Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith along with midfielders Randall Leal and Alex Muyl met with the media to preview the team’s upcoming trip to Harrison, N.J. to take on New York Red Bulls. Watch or read their full comments here.
Head coach Gary Smith
“Well a nice bit of mental and physical downtime, fortunate for everyone to maybe re-evaluate, reflect, and look forward to what will be a very important second phase of our campaign, for sure, with so many home games coming up.
We’ll take them one game art a time. Always a tough encounter in New York. Extremely competitive group that they have there up at Red Bull, and I think the guys had some some very nice opportunities here to prepare a little bit longer and a little more thoroughly than we might normally have had, I think will be ready for it. And certainly looking forward to it.”
What is the process for the players out on international duty to return to the team?
“Our mindset and our thought process was that those guys, once they’d finished their duty, were going to be part of the group. I’ve not reason to suspect otherwise. Arrangements have been made and we’ll be ready to accept them back into the group. I’ll obviously monitor some of the data and the details of their exploits while they’ve been away to determine what part and how much of the game they might be part of.”
What does a period outside the week-to-week grind allow you to do differently? How have Daniel Ríos and Tah Brian Anunga been able to recover in the weeks off?
“Everyone goes about their business slightly different of course, and as you’ve said, I’ve always felt that keeping the players active as much as possible, whilst also taking into account that we haven’t had a game for the best part of three weeks, that we can also have some emotional downtime, as it were. I thin kthe guys have appreciated being around friends and family for a couple of days on a couple of occasions. I think it’s suited everybody very well.
“As far as the work goes, it’s given me an opportunity to look at one or two things that I might not normally have been able to. A “Plan B,” a “Plan C,” seeing players in slightly different positions, and obviously looking a little bit more focused at one or two guys that have not seen the field as much. It’s certainly been helpful to me, and I think to them.
“Injury-wise, Daniel Ríos had a minor setback with the problem that he had, and he’s going to be unavailable for the game on Friday. Brian Anunga has made great strides, and he’s in a very, very good position. Won’t be available for this weekend, but he’s not too far away from being an addition to the group or somebody that I can certainly select for the 20-man roster.”
How do you prepare for a team with Red Bull’s style.
“Like all clubs, they’ve had a little bit of time off. I’m sure they;’ll be refreshed and ready to go again. Their home form’s been pretty good. I think most people know that they have their own style of play, and that style can be extremely difficult to navigate, especially on their home turf. If you’re going to have aspirations of being in the postseason, or winning silverware, you’ve got to be prepared to adapt and to deal with each and every team that you run into. This is no different.
“They’ve a lot of quality players, a lot of quality young players, and a tremendous amount of energy. And the stats tell us that they do want to win the ball higher upfield, they do want to put you under a lot of pressure, and to that degree, it makes you think, act, and work that much sharper and to be on your toes a little bit more.
“So we’re ready for a really tough encounter, and as I say, coming off of this break, expect it to be – I would think – a breakneck speed in the opening 15-20 minutes of the game.”
What does a period outside the week-to-week grind allow you to do differently?
“We had the opportunity in that initial week post-Atlanta with a couple of days off for the guys to just let their bodies recover from a very tough game, and we used that first week as a more-general week of work in terms of load, and looked at one or two aspects of the group that we might be able to utilize down the line. Some slightly different shapes and thoughts that may give us a go-to opportunity if needed. And it worked very nicely in that first week.
Another couple of days off, and the second block, the middle block of work, the intensity and the workload was upped, and the guys put a much bigger shift in for that middle block of work, while also trying to reinforce some of the aspects of our game, and some of the qualities of our game. And this week has been about preparation for New York. Sharpness, speed of play, and generally being ready for a tough opening game after three weeks off.
So the guys have been in great shape, great mental order, they look buoyant. They look absolutely ready to go and meet the challenge, and I wouldn’t have expected too much else after a very decent opening to the season and remaining unbeaten. We’ve got a lot to play for, and likewise other teams have too, and we need to keep this form on-track if we’re to achieve our main goal of: of course being in the postseason.”
