Nashville SC salvaged a late draw thanks to Abu Danladi’s headed goal Wednesday evening. Watch or read the full press conference from head coach Gary Smith, midfielder Aníbal Godoy, and the goal-scorer, forward Abu Danladi here.
Head coach Gary Smith
“Delighted to get something out of the game, for sure, based on the fact that, from my angle, we were dominant in a lot of areas of the game: possession, efforts at goal, creation in general was decent enough to have won the game. Disappointed in the fact that we go behind, and we have to pull ourselves out of the mire again to stay unbeaten at home.
“I think we all felt and knew that at the end of a difficult week – three games in seven or eight days – this one was always gonna be tough. The Montreal group have proven that they really are a more competitive group under Wilfried [Nancy] and they still offer that exciting counterattacking pace that we had to be respectful of.
“Nevertheless, pleased that we earned the point; mixed emotions for the fact that we didn’t earn all three.”
This was Abu Danladi’s longest appearance so far this year. What did you think of his performance and how happy were you for him to get the goal?
“It’s been really difficult with the fact that Jhonder [Cádiz]’s away [with Venezuela in the Copa América], Daniel [Ríos], and Abu, and Dominique [Badji] have had injuries. They’ve been out – Abu and Daniel themselves have been out for a long time, long periods. Medical team have worked extremely hard with them; we’ve even held them back a little bit to make sure that there weren’t any other problems. But what that has meant is we’ve had few options to change and dynamics to change in the game.
“The only concern was how much time did they have in them, how much stress could we put them under? He looked bright, he looked purposeful. There was a change of pace, there was a dynamic edge to the front line when him and Daniel came into it. And I know we changed shape a little towards the end, but certainly Abu was, you know, a real impact in the game. And the goal capped off what was a bright and exciting period of the game for us.”
What conversations have you had to have with Danladi to keep his mindset right as he struggles through injuries?
“Of course. As you say, he’s picked up what we could class as some soft-tissue injuries along the way. He’s finding a lot out about his own body, and he appreciates and understands that because he is that top-end fast-twitch type of player, that he has to do a little bit more in the gym. He has to do a little bit more pre-hab and injury prevention. He’s got his own individual work that we hope long-term puts him in a much better place to be available.
“Because when he’s on the field and when he’s coming into games as we say today – in a game where the energy was very, very low towards the end for Montreal – those individuals can take advantage of it, and he did.”
What change of shape were you thinking when Taylor Washington looked ready to go in, and what went into the decision to switch substitution plans?
“No, at that point in time I was probably going to keep things as they were. I wanted to add some fresh legs and a bit of pace and energy to the group. At that point, I think we were at like 65 minutes: it was a concern that either Daniel or Abu could get that done for us. What it meant was: I had to take a gamble on Abu. We needed two forwards on the field.
“The fact that we ended up switching to a back-three was – strange enough – it was about set pieces, we were very, very aggressive on tonight. In a slightly different, maybe, picture or other game, we might have turned the scales and scored from one of our own dead balls. Walker [Zimmerman]’s presence on the field always gives everyone a lift. He was aggressive, he was front-foot, and when all’s said and done, I think the subs that came into the game – Brian Anunga was very energetic, he gave a different look to midfield for the last period of time, and he himself has been out for a long period.
“So, delighted with the guys that came in. They helped the group through a very difficult period. But as I said at the start, it won’t stop me being disappointed that we haven’t earned all three.”
What does it say about the belief in your attacking players that you were able to find the late equalizer?
“Yeah of course. We’ve been able to recover from some difficult situations already this year, which is great news. I think that’s a sign of character. That’s a sign of internal belief within the group that there’s always something in the game for us. So it’s a great quality to have. But there’s no two ways about it: when you go into the injury period of the game, and you’re a goal behind, the team in front know full-well, as we saw, if they could break the game up – one or two phantom injuries came out of the woodwork, and I’m sure some tired legs that people did have that we saw – but it’s an opportunity to embellish that/ We’ve seen it a million times: it’s gamesmanship, they’re trying to find their way through to a valuable victory. And of course the guys are that much more anxious that we need to find a goal.
“It’s amazing, in the end, where the decisive delivery came from with Jack Maher. With all of the attacking bodies on the field, with all of the talent that you can see around, and Jack Maher delivers the final ball, as I say, to keep our unbeaten run at home going. But I’ve said multiple times; I don’t need to keep saying it: disappointed we didn’t win.”
Is there something you need to do to get better finishing in the first half of games?
“If you look around the group, I think we could lay some fatigue at the feet of some players. CJ Sapong trained once in the three-week international break, and has now given us some terrific minutes. He looked – he played 90 minutes midweek, having worked his socks off for 75 minutes in New York [actually New Jersey!], and he’s done likewise tonight. He’s given us another 75 minutes. That’s a great output. Just if we’re focusing in on one individual, there’s going to be some tired legs. There’s going to be some situations where maybe his footwork could be a little bit sharper, and he knows that too. That can be offered up around the group.
