Alex Muyl photo from file.
Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith – and his two star wingers, Randall Leal and Alex Muyl – met with the media to preview the Boys in Gold and their trip to Real Salt Lake this weekend. Watch or read their full comments here.
Head coach Gary Smith
“Well, as you can imagine, first win on the board, a little bit of an extra spring in everyone’s stride always makes the work throughout the week that much easier, and more enthusiastic, if you like. But it’s been a decent week weather-wise: we’ve been able to get plenty of work done, and some nice reinforcements towards this Salt Lake game on Saturday.”
For the first road game of the year, does your game-week preparation have to change?
“Not an awful lot of difference really, Tim. The one thing that we have to be mindful of is that it is a longer journey, and the longest one that we’ll have to undertake this year. We’ve got some support and help for the guys in terms of clothing to wear, food, etc. that we have to just think a little bit more thoughtfully about.
“Aside that, there’s not really an awful lot to change. We’ll train tomorrow morning and fly out afterwards. The fact that we’re utilizing a charter flight helps enormously for our travel. We can go in a day before, given the length of the journey: the league protocols allow for that situation.”
What led to the decision to play Randall Leal and Alex Muyl on the opposite sides (right and left, respectively) than we’re most-used to seeing them play?
“I mean look, a couple of things out of the four games that we’ve played at home. Three of them, I’d have to say we’ve shown a very good, attacking, exciting edge to our game. Plenty of opportunities, plenty of goalmouth action, a real appetite and energy to be effective in our opponent’s half. And to a large degree, it hasn’t affected what we’ve done at the other end of the field. I think we’re still seeing some very good signs within the group. We haven’t always got the result that we feel we deserved, but then that’s soccer in general.
“As far as Alex and Randall go, those guys, I think, have done an incredibly good job for the group, flat-out, whenever they’ve played – and we’ve seen a lot of minutes from these two guys throughout their time here, obviously including last season. Slightly different focus in some different games when we need maybe a little different plan of action of where to address the ball to defend against other teams, and of course where we can take advantage of.
“The fact that we played two up top at the weekend was just purely down to what I felt was an area I thought we may be able to take advantage of with two guys that are slightly different to what we’ve seen before. And to a large degree, it worked. What we have probably seen now is that we’ve got a slightly different string to our bow. We’ve got two players that didn’t play at the weekend that are incredibly effective, and now we’ve got a tremendous amount of competition.”
Do you like the way the tactical setups can be used against RSL? Have you decided?
“I’m very decided on what I’ll be doing. But each game presents – as I’ve said – a very different challenge. We’re going to an environment that I’m very accustomed with, having played them and been out in Denver for a good while previously. Altitude presents something different, although this field is slightly lower than Dick’s Sporting Goods. This weekend, with an RSL team that are very good at home, and play their home field advantage extremely well, it may lend itself to something slightly different.
But to my point earlier, we’re trying to group a team here that has strength in all departments, it has depth in all departments. And last weekend, I think, gave us a little bit of a peek behind the curtains of what it looks like to have two up top, and what that pairing can offer us. Maybe we’re all forgetting – you guys probably more so than me, because I’m here every day – with guys like Daniel Ríos and Abu [Danladi] that are not available to us at the moment, there is really the opportunity now to mix the team up, to change the perspective, maybe more often than I have done before.
“I was very happy with what happened at the weekend. I really would love to see Jhonder up there with one of those two guys as well. I think any forward wants to be with a partner, but in the modern game, more often than not, they end up on their own. So it can be a thankless task on some occasions when you’re on your own.
“Hany’s very, very capable of playing other positions. So I’ve got some really nice decisions to make. It’s always better being in a spot where you’ve got choices, and good ones. And I certainly have that.”
Does the technical ability of your strikers check back and allow them to play that psuedo-10 role allow you to play more of a hybrid formation?
“They’re very different characters as we all know. Jhonder, Dom, and CJ have real forward instincts – getting in-beyond, getting into the area, attacking crosses. And their perspective of the game is very different to Hany’s. Hany is a great technician, he’s a link player, he’s a creator, he has different aspects and qualities to his game. That in itself gives the team a different dimension and a different look to playing two forwards – as you saw at the weekend.
“We’ve played with a 10, predominantly in Hany – Randall’s been in there of course, and a couple of other guys – it certainly gives me food for thought now, dependent on who we’re playing, where we’re playing, and what we may need out of a game. It’s given me and the group a hell of a lot of confidence to play a slightly different shape, and to be very, very happy and comfortable about what we may get out of it.”
Midfielder Randall Leal
How has the week of preparation gone?
“I think this week was very good for us. Tomorrow, we have the last details to go in and try to win against Salt Lake. For us, there’s a lot of motivation to play our first game away, you know, and against Real Salt Lake, they are very good. I think we are ready. We already trained this week and prepared all the details to go there and win.”
What did you get out of the switching of sides with Alex Muyl last weekend?
“I think this is a question for the coach. I think Alex and me, we are different players, so maybe the coach needs a little bit better thing on the other side, and when I play from the right side, it’s because maybe he needs to keep a little bit more of the ball, something like this. But I think we have the quality that Alex and me, we can play on both sides.”
How do you remain aggressive on the road after a strong attack at home?
“Good afternoon, Wes. I think this is the key for el eqip… – for the team – is to keep doing the same like we do at home. We know that maybe we cannot play the games like we do it at home. When we play away, it’s a little bit different, we have to wait a little bit for the teams and see what they want to do.
“I think the purpose for the coach is to always try to press high and try to score first. This is what we want to do in Salt Lake: try to press a little bit them. I think when we want to play with two up top, we have a little bit flexibility to play a little bit high, and try to score first.”
