Watch or read full comments from Nashville SC’s head coach and two of his defenders ad the Boys in Gold prepare to welcome Inter Miami CF to Nissan Stadium Sunday afternoon.
Head coach Gary Smith
“It’s been a very decent week. I think very similar to post-Cincinnati, some good work. We have this extra day this week, which the guys have appreciated with a little bit of extra work and a little bit more recovery. All in all, we’re in a good place. There’s a terrific feel and mentality about the group, and looking forward to what will be a very difficult but exciting game against Miami at the weekend.”
What have you seen in Miami that’s different in comparison to last year’s squad?
“Yeah firstly, omissions or no omissions, we’ll plan for what I believe to be a more-organized – and still an exciting – Miami group. I would imagine they’re very happy with the way that their form has looked in their first couple of games. Personally, I think they made some good additions to the group to improve that team. I know there were a lot of changes, but some of the guys that have come in, I think, have added some very good experience and depth to that group, and strength in certain areas.
“All-in-all, we know that it’s going to be a really tough game. There’s a tremendous amount of attacking ability in the group. It would seem that Phil Neville has got the group far more-organized, and has started to put his own fingerprints on that team. To what I’ve seen, it hasn’t affected their ability to score goals or create, but I believe there’s a far more disciplined and determined edge to that group than maybe we saw last year.
“But look: we ran into some issues ourselves in our first year. Miami, I’m sure, had their own difficulties. It’s not easy bringing a group together, and whilst they looked very, very exciting going forward last year, I think the challenge was always going to be how do they make themselves more difficult to play against. It looks to me like Phil’s got a real good answer to that with his group.
How do you see the comparison between expansion siblings from the 2020 season, especially the talk about how the teams were built so differently?
“To your point, there’s always going to be those comparisons because we came into the league at the same time, and I would suspect that even though they’re not our closest rivals, there’s always going to be a bit of an edge to the game because of that. As far as how both organizations went about their business, it was very, very different. This game in general is very, very different for each and every group.
“We have our template of how we want to work, and how we recruit, and how we go about our business. I really can’t comment on what or how Miami go about their business. What I can tell you is, the guys here worked ever-so-hard. We needed a foundation, which I felt we achieved in our first year, and it’s given us a nice platform to try and push on from. So I can really only look at what we’re doing. To Miami’s situation, they’ve got their own business to deal with.”
Is there added pressure after the past two weeks’ disappointments?
“Yeah as I’ve said, the injuries, omissions to Miami – they’ve got a very good group. They’ve added well to it – I’ve already said that – so they’ve got some good depth, and whoever they put on the field, they’ll be very, very competitive. I’m sure there’ll be some feel-good factor around the group after an excellent win last week. So we certainly won’t take this game lightly with whatever the media’s saying about certain players.
“As far as a must-win game and pressure, I honestly think when you’re at home, there’s always pressure to win games in MLS. Each and every team will look at their home ground and their home fixtures as really being the main focal point of their league performances and points on the board. It’s not easy to go away anywhere in this league, for obvious reasons.
“I’ve been delighted with what we’ve produced in an attacking sense. We’ve been much, much brighter, far more positive. We’ve created an incredible amount of opportunities to win the last two games, and I think the only criticism that any of us would have of our own performance, of course, would be the opening exchanges. We’re still working through some difficulties from preseason. I think the guys have adapted incredibly well, they’ve shown extremely well in the first two games, and I think if we get anywhere close to the last two performances, we won’t be far away from beating this Miami team.
“I don’t have too many worries about where we’re at. I know for sure that the guys are fully aware and appreciative of what is needed, and how we just turn the screw in those opening exchanges.”
How do you improve the results in the first 15 minutes of games?
“I think you could look and you can see one or two little trends within our game in the last two performances, but you don’t become a poor defensive group – a poor group competing – from the type of season we had last year. I think there are some difficulties that we have had to endure across the course of preseason, and the guys are still trying to find the right rhythm and momentum. And of course, within that, making good choices and being ready in those opening exchanges.
“Simply put, we’re four games into what would have been a preseason right now, having missed out on so many opportunities. But look: as I’ve said, I’m totally upbeat, very very positive with where the guys are. I couldn’t be happier with the way that they’re playing at the moment. If we were in a perfect scenario, and had kept clean sheets in the early 15 minutes of both games, I’d have been blown away, quite frankly, given the way that things went for us.”
Does it seem like the overall plan is working?
“I think we’re totally on the right track. Two home games, the emphasis from minute one in preseason was to be aggressive when we saw the schedule come out was to be positive, to be creative. Like I say, we’re definitely on the right track. Balance, as I’ve said from the very first moment that we ever had a discussion, is key to every team, and maybe we’ve just started that creative process slightly too early in the game. That can be down to one or two reasons, and we’re trying to work through that.
“But when we look at the body of work last year, and I now look at where this team’s at in an attacking sense, we’ve moved in a really good direction. I have absolutely no doubt that some of those fundamental qualities from last year are not far away.”
Defender Dave Romney
How has the team been preparing this week?
