Nashville SC

Press conference video and transcript: Gary Smith, Dominique Badji, and CJ Sapong after knocking off New England

Watch or read the full comments from Nashville’s post-match presser after defeating New England Revolution 2-0.

Head coach Gary Smith

“It goes without saying that we’re all very, very pleased that we’ve got our first win on the board. But I think it runs a little bit deeper than that. As everyone, I’m sure, will agree, this is a very, very good New England team, and the guys have executed a plan today extremely well. There’ve been some gargantuan performances from some individuals who have not necessarily had the greatest of weeks through some illness and recovering from injuries. I think it really typifies the determination and the spirit of the group.

“All-in-all, from start to finish, I felt as though the guys went about their business with not just the right attitude, but an edge and a will that really set and didn’t allow a New England side with a tremendous amount of talent to find any rhythm. Ands that was a key component to finding a victory today.”

Was a different tactical approach (with a 4-4-2) a result of player availability, a choice because of the matchup?

“I’d been thinking about and looking at playing a front two for a little while. – when I say a little while I mean a week or 10 days – thinking about what that might present and represent to the team. I knew Hany was struggling with a little bit of a sore hamstring, wasn’t quite sure what would happen. So it just leant itself to thinking about forwards, what would the team look like, and how would we prepare for that.

“We have plenty of competition up there. I know not all of our forwards are fit, but we’ve got some very capable and talented forwards ourselves, and it seemed and set itself just about right for the two forwards that played today, and what they might offer us.

“As I’ve said at the very start, we had a plan in mind, and it was very much reliant on the front two being a threat beyond, working together, giving us some traction up top from the very outset. Because we have had two or three game here where we’ve not started with the sort of energy and the sort of edge that we’ve seen over a period of time now. Today was completely different.”

What was the importance of getting a win here?

“First and foremost, the victory was, of course, very important to us. It’s always difficult when you get a top-heavy home schedule like this; it doesn’t happen very often. I’ve spoken about the circumstances leading us into these four games. What I’d like to think everyone can see is a progression and a development and creative edge in this group that maybe we didn’t see last year.

“Aside the victories, I think we’ve performed in a very decent fashion, and really and truly may have taken one of the previous three games. But this, for, me, was always going to be the toughest of the four – just on paper of course – to begin with, because of the way that New England performed last year. Having watched the opening fixtures, I genuinely felt that this team that we were playing against were the most complete group that we’ve run into so far. That’s not to be demeaning in any way to any of the other groups, because they have some serious qualities themselves.

“But when I say complete, I’ve seen this team fight, I’ve seen this team work, I’ve seen this team create, they’ve got a very, very good balance, and I think leading into the game, they should’ve felt incredibly confident about their form. It was always going to be a really, really tough game, one that maybe we could measure ourselves against, and of course desperate to get ourselves a win, as well. So it’s all turned out how we might have wanted it, and I think we’ve got ourselves in a very decent position.”

Did you feel like the central midfielders had their most complete game so far this season?

“I’ve got to say, I thought they were possibly our two best players last week against Miami. The pair of them are slowly-but-surely getting themselves into a nice rhythm and groove. Of course it’s important, when you take out Hany, who’s a terrific connector, and a very good link from midfield into that front line in attacking transitions, it was always going to be a few teething problems, I felt.

“But, when you look at the experience that these two guys have, what I think we’re seeing throughout the group is a familiarity now with matchday: sharpness needed, mental attitude needed, continued focus in the game, and they’re all thins that unfortunately through preseason, we were unable to manufacture because of some of the problems we had.

“My biggest enjoyment out of today’s game is that we continued to improve, and we continued to perform at a particular level. Today we’ve won, we’ve kept a clean sheet, we’ve kept our unbeaten run going. But I think most of all, we’ve maintained a level of performance. And it’s not that we haven’t been able to do that in the previous games, but there were some areas in our game – as we all well know – that weren’t quite where they should be.”

What does it mean for the team when Dax has such a strong game after his postmatch comments last week about his disappointment?