“There were opportunities. Dax [McCarty]’s header that I’ve seen him tuck away before: he’ll be disappointed in that. The good thing is we’re creating those moments. When you look at the fact that we’ve got guys tonight that could come in for a limited period, because they’re working through their… almost recovering process. I can’t put guys like Daniel and Abu in for 45 minutes or an hour. It’s impossible: they just don’t have that in their legs. I’m running a risk that they’ll break down again. So there are limitations to the options we have, as well.
“All told, the positives are: we’ve created 21 efforts at goal again. The positives are: our expected goal-scoring rate has been very, very much higher than Montreal’s tonight. Against a side, by the way, who are a very, very good defensive side: they’ve come on leaps and bounds in the way that they manage games and defend games. There’s a lot of effort gone in their game tonight, which has – in some cases – prevented us from being more clinical in front of goal. And the goalkeeper’s played out of his skin. Young goalkeeper comes in because their first-choice goalkeeper is injured, and he’s had a terrific game. So, there’s all sorts of reasons why we haven’t won the game. I’ll always look at the fact that a set piece goal against us, with the bodies we’ve got, is hard to swallow.”
You mentioned Montreal scoring on a set piece. Jack Maher mentioned Wednesday that he’s still learning to be as strong in the air as Walker Zimmerman. Is that a situation where if he’d been 90-minute ready, Zimmerman may have been able to prevent that one?
“It’s an identical spot – almost identical – that we conceded mid-week. We tried to negate that area. Jack’s doing a fantastic job, I’m delighted with his performance, but he was in that front zone that may well have – with a little bit more experience – might have just taken a little more aggressive step. It’s tough, because he’s got movement in front of him.
“We changed bodies. In fact, CJ was still on at that point, I think he was meant to be marking [Kiki] Struna. It takes a millimeter for a guy of Struna’s size to be getting in front of his marker. Ball was very good again, into a lovely area, timing’s spot-on: that’s why you see goals being scored.
“At the other end of the field, I can remember numerous opportunities where we may well have taken advantage of that and didn’t. That, in itself, is a little bit frustrating.”
How important will Brian Anunga and Matt LaGrassa be with Aníbal Godoy’s international duty coming?
“Honestly, it’s fine lines between those two guys. They’re both competing against – arguably – our most solid foundation in the group with Dax and Aníbal. I know Matt’s got some minutes up in New York, Brian’s coming back from injury, and from my standpoint, there’s some management to be done here in getting these guys up to speed again when there’s little competition outside of first-team games. To your point, knowing that Aníbal will be disappearing in a week’s time, I think both of those guys need to be ready and available for what comes next.
“Dax has got through some tremendous work in the last week. He’s played two 90s and a 65-minute today. You can’t ask for any more from players like that. But those two guys are going to certainly see some minutes in the coming weeks. And they both need to be ready for that.
What did you get out of Luke Haakenson, knowing that he’ll be needed when Randall Leal is absent for Gold Cup, as well?
“I was really pleased with him. Wednesday night, two goals, incredible impact in the game. Couldn’t have asked for anything more from the lad.
Today’s a different challenge: you start the game, you don’t come into a game where legs are weary and there’s a bit more space, and maybe a little bit more time. It’s a completely different picture when you start. There’s different management of the moments that you are put in. And of course tonight, the shape of their group was completely different to Toronto’s, and he’s learning and growing as each minute goes by. But his general play, his positional play – – he was carrying an injury into, when was it, Thursday? He was actually a real doubt for the game, and he pronounced himself fit after training on Friday. So I was a tad concerned that he may not make it, or certainly an hour’s football. Really, really pleased with him. He’s moving on in leaps and bounds, and he will certainly be another individual that needs to fill some shoes as Randall disappears and I’m looking around for the competition in those wide areas.
Midfielder Aníbal Godoy
“It’s difficult game. You know, it’s a tough game against this team. When we play against a team like, they play
five defenders, and they come to drop, they come to close the field, it’s difficult for us. But I think before the goal
that we receive, we were doing well. We create chances, we don’t finish well, but it’s the more important is like create a
chance. This is what we do tonight, and we moved the ball very well, but if we don’t score, it’s so difficult to
win the game.
“But this is not only for the forwards, this is for everybody, everybody in the team, because this about the
team. We need to change the pace and try to looking to Philly.”
How excited are you to play for Panama in Nissan Stadium Wednesday?
“I feel really really, happy because normally when I go to play for my national team – always when I go to play for national team – it’s like proud. You feel like you touch another level, but you touch the sky. It’s not every day you play for national team. But also, I feel more happy because we play here in Nashville: in my house with my people. This is a special game for me.”
