Nashville SC

Press conference: Gary Smith, Randall Leal, and Joe Willis after Nashville SC 1-0 Austin FC

Joe Willis photo from file

Watch or read full comments from Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith, goal-scorer Randall Leal, and clean-sheet-keeper Joe Willis after Nashville SC’s victory over Austin FC.

Head coach Gary Smith

“Yeah, a fantastic crowd, first of all – it was lovely to see so many people back in the stadium. Atmosphere was terrific, and I do believe that in vital moments, they were the difference to keep us on our toes and to keep that momentum going, and to walk us through to that victory.

“But a hard game, a tough-fought game. I thought Austin were terrific in spells in the second half, and we had to be at our very best defensively. I think when you look at the stats, that we still only conceded one shot at goal. We can be very, very pleased with that given the sort of possession that Austin had.

“But overall, really please with the start to the game. Great energy, a real positive and dynamic approach, and I thought the opening goal was certainly coming our way at that point. We’d had some nice opportunities, and of course very, very pleased to see us go in front, and ultimately hold onto that.”

What did you see that led to the Jared Stroud goal that was ultimately called back? Was it a wake-up call?

“A couple of things happened, Drake. Austin had a very nice passage of possession and period in the game. They started to get players higher up the field, they were taking more chances, and for whatever reason, we ended up on our heels. I think there was some sloppy play in there from our standpoint that enabled Austin to continue their pressure.

“Bottom line is, the goal’s offside: it is offside, so it doesn’t count. But to your point, I think it really was a bit of a jolt, and a realization that we have been under some pressure here, and if you continue to defend that deep and there is no outlet, then ultimately we might have fallen foul of an inopportune moment.

“Look, this Austin team certainly shouldn’t be taken lightly. Anyone that has taken them lightly, I think has fallen foul. They have some very good footballers, they’re well set up, they’re very bright, they’re very purposeful, and when you layer into it the fact that they’ve been away from home – this is their sixth game – I think they’re building in resiliency as these fixtures move on.

“This was never going to be an easy game tonight. I certainly didn’t look at it and think to myself that we should be rolling these over. I’m absolutely delighted that we’ve added the three points to the board, and we have excited a very big crowd tonight.”

You had a number of opportunities to extend the lead. Do you worry about the team’s clinical finishing after this one?

“Yeah, I agree. When I get the chance to look back at the game, I’m sure I’m going to look at it and, on occasions, cringe a little bit that we haven’t been able to extend our lead. I’m delighted that we’re making those chances, of course frustrated and disappointed that we’re not making our life a little bit easier.

But if you look at the fact that we’ve had 14 efforts at goal and six on-target again – in and amongst that, we’ve hit the post, Dom’s had a one-on-one, Hany and Taylor have found themselves in incredibly good positions and not been able to finish – all in all, it’s been a very, very exciting game. Two teams that are desperate to try and get themselves on the sheet, or extend their lead. It must have been a really good night for the fans that came and watched.”

Would it have been better to possess more to prevent Austin from generating chances in the end?

“I think to your point, a little bit of both. As we’ve said, there were chances to make our lives a hell of a lot easier, and to take the pressure off. When you have a 1-0 lead, any minor eventuality or a little bit of fortune for the opposing team can cause great difficulty for your group, and certainly snatch victory from your grasp.

“But we were sloppy as well, at times: there was a period in the game where we should have managed the ball better. There were opportunities to do that, the ball was squandered and given back to Austin too cheaply. And with players that they have that are very technical, and very capable, I think it gave them a little bit of confidence. And that confidence led to Pochettino running at players and causing some real difficulties. Their inclusions off the bench looked hungry and energetic: Stroud and Gallagher are both very bright young players, and they started to cause us some problems. Their confidence was high.

But I think it’s a mark of this team, and some of the characters in the group – in fact, all of the characters in the group, whether they started the game or came on – that we were able to see the result through. There were some tough moments for sure, but if you look around the league at the moment, there’s really very little to choose between a lot of teams. There’s some tremendous parity in the games. And it is the odd goal that’s seen teams through. And tonight, we’re very grateful that it’s us.”

What was the philosophy behind a heavy press, and how did you feel it worked out?

“We wanted to try and give ourselves a really positive start, and certainly feel the possibilities that were here for us tonight to win the game. I think as well, if you look at the circumstances, we were aware of the much bigger crowd, and I think everyone wants to see the ball won back in the opponent’s half and close to goal, and quickly showing some real bright and purposeful play to create opportunities. The guys carried out the plan very, very well: We won the ball in some terrifically good positions, and to a couple of the other questions, we really should have taken more advantage of that.