“I’m not too sure there’s many other words I could use to describe Dax. His experience is invaluable. When guys get to the latter stages of their career, they can be forgiven for, during the week, not working as hard, having the odd day off, that the 21 and 22-year olds have got to really toil through. This guy typifies everything that this thing is about. He’s got a great attitude daily, his personality is infections, he’s a terrific footballer.

“I do think he’s adapted his game from the first time I saw him in my first stint in MLS. He’s so thoughtful with his techniques and his talent. He’s able to adapt to so many situations, and is still a tremendous competitor. I’ve seen many an experienced player who won’t put his foot in at these stages of his career because of maybe the possibility of injury and missing some games.

“But this guy is a top-top professional. Today just underlines that, and reinforces what we all know anyway.”

What have you seen about Alex Muyl’s growth in attacking and versatility?

“Alex is an invaluable member of this group, for all of those points: he’s able to play in many different positions, he’s very versatile. It’s difficult to maybe point someone out who has a bigger capacity for workload than Alex. So you know what you’re going to get both sides of the ball.

“He has worked tremendously hard at the attacking side of the game: his individual play, his individual moments. In the first half, he got himself in a 1v1 situation, and I know he’s been working tirelessly with Steve [Guppy] about just shifting and getting shots off. The one that he pulls to the near post and just misses the target. But he’s constantly trying to get himself in those attacking positions. I think that’s an area of his game, certainly, that he need to upgrade. I think today – and I think in in the games that we’ve seen him – he’s slowly-but-surely doing that. I’m delighted that he’s scored his first goal.

“What you know is, you’re just going to get a tireless worker and a great teammate for even the minimal foundation from Alex. What we’re starting to see now is him adding to that quality, and adding to the dimensions of his game. And that can only be good for him and for the team”

Striker Dominique Badji

“It was amazing being back. It’s been a very long time since I’ve had this feeling. Great to be back, great to be able to do what I love doing – and on top of that, get three points for the team. Definitely set the tone for how we want to be for the rest of the season. I’m excited to have been a part of it.”

Did you feel like the striker pair gave you guys the opportunity to find space in-behind, particularly getting past the fullbacks?

“For sure. Me and CJ are a handful up top – you know, alone. Pout us together, it’s an even bigger problem. We have speed, we’re able to hold the ball up with strength, and can challenge for anything. So seeing what they brought to the game and how they like to play, we definitely saw that we could exploit going in behind, and so we did that, and caused them a handful all game.”

How did it feel to play in front of a significant crowd for the first time in over a year?

“It was great, it was nice being in front of the fans. Obviously you can’t replicate that first game that we had at home, but having the fans back here definitely gives us that extra bit of energy that we need when we’re down or we need a little bit of oomph coming in. Having the fans there was great, and we’re looking forward to having a lot more home games with more fans.”

What’s the difference in dynamic with a striker pair instead of a lone striker?

“I’ve actually never really played with two forwards before in my career. But having done that today, it seemed natural out there. It seemed like me and CJ had been doing this for a while, and had been working together even though this was our first time.

“But like you say, It’s easier to share the load where he can run behind and I can check in, and when I’ve got energy, I can run behind and he can check in. So we can kind of share the load. So that’s what we did all game, and we were able to have a lot of success.”

What’s the feeling after having a strong performance after such a long time away?

“I think it’s a testament to how I am, you know? Obviously, every player wants to play, every player wants to start. Realistically, it’s not going to happen. But as long as you’re mentally ready, physically ready, and you’re doing everything you need to do so when you get the call you’re ready, you’ll be good.

“I’ve been preparing a while for this, I’ve wanted this opportunity. It was given to me, and I tried to make the most of it. Obviously I want to score, that’s my job, but if I can’t, I want to affect the game in different ways, like today.”

Striker CJ Sapong

How does it feel to score and earn the win?