What have you seen out of the Red Bulls in what may be a year of transition with Aaron Long out and guys like Caden Clark emerging as stars?
“Listen, they continually find ways to fill those gaps. Aaron Long, I’m sure, is a huge loss to the group and a very talented defender – but as I say, they’ve got good depth, good young depth. They’ve always got good young players coming through. Sadly for Aaron, he’s out of the equation, but he gives one of these other guys – and young guys – the opportunity to shown their worth. They’ve shown time and time again that they’ve got individuals who can step up to the plate and perform very, very we..
“Their style changes very little. They work through that system from their academy, through USL, and into the first team and it’s drummed into them exactly what the manager and the club are after at the top level. And they perform it well: they’re very committed in the right areas, they’re very talented, and when they’re not in the right areas, they get to those right areas very quickly. And if they can win the ball in those areas, they like to try and do that, as well.
“We’ve looked at lots of footage, we’ve prepared well. I don’t think anything can get you really mentally or physically ready for a game like this until you’re in the arena. Friday night, we’ll get a real taste of what they’re capable of. A lot of the guys have either been there – played for the group or they’ve played against them. They know exactly what this is about, but it’ll be a challenging match like all away games. No different – just a slightly different format.”
Who are some of the guys who have yet to really push for starting roles are you most excited to see?
“We’ve got a number of bodies away, as well, and it’s given all of those guys a bit more of an opportunity to step forward and be more of a focus in the session than maybe they had been up until this point. We’ve looked at a back-three, what that means, what we want out of it, whether we might need it. Dylan [Nealis]’s capable of playing as a right wingback in that system and a right-side centerback. We’ve looked at playing a three- or four-man midfield in that system with Luke [Haakenson] slightly to the right of a flatter three in midfield.
“But look, we’ve gone through multiple different sessions, and I’ve tried to offer the players a slightly different diet across the course of this international break. And I think it keeps everyone’s mind fresh and alert. It’s something new to look at. And like I’ve said: if we need it in the future, weve already touched upon it and we’ve already practically seen it, and it shouldn’t taker an awful lot more just to refresh everyone’s mind if indeed it comes to that.
“So it’s been a very very worthwhile period of time: different, but it’s given us a nice lead-in to the next period of the season and we’re all looking forward to it, for sure.”
Have you been able to watch much of the Euro?
[Long answer that I’m not going to transcribe. It’s in the video above]
Midfielder Randall Leal
How was your trip with Costa Rica and how have you felt upon return?
“Fun, fun. Happy to be back. We didn’t have a good result with the national team, but this is good for us to see what we need to work more, and be ready for the Gold Cup.”
Is it difficult to flip between Costa Rica and Nashville stylistically and in terms of situation?
“I think for players, normally. that are called-in for the national team constantly, I think it’s not difficult because we already are accustomed to this kind of thing. It’s a little bit difficult because in the national team we play a different system, than here.
“But I think when we come back from the national team, we have one week to be with the team again, and be ready for Gary, and what Gary wants.”
Have you had a chance to prepare for Red Bulls yet?
“Honestly, I just watched some videos this morning about them, and what we want to play against them. Honestly, I don’t know too much about them, but it’s good to do well against them, and win. It’s the first time that we play against them, and it’s good to make a good step in front of them.”
Have you gotten any plans in terms of potentially being called for the Gold Cup?
“We don’t know yet, you know, because the national team is looking for a new coach. We need to wait and see who will be the next coach for my country. Yeah, it’s just waiting and see what is going to happen in a few weeks.”
Midfielder Alex Muyl
How is the feeling of playing against your childhood club?
“It’s exciting for me. I have a lot of family there, a lot of friends there. So it’s going be exciting, it’s going to be a new experience for me in my career. But at the end of the day, it’s just a game and the most important thing for me is that we get a win.
