Nashville SC

Press conference: Gary Smith, Joe Willis, and Rodrigo Piñeiro after Nashville SC 0-0 Inter Miami CF

Rodrigo Piñeiro photo from file/via NSC Media Relations

Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and two of his players met with the media after their team drew Inter Miami CF in a scoreless outing. Watch or read their full comments here.

Head coach Gary Smith

“Well, I always felt as though this game today was going to be very different from the two that we have had previously here. I think this Miami side has improved immensely under Phil [Neville]’s guidance and leadership – more so in an organizational sense, and they proved very difficult to breakdown today. Which I think in the last two games everyone can agree we created bundles of opportunities and efforts at goal, and have looked very bright. I don’t know whether the conditions and the sticky field, first time it’s been a bit warmer, and the field wasn’t anywhere near as slick. Again, felt a little bit slower, I’m not sure that helped us. And in the end, the big moments, the creative individuals, and the opportunities I felt that we manufactured, were unfortunately not clinical enough. I know they’ll be disappointed with the opening ten minutes but beyond that, they had two shots and none on target in the next 80 or 78 minutes. So I’m really pleased with the clean sheet, but of course very frustrated and disappointed we weren’t able to turn it into a victory.”

What do you mean by the “lack of quality” phrase?

“I think – and I’m not pointing the finger at our creators, as such – I’m saying in a general sense, if you look at the fact (if I’m looking at the stats right) we had 18 crosses today. And I believe – if again, I can recollect properly – that we’ve only actually connected with four or five of those. That could be, of course, open-play crosses, dead ball situations weren’t anywhere near as accurate as they have been. So there was an area in our game, No. 1, that we were unable to take advantage of today.

“Secondly, even in the final third or the attacking half of the field, players that have been playing in the last two games at a very good level were just not able to find that fluid play, that connection, that understanding, that sparkle that’s needed, and we’ve seen in the last two games. So therefore, there’s a piece of the puzzle missing.

“What I will say is, in terms of a determined and a difficult group to play against, I think we’ve shown, again, all of the qualities that have given us success in the past. And still have created enough opportunities, I believe, to go on and win the game. If you’re going to have, what I think I saw were 10 shots, and five of them on target, I can remember two or three of those moments that really and truly, if you want to take the game, you’ve got to convert. The game today had one-nil written all over it. And if we’re not going to be the one to make a breakthrough, then we have to come out of the game with at least a point. But therein lies my frustration.”

Who do you have who can provide that spark in upcoming games?

“I’m not sure it’s so much about wholesale changes, or who’s not getting the job done. If we take the three games as a cross-section now, this has been the most difficult, and it’s been the tightest. The other two games, I think we would all agree, we really should have taken all three points so it’s not necessarily today where we’ve missed the opportunity. It’s probably been the last two games that have made us start to look a bit tepid.

I can only reiterate that preseason was not straightforward. We are still trying to find a rhythm, we are still trying to find the right balance in the group, there are still some really good displays. We’ve carved some great openings against a much, much improved Miami group. All in all, the frustration lies in not winning; it’s not in how we’re playing, it’s in not winning.

“If we look at one person in particular, I think Joe’ [Willis] disappointing second goal against Cincinnati – and maybe how he felt and looked – is well and truly in the rearview mirror now. He looked like the goalkeeper we saw last year: makes two outstanding saves in the opening 10 minutes. We’re slowly-but-surely finding what I believe to be the team that we saw last year, but with some added impetus that we know can give us opportunities as we’ve seen today, but we have to convert those opportunities.”

Did this feel like the true season opener in terms of how you had tapered your preseason only to see it get canceled? You’ve talked after the past couple games about feeling like you were still in preseason form.

“You’re starting to see a more natural edge to the game. Miami themselves – having spoke with some of the staff – had a similar difficulty during preseason. You have to expect that any team that we play against now, slowly-but-surely are going to be finding their form and their feet.

“As I’ve said multiple times, they’re much improved. We are not going to create 32 or more shots at goal in a game, regularly. It’s not normal. So we have to be thinking somewhere around the 10-20 mark is something that I would say, in tight games, will be more natural. Today’s output in front of goal, I believe, has been enough to have edged the game: a tight game, a difficult game, and one we should expect to see more of. There were few mistakes, they had a gameplan, they were going to make life difficult, but that can be seen in the way that the percentage of possession went: 60% of possession, more opportunities, more crosses, more territorial advantage. But they had a gameplan: they were going to maybe defend a little bit deeper, they were going to ask us to maybe be the aggressors. So it’s tough to break teams down that are very well organized.

“I felt we did enough. Sadly, we don’t have that to show on the sheet today.”

How do you feel you snapped out of the slow-start trend?

“Forget anything other than the fact that, when you concede goals, when you start in a particular fashion and the players can start to see a minimal trend in the first two games, we’ve started slowly, but we’ve gotten stronger and stronger. There naturally is a sense of anxiousness and anticipation of what comes next. As much as you try – and you want to think about what those opening minutes mean and how you’re going to navigate them – you need somebody sometimes like Joe to come up big. And I personally believe today’s game has put that into our rearview mirror. We’ll go into the next fixture in a much better mental state with a clean sheet, and I believe you’ll see a more-relaxed and free-flowing group in the early stages – or I hope so. And one that has created the moments that we have today, but with an edge to it in front of goal.

“When all’s said and done, out of the 10 shots, and the five on-target, I think we may all agree that there were at least three of those that we should have done better with. I can think of Daniel Lovitz’s opportunity, we’ve spoken about Jhonder’s, and late on, Dominique Badji’s. There may have been more that I can’t remember.