You played against defenders Justen Glad and Aaron Herrera and keeper David Ochoa with the Costa Rica U-23s. Do you take any of your scouting report from that game at Concacaf Olympic qualifying into account or is it already outdated?
“Hi Tim. Yes, I always try to see against who I have to play, you know. I know the right back is Herrera and he was playing with national team for USA in this tournament in Mexico. We know a little bit – I know a little bit of them. But also he knows about me.
“This is good, it’s going to be a challenge always to try to beat him, and also he tries to do the same. We try to not focus on one player, you know? We try to do what the coach wants, and try to give the opportunity to win this game.”
How is the work week different with the travel for a long trip?
“I think we have John [Ireland, Head Performance Coach] – he is the guy who is always behind us trying to give us a little bit of advice of what we have to drink, what we have to eat, because the game’s a little bit farther. But last time we play also in Portland – that’s farther also. So I think we have to meet the personality and the responsibility in what we have to do.
“Also, the altitude is too high, so we need to take care about these kind of things.”
Are you more comfortable in the 4-2-3-1, or can you work from the 4-4-2?
“Sometimes I would like to play a different position, or play my position a little bit more high, you know? – to attack a little bit more. But we need to respect first the plan of the coach. This is what I tried to do. Maybe my football is not like so listoso – so showy – because maybe the coach wants the other players to do the job in front, like last game, like CJ and Badji.
“We need to do what the coach wants, and I think I do it well. I always try to ask of the coach if he has something I need to do more. And he always is like good with my job, so this is the plan of the coach.”
You’re one of the most shot-happy – and accurate – attackers in the league so far this season. Where has the increase in confidence come from this year?
“I like to shoot out a little bit farther, and when I have the opportunity to try the shot. Players like me or players who play on top, we need to score, you know. I always try to look at the best opportunity: if I can give an assist, I do, if I can shoot, I try to shoot. This is why you score goals: because you’re shooting, if there is the possibility. Sometimes it’s better to pass the ball, sometimes it’s better to shoot.
“But I try always to show a little bit of my quality, to show it a little bit. I think I would like to do it a little bit more in the games that are coming.”
Midfielder Alex Muyl
What was the celebration like after scoring your first goal for Nashville?
“Part of it obviously was an important time of the game: to be up 1-0, they can come back in the game. 2-0 kind of really felt like we were more in control. That was a big feeling of relief.
“On a personal level, kind of just in the first couple games, I think I had almost a chance, and then ended up not going – someone else headed it over the goal. I just think it’s been kind of this thing that’s been almost coming for me for a while, and just to get to have it happen was a big feeling of relief. It just felt really good. It was something that we’ve all been looking forward to.
“Honestly, the biggest thing for me was the way everyone else came around me. I’ve never felt like that ever in any club. Everyone was so happy for me and so supportive. That’s just the best feeling in the world. It makes me want to go out and just die for them and do everything I can to help them play well. Seeing everyone, the way that they were so happy for me, that was really special – and really more special than the goal or any of that for me.
How have you improved your scoring end-product working with Steve Guppy?
“It’s been great. It’s something that I think that Gary and I talked about in our preseason meeting: that was an area, obviously, I can improve. Because I’m a person that – obviously I do a lot of things that don’t always show up on the statsheet, but ultimately as an attacking player you’re judged by the statsheet.
“Working with Guppy has been amazing, because he’s someone who obviously, he’s done it at a really high level. He has a lot of knowledge, a lot of wisdom in that area. I think that’s a perfect guy to be working with. For me, it’s been a process, and I think I’m improving, but there’s a long way to go and I just want to keep going with it. I think part of it has been the mindset of just, it’s a growth mindset. It’s not like just because something’s not easy for you right now that you’ll never be good at it. I think learning that you can improve and get better has been really enlightening.”
What changes in your game on the left side versus your usual right?
“It’s always a little bit different because A) the partnership is different, but also when you’re a right-footed player playing on the left, it kind of opens up the field when you come inside, and you combine differently. Obviously, we were playing a little bit of a different system, with two strikers.
“So, there was a couple different wrinkles in the game. For me, I love to play on the left but I’m happy on the right as well. Either way, there are different mindsets for me when you go into them. But the left is great, and I’m excited. Honestly, either side, I’m very happy as long as I can contribute.”
After some good opportunities dating back to last year (including one that was overruled by VAR), what does it feel like to get the opening goal by an opponent basically passing to you, and seeing that you have a chance to shoot on a nearly-open net?
“Yeah I mean, when you put it that way, it sounds really easy.” [laughing]
Not like that!
“It was good, it was good. It was one of those things, honestly, where it was almost good that it happened like that, because there was no time to think. It was like the ball comes back, comes to me, I saw what I had to do, and I didn’t have to thin It just all really happened that fast.. But like you say, it was a funny way – after all that buildup – for it to come so quickly.
“I think part of it also – Guppy and I were talking about it – obviously it wasn’t the craziest finish in the world, but I had to kind of sneak it in there and have a good follow-through and keep it low had to be precise. I think that was a really good feeling too: to know that a lot of the shooting practice paid off in a moment when I had to be precise and be cool.”
You’re a famous hard worker. Can you keep that up at altitude?
“Yeah, I think – great question – obviously when you go to altitude it can be really tough. It’s something that you really feel it. But I’ve been there many times in my career: I’ve been there, I’ve been to Denver. I’ve played at altitude before and it definitely does affect everybody. My mindset is that, ‘yeah, there’s going to be tough moments, there’s going to be a lot of moments of fatigue, but everyone’s going through it.’ I know eventually you catch your second wind, you catch your third wind, and you just basically have to push yourself as much as you can.
“I’m not sure if my meterage or whatever that would be – the output – will be the same, but I can promise you that, as far as everyone else on the field, I’ll still be doing the most. I just might be everyone’s doing a little bit less.”