“I have a lot of great memories there, but as soon as the game starts, I’ll leave all that behind and focus on the task at hand, which is getting three points for Nashville.”
How do you harness some of the feelings of playing against your former club, instead of being distracted by them, etc?
“I mean, it’s hard to say even how I’m going to feel, obviously, because I’ve never done it before. I think that naturally, you feel extra pressure to maybe prove to people, like, ‘look how great, how much in a good place I am,’ or ‘look how great things are for me.’ And then if things aren’t going your way, that can start to eat at you and maybe get in your head.
“But I think for me, know that that’s a possibility and knowing that no one’s really thinking about you that much, no one’s really worried about you – that’s all things in your own head. These are things I’ve thought about and to be honest with you, I think the only thing that really matters is that I’m enjoying myself and having fun.
“I think that anyone who knew me and that maybe I want to show them I’m doing well – if I’m having a good time, then I’m happy, then they see that, and that’s all that matter. I think you get caught up in these outside things, because really you get distracted by outside things more because you’re not OK with yourself internally. For my, it’s just about being comfortable, and being happy inside and knowing that I’m in a place that I’m much happier, and a place that is good for me. That’s kind of what I’ve been thinking about.
“And finally, just being around my family is just going to be a great feeling, and to be playing in front of them again in these times. In this past year, it’s been hard to play in front of family, obviously, because they haven’t been able to travel. So that’s going to be really nice for me.”
What was the feeling of going to the visitors’ locker room when you visited Montreal Impact at Red Bull Arena last year, and what’s it going to be like looking in the stands and seeing your family somewhere other than the home section?
“Yeah, it was super-strange to go into the visitors’ locker room because it’s a building that you know really well, but from a different side. But obviously no one was there last year. But these people watch every game anyway, I talk to them a lot. So being in front of them is going to be great. Being able to catch up with them after the game is going to be amazing.
“It’s nothing too strange, nothing that I think is going to take me out of the element, because these are people who watch every game whether or not they’re there. They’ve actually been able to come down to Nashville and watch a game in person, so it’s not too strange an experience to have them in the stands.”
With all the personnel and coaching turnover in the club, how much of it do you still recognize?
“I think, like you said, the team has changed a lot since I was there. There’s a lot of guys who are no longer there – Aaron through injury, but Brian white’s gone now, Tim Parker got traded, Marc Rzatkowski’s not there, Kaku’s not there – that’s just the few that I can name off the top of my head.
“It’s a really different team, and so for me actually, the guys who are still there, we’re such good friends. We’re so close that it’s going to be – honestly, it’s just going to be a pleasure to see them. I’m going to be really happy to be around them and see them in person.
“In terms of coming up against these players, yeah I know them pretty well and they know me, but anything can happen in the game of football. Hopefully we come out on top. Red Bull Arena’s not an easy place to come to and play. There’s going to be some players on our team that haven’t played against Red Bull. Re Bull loves to play against people that haven’t played against hem before because they think that they don’t know what it’s going to be like to have the intensity and the chaos of the game.
“For me, I think we’re a team that hopefully is set up well to go up against it, and has prepared correctly for them.”
Does experience in the Red Bull system give you an advantage in preparation despite coaching changes?
“I think the Red Bull umbrellas as a whole, you kind of know what they’re about. It’s going to be up-tempo, it’s going to be fast-paced, it’s going to be not a lot of time on the ball, it’s going to be a lot of pressing probably. They’re not going to have too much possession, they’re going to want to catch you in possession. They want you to play through the middle of the field and turn you over and go straight to goal.
“I think everyone kind of knows that about Red Bull. As each coach comes in – I had two coaches at Red Bull – there’s little nuances and little things that they try to specifically focus on. Iu’m not sure what this new manager is focused on and what he’s trying to bring that’s his own flavor. But I think we’re going to be ready for the bigger picture, which is what I described. At home especially, they look to get after teams. That’s something that we’re going to have to be prepared for.”