Quite frankly, against a good team, you’re not going to get 30 opportunities to smash it in the top corner – they won’t allow you to. But the balance, for me, was far more realistic for me, with only two [Miami] efforts at goal and none on-target inside roughly 80 minutes of the game. I think we can be happy with that, and disappointed with the attacking end of the field in front of the other goal.”

We saw Dom Badji and Rodrigo Piñeiro today. How have they earned their way onto the field?

“Dominique’s been carrying a bit of an injury. We’ve tried to get him back to 100% health of course. And he’s stronger and more durable, ready to deal with those rigors. He’s worked ever so hard, he’s in a good place, he’s looked sharp in training, and I felt he deserved his opportunity – especially at home to give us a little bit of a different dimension, or possibly how we ended up, with two up-front.

“Rodrigo is still finding his way for sure. He looked very, very bright this week. I wanted to give him a lift and see if there was an opportunity for him, and keep him engaged. But he’s still got ground to cover, Rodrigo – and I think we can look at the fact that he’s come from a completely different country, different culture, first time abroad and all of the difficulties that that presents, and he’s doing a wonderful job. He may be dipping in and out, but he’s certainly someone that, as time goes on, I think we’ll see a little bit more of.”

Do you feel like the club’s fortunes are tied to the emotional aspect of playters like Randall Leal or Hany Mukhtar?

“I would certainly agree with the fact that they are a catalyst and a focal point for our creation, absolutely. The two games prior to today, Randall and Hany have looked extremely bright. But for whatever reason – and looking back at the game – both of those guys found the game more difficult. They were unable to find those spaces and creative moments to isolate defenders. Was it the fact that their team defended a little bit deeper? Was it the fact that the fullback on Randall’s side was better? I don’t know. I’ll have a look at it.

Was it the fact that Randall today didn’t feel quite as bright and purposeful, having played third game in the early part of the season in really a difficult run into it for preseason games? All of those things are instrumental in how players feel. But yes, of course we rely on them.

“They’ll go away today happy with a point. I don’t think they’ll be happy at all, given the talent they have in their group, that they had two shots in 80 minutes. I certainly wouldn’t be. I’m sure they won’t be, but they’ll be very, very pleased with the way they defended. So of course the creative players are a massive catalyst for anything you do. We rely on them an enormous amount.”

Goalkeeper Joe Willis

“It felt good to keep the clean sheet. We’re starting to get back to what made us successful last year: being very tough defensively to break down. Obviously, we’d like to get three points out of the game. Three games at home now to start the season and it’s three draws, so it’s not good enough from us as a whole. We’ll take that into this week, try and figure out how to make it better and hopefully we can get our first win next week.”

You talk about liking to get some action early in games to find a rhythm, what was your feeling when that happened today (especially when you saw very little of the ball thereafter)?

“Like you said, I would prefer to get my hands on the ball early, make a couple of saves because it gives you that confidence going forward, even though there will be lulls in the game where you’re not really involved, if something pops up in the 70th minute, 75th minute, you can go back on that first save you made and have the confidence to do it again.”

Do you feel like a really good defensive performance gets the team back on track after some uncharacteristic lapses in the first couple games?

“I mean, we’ve obviously had some slow starts to start the season, and it’s something we’ve discussed, and something we’re trying to work on. If there was an easy answer, then we would have figured it out already, but I think that’s also why you play with a goalkeeper: at times shots are going to get in, and you need a goalkeeper to make those saves. If that weren’t thecase, then we’d just play with 11 field players.

“The first two games, I wasn’t able to step up for the team and keep them in early, and today I was. I think that’s the real difference. Like I said, moving forward, we need to adjust to the slower start, and figure out what we need to do to get on the front foot early, and really improve our game.”

Winger Rodrigo Piñeiro

[Piñeiro’s answers were given in Spanish. The willpower to transcribe and translate evades me: translations are via NSC spokesperson Cristina Maíllo Belda, given live]

“I’m very happy for making my debut. It obviously wasn’t enough time but I will definitely have more opportunities to demonstrate and show what I’m capable of. Unfortunately there wasn’t a victory, hopefully we can get them in upcoming games.”

What was it like to see the stadium and fans, knowing that you have the opportunity to play in front of 70,000 people soon?

“As I mentioned earlier, I’m first and foremost, very happy to have my debut. When I first came onto the field, I felt the pressure; that was very beautiful. It’s incredible to play in front of fans and the pressure that gives you. So I look forward to playing in front of them.”

How do you react or adjust to feeling like you’ve missed out on opportunities to take more points from the first three games?

“We just need to work hard on some of the mistakes that we’ve been making as a team. The season is long; we’re just kicking it off. In order for us to change the pattern here, we just need to continue to work hard. Definitely today, we saw a different team in front of us. A more difficult team, and we need to just continue working hard so that those mistakes, in order to get points as the next few games come to us.”

Gary has mentioned that you have to continue adjusting to the pace and rigor of MLS. How can you continue that growth now that you’ve made your debut?

“First, it was very hard when I first got to the country and began to adjust to a new way of playing. In my country, the game is actually far more slow and the training is actually hard here in the States. I just need to keep getting confidence, and be ready for when the opportunity presents itself.

“Right now, the first team is going very very well. We’ve got a great group of guys and I just need to be ready for that moment when I get to prove myself and contribute to the team as a whole.”

How are you adjusting to a new city, as well as a new system of play?

“The city is beautiful. I love it here; I’m very happy being here.

“But I need to work really hard, and to continue to fight to make my place in the team. An opportunity for me to find minutes and to grow as an individual. I have assignments, and I’ve been working hard: I have confidence in myself. I’m just waiting for the opportunity to get more minutes and make an impact in the team.”

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