Nashville SC

Press conference: Gary Smith, Hany Mukhtar, and Jalil Anibaba after Nashville SC 2-2 Atlanta United

Gary Smith and his two goal-scorers met with the media after drawing Atlanta United. Watch or read their full comments here.

“I suspect you could all imagine my frustration at conceding two set-piece goals. Aside that, I felt as though the performance was very competitive. On the back of a good result against Philadelphia, there was some good confidence in the group, there were some nice opportunities, and obviously we trod the line of getting that all-important third goal. It looked like the VAR got the decisions right, which is a little disappointing, but you know, after going a goal down, the response was incredibly good. I have to say at 2-1 early in that second period, and then mounting some really good pressure, I couldn’t see anything but a win from the group.

“The real disappointment is nothing to do with how the guys have gone about their business tonight: created chances, have been pretty good with the ball in a rivalry game, dominated in most areas. Did-in with dead balls. Can’t deal with dead balls, can’t deal with corners, can’t deal with free kicks coming in from wide areas. Then there’s a serious problem, and it’s not been an achilles heel of ours for a long, long time. But certainly proven to be a real disappointment tonight.”

What’s behind these goals, since they haven’t been an issue before?

“I don’t base anything on luck,. I think there’s some disappointing defending. There may have been situations where guys were a tad more focused, sensed a little bit more danger. I don’t think the deliveries or anything that anyone’s throwing at us is any different. There’s certainly a big difference when Walker’s in the group. He of course is very aggressive aerially. But I do think maybe there’s a little lack of guidance and belief when he’s not around. But he ain’t gonna be around: I’m not gonna be able to magic him back here, so we have to find a solution.

“Tonight was hugely disappointing. Honestly/ I can’t tell you how deeply disappointed I am – probably more so than I’ve ever been since I’ve been here. Listen, we haven’t lost, I’m absolutely delighted with the way the guys have gone about their business. I said at the start, we’ve shown some very good form here, we’ve shown great character here when we’ve gone a goal down, to a team that you would suspect would maintain possession in their stats – even missing bodies, they’ve got a very talented group still on the field.

“I’m just absolutely flattened by our inability to deal with two dead balls. That’s it.”

What was behind the decision to stick with a back three, and how did you think the team performed in that shape?

“Listen, I truly felt that the weekend’s performance gave us some nice dimensions. I honestly felt that, against Philadelphia, and the way that they played and personnel, and how we were going to go about our business, it might help us. I think it did in certain areas of the game.

“But tonight, a lot of what Atlanta can achieve and create from, are from some very, very aggressive wingback areas, I would say. They play with this hybrid scenario, Sosa is a midfielder and a centerback, and it gives them some nice flexibility. But what you know out of that is that the two wide players – the fullbacks – become very aggressive. And the stats tell us that Lennon is a real source of creativity. We were able to really, I thought, extinguish that, and create enough of our own.

“They’ve had two shots on goal. Two. And scored two goals.”

How did you think Alex Muyl played as a starting wingback after coming on as a sub last week?

“The big difference from this game to Philadelphia was the shape that Atlanta played. I always felt that the two wide players – fullbacks, wingbacks, whatever you want to call them – were going to cancel each other out a little bit, and if you looked at the way that the game went, that’s what happened. We weren’t able to get Lovitz in the game much, they weren’t able to get Lennon in the game. But there were many other areas I thought we’d take advantage, and we did for good portions of the game.

“Alex’s role when he came on gave us a little more of an aggressive look. He was positive, he’s a natural wide player, wants to get forward with great energy, and he’s a very robust individual. So I didn’t see any problems there. I mean the reason for the change really was to try and get an attacker on there, and really get at an area that they were lacking. It didn’t work out that way in the final exchanges, and I have to look at maybe some of the choices that I made, and maybe a bit of a situation where some fluidity was lost in our attacking play, but what I wanted to try and achieve then was to get as many goal-scoring players on the field as possible in the hope in that final 10 minutes that one of them would smell an opportunity and recover the game for us.”

Does a comeback draw provide some silver linings? Or is this one just a disappointment to not earn the win?

“I honestly think it’s mixed emotions, of course. We conceded very, very few goals here last year. But if you look back at our style of play in the early stages, there was a lot of real concern about offering up too much to other teams and finding a foundation, which everyone saw – and it served us well.

