Nashville SC

Press conference: Gary Smith, Jack Maher, and Tah Brian Anunga preview Atlanta United

Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and two of his young players sat down with the media Tuesday to preview their team’s match against Atlanta United. Watch or read their full comments here:

Head coach Gary Smith

“As you can imagine, the guys are in a buoyant and confident mood: good victory at the weekend, good performance. And as you say, a slightly shorter turnaround, and hopefully those emotions are fresh in everyone’s mind, and we can attack this rivalry game against Atlanta in the right physical and emotional shape.”

How do you prepare for an Atlanta team that has such an injury situation that you don’t even know who’ll be available?

“Yeah, it’s a really difficult one. I thin kwe’re moving into a phase of the season where a lot of teams are going to be utilizing their roster and their squad. Lots and lots of players in each group that are off to Gold Cup or otherwise. Yeah, it’s going to be very difficult to determine who’s going to be out on the field.

“But what I do know is: there’s a style and a vein that runs through that Atlanta group that Gabriel [Heinze]’s developing more and more over a period of time: their possession stats are huge, they’ve got some very good technicians, they’ve still got some really talented players available to step out on the field. I think what none of us are going to over look is that, with such a rival as Atlanta, and some of the tough games that we’ve already encountered with them, we’d be incredibly foolish to think that whoever’s missing, it’s going to be an easy game by any stretch.”

Does the closeness of this game to your previous one against Atlanta affect your preparation?

“I think there’ll be some qualities that are fresh in our mind. I think likewise that that will happen to them: they’ll be very clear and concise on what we’re about, what we’re capable of, some of the problems that they ran into. And we’ve looked at one or two things this morning that could certainly be thrown at us on Thursday night.

“But I do also think that, given our home form, the way that the guys have applied themselves in front of our home crowd, we need to use that energy, we need to use that confidence and make sure that we’re on the front foot, and we take the game to Atlanta. It’s a tough game: when you look at it on the schedule, it’s always going to be one of those fixtures that are inspiring as you see it and as you work towards it. But we’re in good shape and we’re looking forward to Thursday, given our form on the spin.”

What are the advantages of the back-three system that you used Saturday?

“Listen, we played against a diamond [midfield] for the first time up in New York as a team, and we encountered some difficulties. That could have been after the three-week break, it could have been multiple things, away from home. But I just felt as though there were some natural positions and outlets for our group that would possibly enable us to – of course in the right circumstances – to control the game a little bit more, and be a bit more of a threat. As much as being a difficult team to play against, we’re at home, we’re very, very keep to get ourselves in front, and all of those things came together on the night.

“That’s testimony to players, and their workload, the information they took on-board. But it really is – any system – is really down to the individuals that apply themselves and try to carry out that plan. You can be as intricate as you want to be with a plan or a system. If the players don’t apply themselves, it’s a waste of time. So it’s down to the players.”

What strides have you seen – or not seen – from the team in finishing going forward?

“I think there’s always room for improvement, Tim. We’re far more comfortable, if you like, in our own skin in terms of creation and the way that we’ve gone about our business in an attacking sense. I think we’ve looked far more cutting-edge, bright, purposeful than we did for good stretches last year. I think most coaches would agree that they’d much rather bew making the chances and missing them than not creating them at all. However, it is always a tad disappointing that life’s not a little bit simpler and more comfortable in some of the games that we play.

“But if you look at a game like the weekend against Philadelphia – who are themselves a top team, terrific record, could be classed certainly as the most consistent team in MLS – I thought both sides of the ball we did a very good job. We were able to limit them to few moments, and we were able to create and carve out enough, really, to win the game and feel as though we should have won it.

“I also think we had a couple of real nice penalty shouts turned down, and on another day, who knows? It could have been a little more comfortable than we saw at the weekend.”

Defender Jack Maher

How excited are you to return from loan and step right into such a big role?

“I think it’s a really good testament to the club and the organization and the plan they had for me. I think being able to come back and make an impact with the group that we have, it’s a tough thing to do. We got – from Man 1 to Man 30 – this is a competitive roster, and one that I’m just happy to be a part of right now.”

How did playing in a system that asked you to get as many touches as you did with San Diego allow you to develop?

“I think one of the big things, especially at the professional level, is just the different pictures: that whenever you get the ball, you know exactly Option A, Option B, Option C. I think just being able to have these reps in-game and at a very good club in San Diego, I think it makes all the difference really.”

How do you feel about how you’ve adapted to this level?

“I absolutely feel more comfortable this year compared to last. I think just really having the ability to get games, and having more trust and confidence. And this really just comes with time. Gary has talked about it from Day One: getting experience, and not onyl getting experience, but getting the trust of the players around you. That just takes time.

“I think Alistair was able to step in and play extremely well whenever he got in, and I was just trying to follow his lead, really.”

How has chemistry been building with new faces in the absence of Johnston and Zimmerman on the backline as they head to Gold Cup?

“I think the chemistry’s been going really well. I think whoever ends up getting the opportunity to play in the back with us, I know will step in and do a really good job. That’s going back to the camaraderie and sheer talent level of this group. Regardless of who ends up making the start with us, I know they’re going to be ready, and I know that, at the end of the day, they’re going to get the job done.”

Midfielder Tah Brian Anunga

“The preparation has been good. The team is in a good spirit after coming from a win against Philly. I’m sure we are all feeling good, you know? We’re ready to have a good next game.”

What did you get a chance to see from the last game against Atlanta United, particularly from a different perspective (out with injury) than you might get when you’re on the gameday roster for the match?

“Obviously, they’re a very exciting team to play against. They like to attack, attack: from what I saw, they just keep attacking the whole game. Even if they’re 2-0 up, 3-0 up, I don’t know if anything has changed with the way they approach the game, but they have a very attacking mindset. So they just love to attack, they like to play exciting football.”

How do you see your role filling in for Aníbal Godoy while he’s away with Gold Cup duty?

“I mean, Godoy’s like a leader on the team: we all learn from him trying to pick up the good stuff he is doing. I don’t know if I’m filling in for him: we have a lot of midfielders, it’s up to the coach to decide who is going to fill in for Godoy. It depends on every match, you know? So we just wait and see what the formation is going to be against Atlanta United. If my name is called up, I’m always ready to give everything for the team.”

Your Charleston Battery team was the USL partner for Atlanta in their early days. What did you get to learn about the way that club is run, or get to know any of the players who have move up to the senior team now?

“Yeah, I got to play a lot with either Miles Robinson or whoever was loaned down in Charleston. You know, Atlanta United plays the same way, and they have a style of play which is playing out of the back and possession: it’s a possession team. You all have seen it, I don’t think there’s anything that I’ve said that you guys haven’t seen. They just play the same way and they try to bring that up with the academy and all the guys they try to develop that in that system, and that’s just how they play.”

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