’s a very good chance that we’re going to end up with two center forwards, or two forwards on the field. Yes, there’s a chance that we have or see more of what I would class as a plan B.

I think more to the point, as you look at the way that the roster’s been built and added to this year, we’ve got some very very good options in our attacking lineup – and I don’t just mean through the middle of the field; out wide, as well – which of course gives more flexibility to what we’re capable of achieving, and it gives us more of an opportunity: more sharpness, more, I think, engagement and competition in that area. So yeah, I certainly wouldn’t be averse to seeing two forwards on the field. If you look back at my history, I’ve always had two forwards on the field. yes, the game’s changed, and we’re evolving, but I’d certainly like to see that at certain points in the season. And we have the personnel to achieve that, I think, to a far better degree this year.”

What do you need to do to find success in a more competitive striker group this year?

Ríos: “Yeah, it’s more competitive this year, so my plan is always the same. I have to prove myself in the training ground and during the games. The best way to prove it is to score goals.

“The second thing to do is whatever Gary asks me to do, and whatever the team needs me to do. Anything defensively or offensively, including scoring the goals, it’s the best way for me to improve and to show that I’ll be there to be the center forward.”

Who did you model your game after from a young age?

Ríos: “I loved Ronaldinho. I loved the way he enjoyed the game, how he changed it, and how he was not only too serious: he just enjoyed, you can saw him when he was playing, dribbling guys, scoring goals. Also now Cristiano Ronaldo, the way he’s scoring goals, and with the age he improved his game. Not like in the beginning when he was start, now he scores a lot of goals. He’s the role model for me.”

What are your goals for the Louisville friendly this weekend? Is it more process- or result-oriented? After seeing their 3-0 result over FC Cincinnati, are they a little more competitive than the average USL side?

Smith: “Listen, I think Louisville always are: they’re an incredibly good side. We probably know more about them than anyone, if anyone does, then it’ll be Cincinnati who they’ve just played. Let’s keep in mind that we have a very changed roster to the one that competed in USL. That doesn’t detract from what they are capable of which is always very, very difficult. My big hope is that the weekend: first game, first run-out for everyone, it offers the opportunity for all of the guys to get good competition, to get some good minutes under their belt, everyone comes through it healthily, we see some encouraging signs.

“Are we going to see the finished product? Not at all. But I think at this point, whilst we want to compete, and we should be competing, the old adage of ‘there never is a friendly game’ could not be more true against a team like Louisville. But being healthy and getting ourselves on the plane to Florida in good shape and ready for some good games down there as well would be a big box for me to tick.”

How do you plan to manage players’ workloads in the game?

Smith: “We’ll end up with – I think it’s going to be a ‘three 30-minute [segments]’ game. So we’ll have the majority of the guys play for just 30 minutes as part of their progress. There’ll be a sprinkling of individuals that probably take on 45 minutes. And that’s to really try and compensate: one, where certain physical and aerobic levels are at, and of course secondly, for a lot of the guys to just dip their toe in the competition again. There’s been plenty of good work that goes on in training, but nothing replicates playing against another team, and especially a good one.

I’m certain it’ll be a tough encounter. The result against Cincinnati tells us that they’re in a good place, Louisville. We had a really good game against them last preseason, and I would expect nothing less.”

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