“But I’m certainly not going to be critical of the efforts, the way that the guys carried out the plan, and went about their business. I’ve nothing but positive words to say about the group. We continue to develop and grow. There are multiple facets in any game, and we slowly-but-surely are getting better and better at them.

This was the third straight game in a 4-4-2 formation. What do you think is the best long-term fit for this team?

“I do think it’s about circumstances. The last three games we’ve played, we’ve started with a front two. We’ve had two games at home, and we’ve won both of those games. The away game in Salt Lake, of course, was a slightly different dynamic and gameplan. But both systems offer many qualities that give us the opportunity to try and win a game.

“At the moment, the teams that I’m looking at, I think we can take advantage of certain areas of their group, and tonight it’s been borne out again. We’ve won one-nil, we’ve not conceded again – that’s four games on the spin no goals – there’s lots of confidence in the group, and it’s not changing the way that we attack the game, with two up top or a player popped in behind in that attacking 10 role.

I do think it’s about circumstances and situations. The good thing is, we’re certainly getting better at both of those systems, and it gives us some flexibility.

Randall Leal

“First of all, I want to say thank you to my parents, my little brother, my family. Because I always say they are the core of me.

Yeah, it was good, with the fans, the atmosphere, the everything, I think the goal is scored in a good moment, and then after that, we tried to keep control of the game. At the last minutes, we lose the ball, and they came to attack us. But this is futbol, you know? They were losing, they come to try to make a goal, but I think we won, and this is good for us now.”

After you assisted Jhonder’s first two goals of the year, did he owe you one going into tonight?

“No no no, but I think we have a good connection, you know, between he and me. I think he saw me and I was running into the box. He make a good cross. And you know, I make a bad touch, but the ball goes inside, so that’s good.”

You were limping, how do you feel now? And could the team have scored more?

“I have something in my ankle, but I think I’m going to be fine during the week.

“And yeah, we had a lot of chances to score, and my teammates make the decisions, and we didn’t score, you know? This is something that we need to work, because we know that if we would score one more goal, then Austin can stop playing. They were pressing us and they was attacking us too much. We know that, and I think we want to talk about this during the week.”

How does it feel to score your second goal of the season, in helping the team to an important win? And how do you see Atlanta United?

Leal answered in Spanish, I’ve translated – some of it roughly! – below:

“I think it’s important to gain points, particularly in games at home. It’s important to take wins here.

“As far as Atlanta, I see they’re playing well. I see they tied but they’re a very, very, very good team. Then, I believe that we need to go into this game in a good way. Either we win, or at least we can’t lose, right? I think we’re a good team but we have to play better.

Joe Willis

“It feels good. You always want to keep clean sheets as a goalkeeper, and then to get the three points on top of it is even better. It was amazing to have the fans back in the stadium, so to reward them with a win was huge for us.”

What were the conversations like with the defenders when the team needed to find some composure?

“To be honest, there wasn’t really much tactical talk going on. It’s a play where I need to make the save, and it’s a mistake on my part. Walker came over to me, and he said ‘pick your head up, we’re going to need you to make another big save at some point during this game.’ It was more Walker trying to lift my spirits than trying to figure anything tactically out.

“It’s a part of the game that goes unnoticed, I think, sometimes. But sometimes when you’re not having a great day, you need your teammates to lift you up, and that’s what happened.”

Did you have any suspicion when Stroud scored that there was a potential offside?

“I had no idea that it was potentially an offside. So, I was pretty confused – that’s one of the things, actually, I asked Walker, was ‘what are they checking?’ I kind of assumed it was offsides, because they were looking at it.

“Once he blew the whistle and waved it off, I shook my head and thanked God for letting me off the rope that time. Because like I said, it was a mistake, and I got lucky that we didn’t get punished for it.”

What was the thought process through the closing stages of the game? Did it feel like you guys let down a bit to let Austin put the victory in jeopardy?

“I don’t think we ever took them lightly. I think ceding possession, especially in the seocnd half when we have a lead, it may not be pretty at times, but we find a lot of success that way. We’re very good defending as a unit, we stay compact, and we don’t let easy opportunities in. We’re happy to let their centerbacks play with the ball at half-field if it means that we have everyone behind the ball and we’re in an organized shape.

I wouldn’t say it was us taking our foot off the gas, by any means, but more so a tactical decision to protect the lead we had, and if we had opportunities to catch them on the break, then try and find that second one.”

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