“Just going through different buildout shapes, how they might press us in different scenarios, how we kind of want to press them. And then just looking at a couple scenarios we’ve faced trouble with in recent games, and what we want to do to stop those mistakes. Then just normal stuff we’d do in training leading up to a game.”
Gary has noted that the team can play better, but there’s been some misfortune in conceding. How do you see that luck factor?
“It’s definitely a little bit of both. I think two of the goals have been unfortunate, and then the Toye goal – you kind of just have to take your hate off: it’s a nice goal, the guy has a really nice finish. That’s just going to happen in soccer sometimes. Then, even the first goal we gave up against Cincinnati, the guys plays a really, really nice through ball and Acosta flicks it over. It was a really nice place. You obviously can do stuff to limit those plays, but sometimes you kind of have to just take your hat off and say, ‘that was really well done.’
“But I think it’s more of a combination of just that and then just unlucky stuff. We kind of saw it the beginning of last year, as well. I think our expected goals-against at the beginning of last year was the lowest in the league, and we gave up like four goals – and our expected goals was like 0.2. Emerson Hyndman hit an amazing goal against us in the first game, [Diego] Valeri hit an amazing goal. We were just having really nice goals scored on us, even though we were playing well and defending well.
“Sometimes it just happens. Other times you might not defend well, and you just kind of get lucky with breaks. I think just staying the course, being confident with what we are as a defensive unit and a team, and in those stretches in 34 games, it’ll definitely even itself out. So we’re not too worried, but there are certain things that we haven’t been as sharp with and we definitely need to sharpen up, but we still have that confidence that we’re a solid defensive team, and we’re definitely hard to play against.”
Do you feel the Miami rivalry from the fact that the teams came in during the same season and were built so differently?
“There’s always going to be a little something there just because we were expansion teams at the same time, and played against each other. But there’s nothing directly in our games where we’ve noticed against ourselves where games have gotten really chippy against each other or it’s been a rivalry in that sense.
It was definitely a good feeling last year kind of being projected worse than them and finishing better. But we’ve just got to prove it every single year that we’re the better team. They have a lot of good players, and I think they’ve made a lot of strides, and they’re definitely going to be tough to beat.
“If we play the way we think we can, we definitely have a shot to win, and we definitely should win if we’re at home.”
Did that make the playoff win sweeter?
“Yeah, that definitely did.”
Defender Dylan Nealis
What has it been like arriving in Nashville after being traded from this Miami squad?
“Yeah, it’s been a crazy couple weeks getting traded and settling in here, but the guys have been great. Players, coaching staff, medical staff. Everybody in Nashville has welcomed me with open arms. I couldn’t feel more welcomed. Feel close to home here in Nashville, and it’s been great so far. I’m looking forward to this long journey – I think it’s going to be a long, special run.
What do you remember from playing now-teammate Irakoze Donasiyano in the College Cup final between Georgetown and Virginia in 2019?
“Obviously, I got to know him pretty well in that final two years ago. How quickly time flies. I remember him. We didn’t go up against each other in the final – he was on, I believe, his right side and I was playing right back, so we were on opposite sides of the field. But I remember he caused a lot of problems for us back in college.
“I know he stayed an extra year at school, and I think he’s going to be a great fit here. He offers a lot – he’s a very versatile player. He can play multiple positions. That always helps, and yeah, he’s been fitting in great. He’s been having some great training sessions so far, especially as his first year in the pros. It can be difficult making that transition, but he’s been doing well for himself.”
Do you see a difference in how Miami is playing after being on that team last year?
“Obviously they made a couple new big additions this year to the roster, so they got some better players in there. But just as a whole, everywhere on the field, they’re super-talented. They’ve got a lot of talented players. Older vets, and even younger guys that are just extremely talented.
“I think they’re just going to be a more-organized group. I think Phil’s going to have them buy into the same goal this year. They’re all going to follow Phil’s way. I think they’ve had good showings in the first two games, maybe unlucky in the first game against the Galaxy, could have gotten a result, and then the Philly game was a good comeback win.
“I think definitely going to be a better team this year than last year, and more organized, for sure.”
Playing against friends?
“First and foremost, I should have touched on this when Khobi asked, but I would just like to send my prayers and condolences to Gonzalo and Federico and the rest of the Higuaín family [after their mother died last week]. Hopefully they got to spend some time flying back to Argentina and enjoy time with their family in this time. Those two have had a big impact on my game in the year-and-a-half I was there, and I just have a huge amount of respect for them.
“It’s going to be weird. I was there, and then quickly got traded here. I’ll see some familiar faces, but I think once I step onto that field, it’s all a game to me. I’m looking to get three points out of it this weekend.”
Do you have inside info on some of their players’ tendencies that you’re giving your NSC teammates as pointers?
“Yeah, definitely. Well, I think I’ve been reading up that a few guys have been out, so I guess I’ll find out on gameday who’s playing where. Yeah, I’ll definitely give any info I can to my teammates in Nashville, and try to give them the edge on some of the players for Inter Miami.”