Nashville SC

Press conference: Gary Smith, Randall Leal, and Handwalla Bwana after 2-2 draw with Cincinnati

Handwalla Bwana photo from file.

Gary Smith and two of his wingers met with the media after Saturday evening’s 2-2 draw against FC Cincinnati at Nissan Stadium. Watch or read their full comments here.

Gary Smith

“The opening fixture of any season can throw up some very strange results and some very strange performances. Until teams get themselves into a rhythm and find some form, you’re looking at guys that are coming out of a preseason – and games that are not played at what we would class as a proper competitive and match pace – and that was very apparent in the opening exchanges. I think we can safely say we got caught cold, there can be some reasons for that, the bottom line is: Cincinnati started better than us and took full advantage of it. What I will say is, beyond that opening 10 or 12 minutes, we were not only the better team, but absolutely dominated every facet of the game.

“In the end, I thought [we] did a fantastic job of not only recovering, but really getting ourselves in a position where we should have won it. So plenty of credit for the group; lots of lessons learned as always, and we move on obviously, to next week knowing we have got a fantastic performance under our belt.”

Did you have to say anything to calm Joe Willis down after a rough start, or was he able to get back into the groove thanks to his experience?

“He’s a very experienced guy. I would think he’s disappointed going back home tonight as to maybe how the second goal developed and 99 times out of 100, Joe doesn’t try and beat the forward rushing on in, but I think that’s a consequence of the way the preseason has maybe unfolded for not just the team, but for some individuals in the group. And Joe’s not had a load of playing time. His performances and record speak for itself in our first year. I certainly have no worries beyond that, that he would pull himself together, and apart from being disappointed, be a foundational piece to whatever we are going to achieve moving forward.”

With the limited preseason, how did Jhonder Cádiz perform? Was the substitution for CJ Sapong fatigue-related, performance-related?

“There were times in preseason, Drake, where I was wondering if we’d actually have a forward fit and available for us for this opening game. We’ve had all sort of problems to deal with. And Jhonder’s done a fantastic job of coming back from an ankle injury that he sustained within the first 10 days of being in preseason. Not easy to get himself in a position where not only he gets himself on the scoresheet, but he has a good impact on the game – and there’s a difference between being out there for 45 minutes or an hour and having an impact, or just being out there for 45 minutes or an hour.

“I said to him before the game that ‘tack it, get what you can out of it, while you’re having an impact on the game, let’s make sure that we get the very best out of you.’ And he did that. To get him on the sheet was great, but when you’ve got somebody of CJ’s experience – who’s has difficulties himself in preseason – the balance of those two to take the game for us was probably going to be something I was always looking at. I needed someone to pick the baton up, and keep it at a certain tempo and a certain level, especially as we were on the front foot. We’d equalized, we got ourselves in a great position, and I felt the additions gave us just a little bit of a shove we needed at the right time.”

How does finishing with a draw in the first match leave the feelings in the locker room and impact the season going forward?

“Look, we all want to open the season with a victory. We’re at home, it’s a nice way to get yourselves going. But as I’ve said at the very start of this interview, there’s lots of things that we needed to find out about ourselves in this opening game. Preseason’s been fragmented, we’ve got through an awful lot of physical work – and I had no doubts that the players would be physically capable of getting through the 90 minutes, and durable – which they were.

“But my concerns were that maybe we weren’t at the sort of match pace and sharpness that we needed to be. The guys showed an incredibly good attitude to overcome such a difficult start, and to be perfectly honest, I think the two goals were very well-crafted. Randall’s is an exceptional finish – if indeed he means it, so you need to talk to him about that – but nevertheless, we had an absolute hatful of opportunities to have gone on and won the game. So I think the guys will be disappointed, they’ll be frustrated, but once they wake up in the morning and realize the sort of character and determination that they’ve shown – and of course the quality that we’ve seen on-show here tonight – I think they’ll take that forward into next week and into the Montreal game next Saturday with a lot more confidence and belief in what we’re capable of here again.”

Was the offensive output a result of chasing the game, or did we see a mentality that this team will be more aggressive than last year’s was at times?