“I’m extremely encouraged by our attacking play: Hany, Randall, and CJ were a constant threat tonight. Had some really nice opportunities – didn’t always find the final effort at goal that was gonna be instrumental, but still, the ability that they have, and offered up some more freedom has given them the chance now to really express themselves. So I’m comfortable with that.

“Look, let’s be honest tonight: let’s take out the two set pieces, and it’s a dominant display. They have one free kick in the early exchanges that of course is not dealt with at-all well, and a corner, late-on into the final third of the game. Aside that, I don’t remember Joe being tested. I really don’t – I don’t even remember thinking, ‘oh, they’re building pressure here, I can feel a different sort of mentality about them.’ I don’t know what to say to you, Gentry. All I can tell you is this: in my experience, when teams concede goals, there’s an underlying feel to that, and a reason. That can be maybe a shift in mentality to be more creative. It can be personnel, of course. It can be flippancy about the second year in the league. I can tell you flat-out it’s not the third one. There’s no issues or problems with the group in terms of their mentality and character as you rightly pointed out.

“You may think I’m sitting here being a little bit dour, and down and disappointed about still being undefeated at home. But as I’ve said to the guys in there: I think we’ve squandered three, four, five points here – minimum. And if you want to draw the line and set your standards at, ‘OK, we’re going to be competitive,’ well everyone knows we’re going to be competitive. I don’t think there’s a team in the league that doesn’t expect us to be competitive. But if you set your standards at being a top-six team, challenging – we could have gone second [in the table] tonight. That disappoints me. It disappoints me not in the display, but in the way we dealt with dead-ball situations. It’s a small area of the game, but it’s so valuable.”

What is your excitement level about new signing Aké Loba?

“I mean look, first and foremost, he’s obviously the most-marquee signing that we’ve had in our very short history. I’ve got to say, this lad has some serious ability. Eye for goal, explosive pace, and probably a lot of qualities that would put him forward into the top brackerts of attacking players in this league.

“His exploits in Liga MX have been terrific, and he’s still at a very good age to continue his development and add what I believe to be a really important dynamic to this team. And if you look at one or two of the things that have gone on tonight, there is a difference between being creative and scoring goals. And the ones who actually put it in the back of the net are worth a lot of money.”

This appeared to be a strong performance for Brian Anunga, what did you think of his performance?

“Look, everyone’s going to wake up in the morning, and they’re going to look at my interview, and they’re going to go, ‘why has he been such a grouch?’ You’re absolutely right: there’s some really, really good displays out there tonight, which makes it all the more disappointing. Brian was terrific. Second start – first 90 minutes in a good while – looked strong, looked assured in the midfield area there.

“And there were multiple other displays. I mean look: Jalil’s started and played his first 90 minutes for the group this year, and he’s not seen a lot of time on the field, and he shows a sort of character and constitution that you would expect from such a senior pro as he is, to get us back on level terms. I’ve seen many a player who’s been in the background, overlooked, and disappointed beyond belief about their lack of inclusion, but when they’re called upon, they are so flat. There’s no raising them. This guy’s got a different personality. He’s a good pro, he’s a great teammate, and when called upon, he was there for everyone, and he performed very very well tonight.

“I could go on and on: there were some great individual performances. So I’m ever so pleased about that. And I wouldn’t want you to walk away and think when I don’t win, I’m like a spoiled child: ‘we deserved to win, so I’m off.’ It’s not that. You understand the frustration. We’ve been very, very good tonight in a lot of areas, and I’ve been really, really pleased with a lot of displays, but we still haven’t come away with all three points.

“I looked at their expected goal tally, which is 0.3, and they scored two goals. So you can’t help me from being a little dejected about that.”

Midfielder Hany Mukhtar

“Of course we are kind of disappointed. We wanted the win, but we can take a lot of good things out of these games. Of course, we have to handle set pieces better.”

How frustrating was it to put the ball in the net a couple more times but have what might have felt like game-sealing or game-winning goals ruled out by offside calls?

“Yeah of course, it was disappointed. We scored the offside goal, very unlucky. I thin kif we would go in the lead 3-1, it’s probably the game would be almost over. That’s the beauty of the game: you never know what’s going to happen, and we need to do better the next game.”

How does it feel knowing that you could have taken all three points but fell short – as has happened a couple other times here?

“Obviously when we are playing at home in general, our goal is to win the game: that’s our objective. But yeah, if we review the last games, especially at home where we gave some points away, for sure there were the opportunities to win that game. We just need to work hard, do better in training. Set pieces is a lot about mentality, and we need to be strong than the opponent: willing to head the ball away or kick the ball away, and we need to do better.”

