Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith
“Temperatures have very much jumped here in Nashville, and the guys have responded very well to that. But we’re obviously being mindful of what that means. Moving in the right direction, preparing well for what will be two important games. Obviously, first up: DC in good run of form, and I suspect, looking forward to trying to add another W to the board, and put themselves in a pretty decent spot.
What are the differences to the DC team under Hernán Losada in comparison to what they were in the past few years?
“It looks very much like the stereotypical opportunity: time and ability for the coach to really put his fingerprints on the team, and that’s certainly happened with this group. Early part of the season, it looked very much like the team were getting used to some of the ideas and maybe some of the tactical shifts to the group, but they’ve rounded into form. They are a very energetic, high-pressing, high-energy group. Slowly-but-surely some of the connections and some of the creativity has started to be added to the group, and I’m sure he feels the team are in a very nice place at this point in time just over the halfway point in the season.”
What is Walker Zimmerman’s status?
“Walker will be part of the group at the weekend. He’ll be ready to be part of any selection that I decide upon towards the weekend. He’s moved forward very well, he’s worked extremely hard, and got himself in a very, very good place. Of course, we’re all delighted that he’s back in the fold.”
What sort of threat does Ola Kamara present to your team?
“If you look at their most recent form – as maybe I just touched on – the front line – be it of Kamara, [Paul] Arriola, [Kevin] Paredes, I know they’ve got a couple of injuries – those guys just recently have looked very bright. You know, any front line that’s productive have normally got a combination of a couple of qualities, and this front line have: they’re capable of getting beyond, there’s a bit of pace, there’s some nice ability, and there’s certainly a good amount of strength and competitive nature to the three players that we’ve just spoken about.
But I think just as importantly is the understanding and connection that those guys have. I’m sure Kamara’s benefitting from this group, this team, and the type of run that they’re in, with the goals that he’s scoring. He’s very much reliant – as most forwards are – on service, and with the likes of [Julian] Gressel in this side, you’re always going to get good supply lines. And he’s taken advantage of those right now: he’s in a good run.”
Are there specific lessons that you can take from the way the Miami game resulted in a loss?
“If you look at our away form and our home form, they’re two very different pictures. I’ve said multiple times, we’ve done a very good job of making the most of Titans [Nissan Stadium], the field, the atmosphere, and a team that’s having to travel as we did over the last week.
“If you look at the fact that we played three games in a short period of time and plenty of travel, it was a really tough weekend for us and one of course that we can dissect and look at and try and improve from. But I just don’t think there’s any similarity between what you’re going to see out of the group at the end of a tough travel week and getting back at home in an arena that the guys have looked confident and positive in all season so far.”
Will Alistair Johnston be ready to perform?
“Yeah, he’s another body that’s done a very good job of getting through his work and recovering quicker, maybe, than we thought he would, and he’ll be available for selection as well. Again, it gives me plenty of options, having seen what could be classed as a squad group, or a squad that’s very much competed to a very high level with the omissions of Walker and Alistair, and Jhonder, and guys that have been away on international duty, without Aníbal a particular portion of the last month or so.
“We’re slowly-but-surely rounding into full strength, and it’ll be nice to see those guys back in the group, in and around the team for the weekend. But knowing that the rest of the guys have had a very competitive and decent month or six weeks without them.”
Defender Dan Lovitz
How do you watch games when you’re forced out of the lineup, as was the case over the past couple weeks? Just as a fan? Taking notes to give the guys as feedback?
“Oh man, I don’t do well, I know that. I think I wear all those different hats that you mentioned. You kind of find yourself being a fan at times, you kind of find yourself being a teammate and kind of trying to cheer guys on or yell at guys, or think that something should be happening and it’s so easy – and the one thing that always stays consistent is the game always looks a lot easier when you’re watching it from afar.
“So you’ve got to take that with a grain of salt. It is super-exciting, but it also gives me a ton of anxiety to not be able to affect what’s going on. So like you said, I do stay in touch with a lot of the guys – not to give them feedback or anything, but just to sort of participate in everyone’s thoughts about what the game was like, what people were seeing, and how guys are feeling after it, during it, all that stuff.
“Definitely a unique experience and I try to avoid it as much as possible. I want to be on the field every minute that I possibly can, but it does give you some sort of perspective, I guess that could be the silver lining.”
What do you see out of Taylor Washington’s game as your backup?
“I think it’s one of the best things about sport in general, and especially the way that Gary sets us up: our ideology and philosophy about how we play is there’s certain pressure, but it’s up to everyone to bring the position to life and to add their own spin to it, and their own personal touch. I try to do that as much as possible.
“There’s things that Taylor’s always learning from and looking at when I’m playing the majority of minutes, and it goes both ways. So when Taylor steps in, it’s amazing to watch him drive with the ball and be aggressive, use his pace to get down the sideline and hope that everyone else can keep up with him.
“But it’s just a testament to the group and the way that we go about things. How there isn’t really a set team all the time. For whatever instance or reason, you’ve gotta have guys that can come in and play significant amount of minutes. If you look at the week and the body of work that a lot people wouldn’t consider our starting XI: We have guys like Taylor that are coming in and doing an incredible job, and the team, we don’t skip a beat, and we’re able to continue at a high level. It’s amazing, it’s great to have such good people that work hard and do the right things, be good professionals, and they can come in and really help the team in some difficult places to play.
You’ve seen a lot of DC over the years, what are you seeing that’s different under a new coach?
“Oh man, they’ve always been a mixed bag. They’ve had really great years when they’ve been at the top of the East and they had an identity, and then with the same sort of group of players and coach, definitely for a long time, they had a horrible record but then won the Open Cup that year. So they’ve always been an interesting team to figure out, but the most exciting thing about them is sort of how this new stadium and new energy around the club has sort of galvanized this group. They’ve made a lot of good additions all over the field, and they have their identity.
“Their new coach is very specific about how he wants them to play and how he wants to go about things, which is always helpful in this league. It’s been really interesting to watch them grow throughout the season, and sort of become a very highly competitive team in this league – but certainly in this conference.
We’re going to be rubbing shoulders with them for sure this weekend, but I think we’ll be seeing a lto of them in the standings, and it’ll be a team that we’re going to look to beat as often as possible. We’re going to see them two more times, or one time after this. But it’s a big point swing: we need to approach this game that way to get all three points, because we know they’ll be in the hunt, and they’ll be nipping at our heels throughout the season.
What have you seen out of Paul Arriola, and what sort of matchup does he present as a guy you’ve line up with on the national team?
“Paul’s one of my favorite people and players in the league. I think he’s very underrated at the national team level and in MLS, for sure. Obviously he’s a star, everyone knows that. But he does so many things well that people don’t realize, and he works his butt off. He’s a great guy, honest player, very talented. He’s been electric in this league for a long time now.
“Those are the games you always get up for, it’s the best. It’s always great lining up next to a guy that has to bring out the best in you, and that’s always the best part. One of my favorite parts about transitioning to a defender and a left back is you get to play against such talented guys, and Paul’s one of them. It’s going to be a great matchup; one that I look forward to.
“I think that will represent an important matchup and sort of competition in the game for us to get a foothold in, and one that I look to impose myself on and help the team both sides of the ball, and it’ll be great. But he’s a central factor to what they do and how they’re able to go about their business, and how – especially on the attacking side – he represents the teeth they have and how they’re able to capitalize on a lot of the goods things they create. It’s going to be great; looking forward to it.”