“Everything you said there just sounds amazing. When I knew I was coming to this team, my goal was to score goals and bring wins. Obviously with the first three games, we didn’t lose – but we didn’t win. Coming into the starting lineup, I first and foremost, I just want to bring energy to the team, and when the game’s over to be able to see myself on the statsheet, and see us have three points. It feels really, really good, and is obviously more motivation to continue that same vibe.”

When did you find out you’d be starting, and did it change your approach?

“I found out yesterday, and for me, this is my 11th year in the league: I train and I approach every weekend – whether I’m on the starting lineup or I’ve had many moments in my career where an injury happens in warmup, or even in early stages of the game. I’m always approaching it the same way. The difference I would say is maybe just a little bit more in the meditation and trying to visualize myself right off the bat bringing energy for the guys, and us as a group collectively having a good performance, and ending with a win.”

What did you see on the goal-scoring play as the ball goes over your head to the back post, but comes right back from Walker?

“When you see that ball go over your head, first inclination is just to get towards the goal. I didn’t even know Walker [Zimmerman] was over there, until I turned around. Once I saw him, I knew, ‘OK, there’s a high probability, high chance the ball is coming back across the face of the goal.’

“Once it did, obviously it’s ‘just get a touch on it.’ I saw Dom next to me as well, so I feel like even if I didn’t get there, he would get there. Again, just a good feeling on the field when you think you can see that your teammates are in positions to succeed, and you see your teammates in positions to make you look better. Again, it just an overall great vibe, and I was happy to be a part of it.”

When you signed with this team, were you expecting a more aggressive offensive approach?

“Yeah, honestly, that’s my game. I felt that they wouldn’t have brought me in here if they didn’t see that as a possibility for the team. Like I said, when you have guys throughout the roster that can bring something different day-in and day-out, it allows me to kind of just embrace the role that I bring. I know the energy I’m going to bring to the game, and I focus on that. When I’m training, I have that in the back of my mind.

“When you get your number called, those are the qualities that they’re looking for in the game, it gives you the confidence to just go out there and do what you’ve been doing.”

Have you focused on the meditation, remembering the past progression?

“Spot-on man. Definitely a confidence booster. There are some times you can play a whole 90 minutes and not get a chance. So for me to be able to come off the bench and find myself in the right position – maybe it was just a half-second where I could have made a better run, maybe the timing was a little bit off, but like you said, manifestation and meditation. When you feel that energy it’s its own state. You not really thinking: you are just kind of banking on the energy put outside of this game to ensure that you’ll be in the right place at the right moment. When it happens like it did today, it’s more motivation to stay on that track, and obviously express the gratitude for that opportunity.”

Is there an intimidation factor to making your first start of the year against one of the strongest teams in the conference?

“Throughout my years,I’ve been in many positions – whether it’s the bottom of the table, top of the table, middle of the table – the one thing that I recognize throughout my years is that any given day, once the whistle blows, it’s who wants it more. And who in their preparation has taken into consideration all the minor details.

“When you have a coach like Gary that makes sure we’re paying attention to these things during the week, and you have a group of guys all around you – whether they’re dressing, whether they’re on the bench, whether they’re on the field, everybody’s pushing each other. That’s, for me, it’s the optimum environment to succeed. I ultimately felt with the lineup we came onto the field with, with the personnel we came onto the field with, that we had the better chance of winning.

“It’s a good feeling when you can kind of overcome the odds like that.”

What is the difference in playing next to a guy like Jhonder Cádiz versus Badji, and how does it affect your gameplay?

“Jhonder has a big frame, is a guy you might want to have a little bit higher up the field, to kind of have a layoff, or maybe have a flick. Dom obviously can do those things as well, but he can also come underneath and make those runs into the channel. When I look at both those guys, ultimately, I see qualities that, at any given moment, can provide an advantage for us.

“So for me, it’s just staying as close to them as possible, making decisions off of their movements. You know, the more we’re in those situations, the better feel we have for each other. I think it’s going to be really tough for defenses moving forward to have to adjust their gameplan, knowing that you have these options whether they’re starting or coming off the bench.”

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