Nashville SC

Press conference: Gary Smith, Dan Lovitz, and Matt LaGrassa prepare for Austin FC

Gary Smith photo from file

Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith, fullback Dan Lovitz, and midfielder Matt LaGrassa met with the media this afternoon to preview Sunday’s match against Austin FC. Watch or read their full* comments here.

* Please see the note at the top of Lovitz’s section. Transcript to be updated.

Head coach Gary Smith

What are you looking forward to with the return to Nissan Stadium and the expected crowd? How do you capitalize on that momentum?

“Well, it looks like it’s shaping up to be a very exciting day. As you say, a much bigger crowd than usual, one that I don’t think many teams have been used to over the last season or so. We’re absolutely pumped to be looking at a very good crowd again, and seeing so many people to get behind us and create that momentum as we have only experienced on few occasions. It’s like a new start for us in many ways.

“As far as keeping the unbeaten run going, look: our home form’s been very, very good to this point. The guys have been able to balance, more so, the qualities of creation and of course making life difficult for other teams and the defensive duties – more than certainly we did last year. I think we’ve given ourselves a really good platform to work from.

“But we face an exciting and dangerous Austin team and we certainly won’t be taking that lightly.”

Is is more difficult to prepare for a team when you only have limited film on them?

“I would say that this Austin team have created quite a nice identity already in the way that they play: the energy, the enthusiasm, and of course the technical quality that they have throughout the group has given them, I think, a bit of a shape and a picture already. They’re very dangerous going forward. Their 4-3-3 shape is clear and concise. Are players within that shape still trying to work each other out? I’m sure.

“We had that last year, and it’s not easy for players to work off of one another. There’s often little breakdowns in communication, etc. But I think they’ve shown to everyone that they very much mean business, and they’ve started off very well.”

Do you feel like this team has a similar philosophy in their build with established veterans and a few international players to augment them?

“Maybe. Maybe in terms of the way that the overall structure of the group is built. But I think you’ve got two very different coaches. Josh [Wolff] has gone about his business in a very particular way, and obviously we did in a slightly different fashion. Honestly, other than the fact that they’re a brand-new team, I don’t see too many similarities in the groups.

“They are dangerous, they throw caution to the wind, they play with a very cavalier approach. To a large degree, to a lot of people, that looks good, and has been successful for them at this point. But I think you’ll find that for one reason or another, they’re either going to win or lose games. They leave themselves very exposed. Maybe that will change when they go back home and they start to see a little bit more of each other throughout this season. But they are dangerous. There’s no two ways about that. And they take chances.”

From a roster-build perspective rather than tactical one are they more similar?

“I think the last question sort of dipped into that a little bit. I know a small amount about the way they’ve constructed the group, and maybe even the sort of budgetary world that they’re working in are very, very similar.

It looks to me from the outside – and of course it’s difficult when you’re not in the group – but they look to have a very spirited group, a group of good characters. They look like they’re working for one another and are very, very keep to get this group moving and positively making an impression on the league.

“I think they caught a couple of teams cold early on, with the way that they went about their work. They started off with such a vigorous approach that they’ve bagged six points in their opening five games. With such a tough schedule on the road, I can’t imagine that they would’ve or could’ve dreamed for much more. And the other games have been extremely tight. There’s not been a lot in it at all.

“But as far as the similarities: their style, the personnel that they’ve recruited throughout their group is slightly different, I believe, to the way that we went about ours. That’s why you’re seeing just a different picture in the way that they play and what they’re trying to achieve.

What does Austin’s style mean, and what threats to they present particularly for the fullbacks?

“Having looked at and seen quite a bit of them – and I think we’re fortunate that we’ve been able to watch five games into the season now, like I said I think they caught a couple of teams very cold in the way that they played and took full advantage of it.

“But in all essence, they’re a very bright, very positive, very forward-thinking group. They take chances, and they want their fullbacks very high. They want to try and be as aggressive as they possibly can be. And they leave themselves exposed. Now on some occasions, that pays dividends. On others, they’ve paid the price for that. But I would think they slowly-but-surely are starting to work out the balances and the balance off between earning points and ‘actually, this is a chance to go and win the game.’

“They’ve got some experienced guys in that group who certainly know the difference between just throwing caution to the wind and lasting a tough season in MLS. But what we do know as well is, as an expansion group, it’s just not easy, it really isn’t. You’re trying to bring multiple characters and coaches together. You’re trying to formulate a plan and an identity. Ultimately, they’ll want to succeed and be part of the playoff picture, as well. As we look at them right now, you wouldn’t back against it, would you?”

When do you expect Daniel Ríos, Abu Danladi, and Tah Brian Anunga back?

“Daniel’s been part of the group this week, and he’s further ahead than either of the other two. He won’t be available for selection this weekend, though. This is his first full week in training, so we’ll be taking a little bit more care and caution with Daniel.

