Gary Smith photo from file.
Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith met with the media after his team opened preseason with a 4-0 friendly victory against Louisville City FC. Watch or read his full comments here:
“First and foremost, it’s great to get up and running again. We’ve had this preseason pushed back a little bit, so to be back on the field and competing again is wonderful; I know the guys were really looking forward to it. We always felt and knew that this was going to be a very competitive game against two teams that have got quite a bit of history dating back obviously to the USL days. And you know, it was that.
“But I thought we put our best foot forward: very good attitude, some really decent displays given our first outing, and I couldn’t be happier that we’ve gotten through some nice work, we’ve had no problems, and we can look back at a decent result.”
After an assist among his contributions today, what do you expect of Luke Haakenson’s contributions this year?
“First and foremost, these preseason games, some guys take a little bit more time to find their feet and to get into what might be classed as their natural playing stride. For Luke, he had a nice period of time in Charlotte last year: he’s found himself some good minutes at USL level. He knows what it’s like to be a professional, and he’s come in in the first 10 days and made a really nice impression. The first outing that he’s had here with the group will surely have some real tension and nervous energy about his display.
“He’s not competed against another team in a Nashville shirt, he’s not played and competed with any of the players around him in a Nashville shirt, and I think there were one or two signs of that today. He’s shown terrifically in training, where he’s comfortable and he’s worked with these bodies now for a period of time. But you know, his preseason is all about finding his way in these competitive games – and there was a nice foundation here today.
“Do I think he’s capable of more, and is he going to be and possibly offer the type of qualities in creativity that we’re after? I believe so. But you know, this is part of Luke’s process and pathway.”
Is the starting lineup that you put out today close to what you expect to be first-choice? What is the status of Jhonder Cádiz and Daniel Ríos after neither played today?
“I mean in answer to your first question about the starting lineup, I mean, It’s so early. But what you could see is that I tried to keep what might have been the core of the group together there. Guys like Handwalla [Bwana] were not part of the group last year, CJ [Sapong], not part of the group last year. And those guys, just for me, looked in a slightly better physical position as we went into this game. Can we expect some changes to that?
“Of course. We’ve got Randall [Leal] away, we’ve got Jhonder who we’ll talk about in a second, and you’ve got guys who are pushing for positions. The one thing I will say is, we’ve got some really good competition. Delighted to add the players that we’ve added. Young [Rodrigo] Piñeiro in the second period has probably done more work in the last 10 days than he’s ever done in his life. It’s going to take some getting used to for him. I’ve seen some really nice flashes from him, and I’ve no doubt he’s going to be a real good player for this club.
“As far as Jhonder and Daniel go, Daniel’s come into the preseason with a niggly issue with his foot, and Jhonder turned his ankle about a week ago. Nothing serious, but it was just too soon to see him in this game. My hope is that, whilst we’re down in Florida, we’ll see him in something competitive. But neither of those guys has serious problems, but as you can imagine with the workload they’re under, there’s always a chance that you pick up a problem. I know you only asked about those two, but The same can be applied there to Nick Hinds. He’s just got a tight hamstring, nothing serious, and didn’t want to take the risk.”
You got contributions (including a goal) from a number of unsigned trialists today. Do any of them have a chance to join the club in Florida or perhaps even sign?
“Those guys have come in and they’ve been supporting the group. It’s a nice opportunity for them to be in this environment. But, at this point, you know, we’ll certainly take stock of where we’re at with those guys and move forward as necessary.”
What is it going to take for Dom Badji to be a quality striker for this team?
“The whole point of adding someone like CJ to an already-decent front line was to continue to have competition. We had one or two issues last year with injuries, that actually found us without a forward at certain points in the season. And I don’t think anyone wants to be in that position.
We’ve now got some very, very nice options, and you can see already with two forwards out, we’ve still got three very, very capable individuals, and Dominique’s one of those guys. He’s in good shape, he’s worked hard for the last 10 days. I think we all feel that a fit and firing-on-all-cylinders Dominique Badji is capable of finding his way into the team, whether through the middle or in one of those wide areas, and he’s an asset to the group.
“I think first and foremost, though, Dom needs a run of training time, of playing minutes, and that in itself will give him confidence, and of course lead to what I’ve just spoken about, which is competition for that first team.”
Extending that conversation, how do you see the forward position shaking out?
“My big hope is of course is that they’re pushing on another for that starting spot, and what that normally does is bring more out of them. What we could see last year – certainly in the early exchanges – was that we struggled to find the back of the net. You’re looking around a team wondering where maybe those changes might come. We looked at the group towards the end of the season, and I think everyone saw with Jhonder, Randall, and Hany in the group together, it created and gave us a different dimension and connection.
“What I was very, very keen to achieve along with Mike [GM Mike Jacobs] was to make sure the group was as strong, as competitive, and as purposeful as could be. I think we’ve added a guy in CJ – as I’ve said earlier – that gives us not just more depth, but more competition. He’s got a good record, certainly in front of goal, and in his MLS career he’s won silverware and played at a very, very good level. And that can only be helpful – not only to the group but to get more out of other people.
“What we can also say is: many of those guys are capable of playing multiple positions. I think really only Jhonder and Daniel out of the group we’re talking about are out-and-out strikers, as it were. Abu [Danladi], Dominique, and CJ have spent spells in those wider areas, and they give a different dimension to the group. Physically, they bring something different, mentality-wise they bring something different, and I’m sure at some point, that that’s going to be something we can draw on.”
You alluded to the rough offense early last season. Was today’s outburst a matter of clicking earlier this season, was it a matter of good fortune on the day, somewhere in between?
“I’d certainly like to think that if it’s the luck of the draw, then that luck continues, Tim. What I will say is that the group that started – and let’s be honest, it was the strongest group, the other two groups I tried to just sprinkle our players into some of the guys that have been very decent for us and supported us the past couple of weeks – but that first group played with an energy and a tempo that I don’t think we saw last year. And that’s understandable: the guys didn’t know one another, there was a lot of work that maybe went on that was maybe more negative than we’ve had this year, because I felt the core and foundation of the group needed to be strong.
“And if you remember rightly, because I do, we played against the Norwegian group [IF Elfsbørg], and you know, it was more like a defensive training session than it was anything else. And that served us well, but we’ve taken some very positive strides, and throughout what was an incredible season for many different reasons, I think the guys have come back not only with real energy and passion, but also a sense of appreciation for what was achieved last year, and maybe what we missed out on, as well.
“Going out against Columbus I’m sure left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth, and guys put in a lot of work in this offseason. There was a core of our players that were probably working for a good month or more before we started, and I think you saw that today. There was a real nice feel about it and a great attitude.”
What portions of the rest of camp will you have Aníbal Godoy available for?
“Aníbal goes with his country. I think he leaves tomorrow, and I don’t think – I can’t quite see the names from here – but I think we miss Aníbal now until we get back [from Florida]. So the next two weeks, we’ll be without him.
“Likewise, Alistair [Johnston], who goes with Canada, but we actually see Alistair for our last game at IMG, purely because he is based in Florida with his national team. And I think the protocols to get him back with the group are slightly different.”