“I think every game presents a different challenge. I felt all along that we were capable of creating chances against this Cincinnati team. Yes, they’ve had some additions, and I thought they showed some very, very nice signs going forward, and you would expect that with the sort of investment they’ve made in this group. But to be perfectly honest, the group as a whole, I think, wanted to turn a bit of a page on the opening exchanges from last year: for a good portion of our campaign early on, we found it difficult to score goals, we were certainly not as exciting as we were tonight.

But as we move forward and we try to improve the particular aspects of our game, we have to do our very utmost to remember the qualities and foundational pieces that gave us so much success last year. I have no doubt in my mind from 10 minutes on when we start to break down the reasons, and the whys, and the wherefores, there was so much encouraging work and signs out of the group that: No. 1, we retained edge and competitive nature you would expect from a Nashville group, but tonight, we have shown all the positive aspects of any attacking game. We’ve created fantastic crossing opportunities, we’ve been nothing short of exceptional from set pieces. The goalkeeper was under so much pressure at certain parts in the game. He was getting absolutely peppered and if he hasn’t gotten the Man of the Match, then I’ll be really surprised.”

More than a defensive team?

“I’d like to think that as we move forward, they’re going to take a hell of a lot out of tonight’s game. It’ll be tainted with frustration, fo course, because of the way that we started. I think we’d have all felt absolutely crestfallen sitting here right now – the guys in the locker room – if we hadn’t gotten something out of that game. To your point, I’m not sure if we’ve created as many opportunities [as we did] here, in the whole of last season. We certainly didn’t look as purposeful, as confident, as progressive, and positive as we did in too many games – and certainly not to that degree.

The only thing that was really missing was a little bit more quality at important times. But look: if we’ve got to score three goals every game to win a game, then I’ll be telling you that it won’t be too often. Two goals should win a game. I think this group, as we move forward, will show us again that we are capable of achieving whatever we need to. We’ve got more options, more competition going forward. There’s more confidence in the group, and aside from a difficult ten minutes, we have still retained the spirit and determination and the guile that is needed to do well in any league, especially this one. It’s so competitive and so evenly matched that there are defining qualities that will always take you that extra step.”

What did you think about the play of the fullbacks?

If I understand your question correctly, I was as impressed with the guys’ distribution and quality out of the backline as I have been. I don’t know what the stats are for Daniel Lovitz, but I’ve got to imagine that he’s getting into at least double-figures with some of his crossing, and some very, very good crosses as well. Because there’s a difference between just hoisting the ball into the box, but we created several opportunities from very, very good deliveries. So I was very, very pleased with the way that we built out, the way that we created, the energy, the positivity. And as I say, all-in-all, I’m not sure we could have done more beyond that opening 10 minutes when, to be perfectly honest, Cincinnati caught a team cold where we just haven’t played at that pace in preseason. There’s always that settling-in process. I genuinely believed from the outset if we could have got into the game for 10 or 15 minutes, we would win it. And I still believe that [would have been the case].”

Randall Leal

“First of all I wanted to say thanks to God, to my father, my mother, my little brother, my wife, my kid that is coming. Secondly, we wanted to work to win the game, of course, but this is what God has given us. We have to keep working for the next game. We have like 3-4 games in a row here at home, so we need to win, you know? I think is was sharp today for us, but it’s not enough. We have to keep working and win the next game.”

En Español: How much freedom do you have to shoot anywhere around the penalty area?

[Translated by NSC Media Relations]: “I do everything that the coach asks me to do defensive and offensively, and everything else that I have the opportunity to accomplish on the field is up to me when I have the opportunity. I obviously have the ability of shooting from outside the box, and getting on-target. This has given me a lot of trust in myself and in the ability of creating those opportunities, but the most important thing that I always say and as I said at the beginning, is always comply with what Coach asks from me and everything’s OK. Everything else is something personal for myself.”

Gary said we have to ask you: were your goal (and the other long shot) intended to be shots or crosses?

“I think the most beautiful goals comes when you want to do another thing, you know? Of course, I want to cross, and then the ball has come to the target. You know, this was like a surprise for me, you know. Because I say the most beautiful goals, I think the guys don’t think about ‘do this, you know?’ It’s like you want to do something and then the ball goes the other direction and you make a goal like that. But it’s God’s plans, so this is what I say thanks to God because the goal today comes because I pray a lot, and sometimes I want to do something – today I want to cross the ball, and then it’s come to the goal. Thanks to God.”