What makes it difficult for your team to score in the first half of recent games?
“Like what I said, it’s different if we don’t create chances. I know we want to score: nobody wants to miss the goal. But this is about working. We try to working every day, the finishing, the last pass. Like what you say, it’s tough. It’s tough, it’s difficult for us, because I think if we score the first goal always, we’ll control the game. We try to move the ball better, we have more confidence with the ball, and we created more chance. But we need to improve this part.”
What sort of game should fans expect from Panama’s game here this week?
“For us, and also for Mexico, it’s a friendly, you know? But in this moment, in this kind of football now, we don’t have a ‘friendly’ game. Also against Mexico, it’s a tough game, difficult game. We come to try to improve. We try to prepare, this game for the tournament, for the Gold Cup. I think the more important is the Gold Cup, in this moment.
“After we see what happens after the Gold Cup – because we have also World Cup qualification. With Mexico always it’s tough game, it’s hard game. They come with the Olympics team. I think they prepare for the Olympics, but I think we come also for try to win the game.”
How would you compare your roles between Nashville SC and Panama?
“It’s not the same, because each coach have a different situation, on the field, you know? Gary have different things to do inside the field, and Thomas Christiansen, the coach from Panama, they have different thing, different formation, different role.
“I always, I say, I go for national team or I go for Nashville, I try to work. This is my job in my position: I need to work, I need to work hard. Enough that we see what happen in the formation, you know. But always, I try to give all my effort inside the field.”
How exciting is it for you to see young guys like Jack Maher and Luke Haakenson blossoming for this team?
“I really feel happy for Jack [Maher] and for Luke [Haakenson] and for the other young guy, because they working a lot. They working a lot and they waited for the moment. If you see in each, every training, they’re working hard. They improve every day. This is what you see inside the field. Now Jack and Luke, they have more confidence. We try to give confidence also, because if they don’t have confidence, I think it’s difficult for them to try to do something in the field.
In this moment, if you see all the players when we have sub, when we have one change, the other player comes to the field, and do it the same or better of a job. This is good for us because we have good competition inside the team.”
How do you feel about both games against Canada this week, when changes made the difference in the final moment?
Translated from Spanish: “Well, it’s been difficult the last two games – with the team from Toronto. For us, trying to take matches without allowing goals has been hard. But now, I believe that we’ve improved a lot more. I believe that when we allow a goal, the team shows another reaction. I don’t know why we have to wait to allow a goal to react.
With Panama, how excited are you to represent the people of Nashville here?
Translated from Spanish: “Well, I’m happy that I can be here in Nashville with my national team. And I request the Panamanian fans here in Nashville for their support. As well, to the people of Nashville. For Wednesday, to come it will be beautiful and spectacular.”
Forward Abu Danladi
“I mean, having three games in pretty much a week is a lot. I think the guys put in a lot of really good shifts, and today’s game was a tough game too, like every other game. I think the guys did a really good job. Games like that – it’s kind of hard when we go down. Being able to come in and help the team out – I wanted to get a win but that didn’t happen. We ended up getting one point – I think one point is better than not getting a point at all. I think being in the game and being able to help, as I said. Being in the right place: a good cross from Jack, I was able to get the ball in the net.”
Does scoring as you work back from injury aid your confidence in a major way?
“I mean, every player – injury is part of the game, it’s just being able to come back up from it and make sure. Injury is going to happen, but it’s just about just getting back stronger and doing all the things that you can do off the field, and just making sure prevention is important – and that’s something that I’m trying to do more. I work on that. Being able to play – I enjoy playing, you know. Everyone on the team enjoys playing a game, and not being on the field always sucks, you know? But just, I’m happy to be back playing and being able to enjoy what I like to do.”
You had an earlier couple chances before finally scoring the goal. Were you getting frustrated to not finish them?
“For me – and that’s the thing with soccer – you’ve got to learn from the chances that you get. You’ve gotta keep learning from what you could have done better. For me, I could see the goalkeeper was very active, also there was a lot of space
in-behind on goal.
“The first one, when the goalkeeper saved it, I kind of felt that I needed to be closer to the goal. Because I was farther from the goal for the first time. So, for the second, I kept getting closer to the goal, closer to the goal, and the ball was there. So I pretty much learned from the first one and the second one pretty much worked out well.”
What is the first emotion you feel when the ball goes in?
“It’s always a good feeling, you know? As he said, before that, I had hit – and the goalkeeper had saved – two shots. I tried to score, and that was very frustrating, so the second one, knowing the goalkeeper wasn’t able to save it, and it went in, it was a very good feeling. Also, know that we were in a situation not to lose the game was a great feeling as well.”