Gary Smith photo from file
Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith chatted with The Tennessean and Club and Country at the conclusion of Wednesday evening’s friendly against Tampa Bay Rowdies. Watch or read his full comments here.
“Very pleased with the attitude of everyone out on the field. It’s always a concern in these preseason games that there’s a bit of lethargy: there’s a lot of hard work going on daily, can the people with heavy legs and maybe mentally a little bit of flat. But this group showed time and time again that they’re ready for these games.
“We started very brightly – what could be classed as more of a first-choice group, if you like – I’m just calling them GRoup 1 and Group 2 – but we have a core of players that you’re familiar with in that team, and they started off very well. Showed some good signs with and without the ball, and the goalkeeper kept them in the game with two or three excellent saves – with two from dead balls. Walker and Dave Romney get themselves really good chances. But I thought we thoroughly deserved the one-nil lead at the break. The second period, Tampa looked like they had just a little bit more energy and drive about their game. They asked a lot of questions of a maybe slightly-younger group. Their quality, choices, speed of play all came into question.
“I would have to say when you’re trying to tick boxes for preseason, there’s a number of things that you really want to try and tick off the agenda. One of them is, when you’ve got a lead, are you strong enough mentally and physically to hang onto that lead if things are not going your way? Because ultimately, it is about winning games of football and earning points. I would love to have seen a little bit more quality out of that group, but they showed a tremendous amount of determination to see the game out.”
Were absences like Joe Willis and players up top a matter of resting guys at this stage of camp, nursing minor injuries, or something else/more?
“There’s a combination of many things, Tim. You know, I think you can encompass it in maybe two words: ‘preseason,’ and ‘living in the world that we currently do.’ [ed note: that second one is more than a word]. We have some players missing for all sorts of different reasons: international, injuries, etc., and we’ve had to adapt.
“It always offers an opportunity for other people, and tonight, one in particular was for Elliot [Panicco]. It might well have been a situation that he may not have seen, but tonight, he’s got 90 minutes under his belt. There’ll be an awful lot that we can take out of it and discuss with him, and he can go away and mentally reflect on. But ultimately, he’ll be very, very pleased that – especially with that second-half onslaught – that he’s kept a clean sheet.”
How have you had to adapt the schedule with friendly matches canceled in order to ensure that you get the preparation that you need for the beginning of the season?
“I think we all, as coaches, have to be ready to adapt. At the start of preseason or probably well before that, we try to put a picture and a plan together that’s a perfect world. That perfect world contained two games last week, and unfortunately, we were unable to take part in them. We adapted, of course we still worked. Preseason is not a time for rest or days off. The players realize that, we’re in camp. We have great facilities here, we have great weather here. We’re well looked-after, and we rest well when we’re not working, so that we’re ready for the next bit of work.
“We’ve got through an awful lot: I have to say that the schedule that has been mapped out, I changed slightly to last year, just to try and create a better window for the players A) to physically move forward, and B) to recover. I think at this point, we can all say other than one or two games that we’ve moved out on, that we’re moving in a very decent direction.”
This was Nick Hinds’s first semi-competitive appearance rather than just trainings. How did he perform?
“Nick’s actually just come back from a tight hamstring – he missed a few sessions last week, has got himself back into the workload and the action in the last three or four days. And actually, I know he’s played out wide in that midfield role, but in fairness to him, he was probably pushed further up the field due to circumstances. And I thought after a period of really just testing the water and getting himself into the game, I thought he grew into it. He showed some very nice individual moments, he looked like he was just a bit tentative early on, physically. But as the game wore on, he realized that this Tampa group were not here just for the ride, and if he wasn’t going to up his tenacity in the game, then it might just pass him by. And he did just that. I thought he finished the game off on a decent note, but 35 minutes for somebody who’s not necessarily trained a shedload in the last week or 10 days was probably as good as it was going to get.”
How has Rodrigo Piñeiro adapted to the new team and new situation in a new country?
“Well, first things first, Rodrigo’s a terrific lad, and he’s very, very keep to learn. He’s been asked to do an awful lot with and without the ball. It reminds me very much of the situation with Randall Leal last year: somebody who’s learning the language, you’ve mentioned two or three different areas that he has to contend with, and that’s outside of the game and the training field.
“I think one of the biggest things that he’s finding at the moment is the workload. I think we all have to remember that these guys are training far harder, far longer, and doing much more work than they normally would when they’re in-season. I’m trying to – as all coaches do – prepare them for the rigors of a long, tough season. And there are some days where the legs are very heavy, you can’t do the things that you feel like you should be able to, and then you’ve got a coach screaming in your ear that tactically there are certain aspects you need to be a little bit sharper with.
“He’s moving forward nicely. Is he exactly where he would like to be and I would like him to be? Absolutely not. But I think we’ve been able to see: he’s a talented boy, he’s got very good energy, he’s got a turn of pace, he’s an intelligent footballer, but there are things that he’s going to have to take on board to get himself further down the line and be ready for the first team. So that work will continue.”
Did you get a chance to see your players out on international duty – Aníbal Godoy with Panama, Alistair Johnston with Canada, and Randall Leal with Costa Rica – play, and have you had a chance to chat with them about their performances?
“Yeah, I did: certainly different circumstances for all of them. I was lucky enough to watch Alistair live here; they of course had a very hefty win against the Cayman Islands. I’ve got to say that whilst they were on top for the whole game, Alistair’s qualities going forward, his crossing ability, gets himself an assist and a goal, were on show. And I’m sure it’ll be a day he won’t forget. I believe it was his first cap for his country and he scores, so that’s wonderful for him.
“Randall and Aníbal, of course, we watched on TV. And you know, to be fair to Randall, I think there was – he was playing in a position, in my eyes, that was a little bit unnatural to him, but of course his coach must have felt he could fulfill that role in that almost like an 8 role if you like in midfield. But the finish to the competition for him would’ve probably been some mixed emotions: they don’t obviously go through, but he scores two goals in his last international. I’m sure he’ll be pleased with his efforts.
“And of course Aníbal made his 100th cap, I believe. That’s an incredible milestone for any individual to play 100 times for your country. I have in fact tried to phone him, text him, and get in touch with him. He’s either avoiding my calls or he’s enjoying himself somewhere. I’d like to think it’s the second one, but we’ll certainly look forward to seeing him when we get back.
“Alistair came straight from the Canadian group to us, and he will be training with the group tomorrow, and will be available for us for the weekend.”
What is the goal for the remainder of the friendlies in preseason camp?
club spox: More news on the 4/10 friendly (and possibly one to replace the canceled Miami one for the weekend?) coming soon
“Look, we want to be ready; we want to be as prepared as possible, of course. I do think – as we all would’ve loved to – I certainly would’ve loved to be standing here without a mask on. We live in a world at the moment that is just not straightforward. I think that’s affected an awful lot of teams in the way that they can go about their preparations and competition. Teams are looking for shorter journeys and less complication, and that has meant that we’re probably playing against opponents that we may not have done in the past.
“But I do honestly think that as long as the guys can get good competition – tonight has been good competition, they’re a very challenging USL side, Tampa. Neill Collins has done a wonderful job with that group and they’re always ultra-competitive. Likewise the Louisville game – if you think of those two teams, I would say they’re the very best of USL. You can’t get much closer to MLS than that. And if that’s the route we have to take, I’m sure the guys, when the 17th comes around, will be ready for the challenge.”