Did getting competitive matches in Concacaf Olympic qualifying help you remain fit (when your team’s preseason matches largely didn’t happen)?

“Yes yes, of course. I played three games in one week when I was there in Mexico with my national team under-23. While the team was in Orlando, and they don’t play the games that they wanted, you know. So I think [the games] made me to being sharp for the preseason, and it’s something that I don’t want to happen to the team in Orlando, but [in Spanish] I got better form by playing competitive matches [then a bunch of inaudible stuff].”

Does your second year in Nashville give you the consistency and confidence to get it done at a high level throughout the course of a game (or season)?

“This year I have my goals, you know. For the beginning, I wanted to win this game – because last season we lost the first game. For us, was the goal today to start with the right foot. But I think we played good, we have confidence, we have one year, I think, to know each other. So I think it’s going to be good for us because we have more confidence between the teammates. So I think will be great this season, for us.”

Did Cincinnati’s start shock your team a bit?

“Yeah, this is what we need to talk, you know? Because we came to the game too slowly, then they took the advantage to score two goals, then we have to play a different game, because we didn’t expect to start losing 2-0 in 10-15 minutes, you know? But we have the quality, we have the effort to calm – to lower the high. This is what we need to keep this night. From we came losing 2-0, to draw the game 2-2, you know? This is what we need to talk inside to see what happened inside this 15 minutes of the first half. This is what the coach needed to see.”

What allowed you to play one of your best games of your NSC career tonight?

“I always go to the pitch to play the best I can. This is what I say before: today, God gave me the chance to score, and then to give an assist. But I always, when we don’t win, we cannot go to home happy, because we wanted to win. I try always to play the best way that I can. Sometimes I play better than other games – it’s soccer. I try always to play good, and today God blessed me, so that was good.”

Did having fans in the stands give you guys a little more energy than you might have had otherwise?

“Today was very good for us, you know? To see the fans already here again, we know that it’s not the maximum capacity, but it’s good for us. We feel the confidence, this is the extra player that we need to have when we play at home. So this is good, I think. Because last year we played so good, and the fans could not come to the game, you know? So for this season, to see the fans, the support that they’ve given us, it’s very good and it’s motivation for us to keep going.”

Handwalla Bwana

I think it was unfortunate. I don’t know how we did not with that game. The first 10 minutes was very – you could call it difficult, or we weren’t ready, I guess. But I still don’t understand. I think guys in the locker room are shocked how we did not win that match. The chances we created, almost I think 34 shots or chances? I’m so shocked how we didn’t win that game.”

With games taking place during the month of Ramadan, do you have difficulty finding energy to compete after fasting during the day?

“It’s difficult. It’s something that, I’ve done it so many times in my career, in my professional career. I did it when I was in Seattle, and I’m still doing it. It’s tough, but I’m used to it, and it’s something that… I have to do it. When it comes to everything, religion comes first to me. To be honest, the first couple days is very difficult, and then coming into that game you have that energy and that drive, because I save it: I don’t really do much, I just lay down at home and try to save as much energy as I can. But I felt really good, I felt like I had a meal, so I’m not really worried about it.”

What is your mindset seeing that you may have the opportunity to enter as a sub and be a game-changer?

“It’s my job, for me to look at the wingers and what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong, and have to take notes. Also, on the bench, the team relies on me to be the guy that’s the game-changer, and that’s why they brought me in in Nashville: because they really think I have the talent to be that difference-maker, and that’s what I was told to do, and I try my best to bring that little spark, that little energy that’s missing in the attack. That’s my job, and hopefully I did good tonight, but it wasn’t enough for me to finish my chances or help the team win.”

What did you see on the rebounded chance that fell to you and was ultimately saved by Tyton?

“I should have definitely roofed it to the top, 100%. But at that moment, I think I’d chased back somebody, and I was too far from where I needed to be. If I was a lot closer to CJ, it would have been a tap-in for me. But I was defending all the way, so I was trying to get back, trying to get to the goal-side, about the same time, and I feel like I definitely should have roofed it to the top. But you have to give the credit to the keeper, too: what a game he had, what a save he had. It’s unfortunate but that’s part of the game: sometimes the little things are the hardest part. At the same time we have to learn, and we have to learn, and move on and hopefully we’re doing better the next game.”

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