“Abu is out on the training field, and he’s looking much, much better, and getting himself, I think, ever-closer to joining the group. I wouldn’t think he’s too far away from that.

“Brian is probably a tad further away than the other two, and we probably won’t see him for another two or three weeks, minimum, I would think?

what did you think of Hany Mukhtar’s return from injury Saturday evening, and how does he change what you can do offensively?

“I think we made the right choice in the New England game to give him a little bit longer. I think everyone can understand the reasons that we went with a pair up top after the display against New England.

“We have choices now, and that’s what competition does. We’ve rarely played with a front two, but that game alone has given the team, coaching staff, everyone around the group a different perspective, and a bit of a lift. And certainly an appreciation that if we need to go to that, that’s something that we feel a lot more comfortable about, even if it only ends up being a bit of a Plan B.

“So we’ll see. But Hany’s in training, and Hany’s been great. He was terrific when he came on last weekend. He understands the situation, there’s a lot of competition in the group, players have done well, and he’s doing his very utmost to be part of the group this weekend, and I’ll make my choices on that tomorrow.”

Fullback Dan Lovitz

[The internet in Nashville SC’s facility dropped out at the beginning of Lovitz’s section. Will update when Nashville’s media relations team sends out their master copy of the video]

“Atmosphere and the way that we want to attack the game, and how we want to sort of grow through this period of the season before the break. I think it’s important that we build on what’s been

and it will, and I think the crowd being there will provide the energy that we saw briefly at the start of last year, obviously, will be a huge, huge thing for us. But the technical aspects, technical-tactical aspects of the game that we’ve been focusing on with the coaching staff, I think, are pretty straightforward and direct. It’ll just give us some structure to move into what we know is going to be a difficult game.”

How did you feel about your individual performance – particularly distributing – against RSL, and how that performance applies to an aggressive Austin team?

“I think general – quickly just general feelings after the Salt Lake game – is that it wasn’t a strong game by any means. Not for myself personally, and not for the team. Especially with the ball, I thought we were careless, myself included. Obviously we’ve been working on that, and know that hopefully it was a one-off and we can sort of get back to our old ways of being a little bit more decisive and influential, especially in the attacking half. Cut out some of the giveaways.

Generally speaking, I think we’ve identified some things, like you mentioned, that Austin may look to do that they’ve sort of shown in their first group of games that maybe give us an opportunity to exploit. That’s not to assume that they’re going to present the same formation or whatever going into this game, but just things that we can focus on, I think.

Personally, just getting in advanced positions, helping the team score goals, being dangerous, all that stuff, I think is relatively straightforward. For us, it’s more about ourselves, worrying about what we can sort of improve on each side of the ball and become a more-finished product – not that we ever view ourselves as a finished product, but I think this is a very important step for us to play against an exciting team, in a very exciting and comfortable electric atmosphere at home.”

Leading the league in key passes among guys who aren’t at the No. 10 position, how do you balance creating with being sound at the back?

“Yeah sure. I think I’m very much of the mindset that you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. I think you can be sound defensively while knowing when to take risks and to provide quality moving forward in certain moments.

“I think the way we play and the luxury that I have of having such a strong defensive unit to work around – defensive midfielders, centerbacks, goalkeeper – and the way we defend collectively, I think you see more and more in the modern game outside backs taking a bit more responsibility and accountability on the offensive side of the ball. Frankly, not a lot of guys are able to capitalize on having the luxury of guys that are comfortable on the ball and are allowing me to get in advanced positions.

“It’s my responsibility to, when I do get in those positions, to be more dangerous and to help us score goals. Frankly, I don’t think I’ve done a good enough job considering how much of the ball I’ve seen and the positions I’ve been in. It’s nice to have that key passes stat – for whatever it is – I understand that, and it’s very exciting, but we need to be scoring more goals, and I need to play a hand in that more consistently. That’s what I’m focused on, and I know the team will continue to play in a way that makes it easy for me to do my job on both sides of the ball.”

Midfielder Matt LaGrassa

What sort of groove do you think you’re getting into early in the season?

“I think for me, personally, it’s been nice to get in two games in a row now. I’m proud of that personally. I think the team’s in a really good place, obviously. But none of us are satisfied with what we’ve done so far. I think we want to continue to grow, and continue to get results, especially at home, now that we’re coming back home.”

You were put into some uncomfortable positions in the formation due to a lack of depth last year. What is the feeling of being able to line up where you prefer, even if it means slightly less playing time?

“I think Gary’s in a position now where we’ve got a lot of different options and different types of weapons up front. I think there’s a lot to be said for trying to find the right pairings up there, and just throughout in terms of continuity for us to create goal-scoring opportunities, and continue to score goals.

“I think we’ve got so many different types of weapons, and so many talented players up there. I think we’re really at a point of luxury now with what our roster looks like there.”

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