After the Atlanta game on the road was a 2-2 draw that may have felt like a victory, is this the opposite?

“Yeah for sure, we go out of that game and think we lost two points, that’s for sure. And yeah, there, when you come back from 2-0 down and draw, then of course it feels like victory. In the end, it’s a point. I heard that we are like 10 games unbeaten at home, so it’s of course a good thing, but I think we are definitely strong enough to win our home games.”

Did this feel like a physical match more than previous Atlanta contests?

“I personally like to play against Atlanta. You have a lot of 1v1 duels, and they man-mark almost all over the pitch. It’s not nice for everyone, because you have every time a straight 1v1 duel and you have to win it, obviously everyone sees in the stadium. But for me, it’s good, because if you win your 1v1, do well, you have the pitch is open, and you have somewhere else a 2v1 and you can make a play or create a very good chance to score a goal. So I like playing against them. Of course, they are very physical because if you have the ball all over the pitch 1v1 duels will be physical, and that’s how they play. But I think it fits us. We created enough chances to win that game.

Defender Jalil Anibaba

“You know, it’s a summer stretch: everyone’s working hard, everyone’s fighting for points. It’s a rivalry match for us, and everybody put everything they had into the game. Obviously you want to come away with three when you’re at home, but there’s still a lot of positives to draw from tonight.”

What was behind the struggle on set-piece defense?

“We’ve just got to keep working. Like I said: we’re in the summer stretch. You’ve gotta keep working, we’ve gotta stay together as a team. There are always aspects that we need to improve on, and there are always going to be aspects that we do well at. Obviously, there are things that we need to work on, but there are also things that we do very, very well. We’re still undefeated at home, we know very well what we’re good at, we know what we need to improve on.”

What did you see on your goal, which didn’t appear to be a particularly complicated set piece?

“It was literally right off the training pitch. We work on those things a lot, we make sure we’re in the right spots a lot. To the last point, we work on those things a lot, both offensively and defensively. It was just a matter of literally a perfect ball: you could see on the replay that I barely had to move, just had to react to the ball and make sure I kept it low and make sure it hit the back of the net.

“Obviously, I was pleased. But not losing sight of the fact that it was just the equalizer.”

How do you feel about having dropped points at home, and what is the team’s response?

“Yeah, I mean, it’s true. Obviously this league is tough: anyone can be anyone or anyone can lose to anyone on a given night. Oftentimes at the end of the season or down the stretch, you look back at results that you coulds have picked up three or picked up one. Hopefully, we’re not in that position come November or October.

“So we just need to keep working, keep positive, and be more focused on the details. But at the same time, too: understand if you pick up points along the way – meaning games that you’re supposed to win at least if you tie them, you’re typically in a decent spot in the table to fight for what you deserve come late in the season. So just as long as we keep things in perspective, keep working hard, and keep trying to improve week-in and week-out, we can be fine.”

How do you reconcile a largely positive performance on defense with giving up two goals from set pieces?

“Yeah, I mean conceding two goals is definitely a negative, but scoring two goals is a positive. We walk away with a tie; it’s not the end of the world. I think the way we balance those things out is it makes it pretty easy to understand where we could have won this game, and how we could have won this game.

“Sometimes you’re kind of sitting after a result where you feel a little bit disadvantaged or what have you: you feel confused trying to figure out exactly what went wrong. But it’s pretty clear tonight and I think that makes it easy for us to nail it in and be better.”

Did you feel a goal for yourself coming?

“It’s funny you ask that: before the game, literally we’re walking out to the tunnel and I told Ríos that I’m going to score tonight. I was kind of just joking around in practice yesterday when we were working on set pieces that I was going to score. But you know, I’ve played a lot of games in this league and I haven’t scored very many goals, so I guess it just came to fruition tonight. But I think as a defender, your individual performance, you can only really measure it with the amount of goals that you concede, so I think through the run of play collectively, we were very sound defensively. But at the end of the day, if they concede two goals defensively as a unit, there are things that we need to do better, I think.

“What’s good about tonight is we were creating umpteen chances on their goal. I think as much as we can be critical on the defensive side and making sure that we hammer in the details to make sure that we turn these one-pointers into three-pointers, we can be critical on our offensive side as well, simply because we’re getting in great spots, we’re getting opportunities to score goals. It’s just an inch here or an inch there and we win this game 4-2 or 5-2, probably.”

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