Nashville SC

Press conference: Gary Smith and Jack Maher preview CF Montreal

Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and defender Jack Maher met with the media before their trip to take on CF Montreal. Watch or read their full comments here.

Head coach Gary Smith

“Slightly different look to the week, given the international absences and the fact that the conditions here have changed quite dramatically – the humidity’s disappeared, and we’re actually back into a wonderful period of the year in terms of weather. Can’t complain about that one little bit. Preparations have been good. Guys that are here are buoyant, confident, and ready to go and challenge one of our playoff contenders in Montreal.”

Do you expect to have the players who participated in World Cup Qualifying available for the weekend?

“All of those guys that have traveled will be available for selection – and it’ll be down to, really, my decision for the group. Given some of the minutes that those guys have played, it may make some sense to consider what the weekend looks like. But what I want to be mindful of going into this game in Montreal is: there are a lot of implications attached to this. Montreal are in a terrific spot. They’ve shown good quality throughout this year, and – I read a couple of articles this week rightly suggesting that they’re a team that’ve been overlooked. Maybe because of the circumstances in the early part of the year and preseason, but this is a well-organized, well-drilled, and competitive side. I certainly won’t be taking any chances with the group and the best team will go out there to get the job done.”

What’s it been like to watch Hany Mukhtar’s incredible season, and what has been different from last year that’s allowed him to excel?

“Last year – as we all saw – there were some periods that I think he found difficult to navigate for a number of different reasons: he picked up a couple of niggly injuries, he himself will be the first one to tell you that the humidity and the heat was not easy to deal with for him, you’ve a change in environment, the move from Europe to America – whilst it sounds wonderful and dreamy, it’s not always that way for a player – different type of environment and competition. And then like I said, there were a number of different reasons that I don’t feel we saw, we certainly didn’t see the individual we expected, even though there were flashes of it, and he was still a big part of the group. What we’re seeing this year is somebody who looks far more confident, far more settled and composed and comfortable in his surrounds. And surrounds are not just, obviously where he lives and the city that he’s in, it’s the team that he’s with, the players that he works with, and the fluidity that they now have.

“When you look at what himself, CJ [Sapong], Randall [Leal], you can bring a couple of those other forwards, [Daniel] Ríos and Jhonder [Cádiz] into the equation, those guys have been terrific this year, and I think they’ve all worked off of one another. And Hany has probably benefitted the most at this point.”

Did you get a chance to watch your four internationals in action, and what did you see from them?

“I’ve seen some of it. I didn’t see a lot of the football early part of last week. I tried to get to watch all of the games to a large degree last night. What I can say, I think, safely, is that Alistair [Johnston]’s had a tremendous 10 days, the results and his standards just continue to improve.

“Aníbal [Godoy] looks like he’ll come back in good shape and confident. xFrom what I saw last night, they were a little bit unfortunate, maybe, not to get the result against Mexico. But they’ll still, I’m sure, be very pleased with that point.

“Randall [Leal]’s inclusion, obviously last night, was far more limited. Seems like their coach got the majority of minutes out of him in the first couple of games. But again, I think they’ll look at it as a success across the period that hey’ve had.

“And of course Walker [Zimmerman] didn’t play any minutes. Which I’m sure will be disappointing for him, but maybe not so much for me.”

How do you see the increments in Aké Loba’s minutes continuing to increase as he gains match fitness with NSC?

“I think the first thing to look at here, Drake, is that CJ and Hany have, I think, been as productive as any front attacking pairing in the league at this point. Certainly in terms of form, they’re both well up there. So you’ve got that competition edge.

“And Aké brings something very, very different. And as a designated player, the future is certainly one to have him involved in. But when someone comes in halfway through a season, you’ve touched on the fitness side of it, and yes, he has improved, but I would question where his match minutes put him, and again, what effectiveness he can have over a prolonged period of time. So that process is still ongoing. As we come into a phase where we go five games – I think it’s: from Toronto, five games in 15 days – we have a very tough schedule, and maybe that presents a better opportunity for him to maybe pick up some of those minutes.

“But I certainly want to be mindful of where he’s at, not risking any serious health issues there, and also making sure that if the guys that are getting the job done at the moment are doing a very good one, then it’ll be foolish of me at this point to break that up. But I also want him in a good position as we go towards the final stages of the season in the running, and towards hopefully the playoffs. So there’s still some work to be done from him and from me, but a lot of that’ll be determined by, possibly, the form of others.”

What was your view of the disciplinary committee ruling that Dax McCarty and Jhonder Cádiz are suspended for a match following a dustup against NYCFC last weekend?

“You’re trying to get me in trouble, innit? You’re trying to lead me down a path here.

“I think I said after the game: I thought the whole incident was avoidable and I’m sure I explained that, and I don’t change my mind on that having seen it again. There wasn’t enough guidance, the situation was created by lack of presence, I felt, by the referee.

“The melee itself has presented one or two other fines and a suspension. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that. I think the one area of disagreement would be the two guys involved. I felt as though Dax’s involvement in the sendings-off on the day was negligible to almost nothing, when you look back. In fact, I thought he did a very good job of keeping his arms by his side when he was pretty much accosted by two or three players. For me, that constitutes a review, and I’m disappointed that they haven’t found a different scenario on that. But you know, we move on, and we’ll make the most of the weekend without him.”

What have you seen from Montreal? Are they different than what you saw in the previous two games, especially now that they’re able to play in Canada?

“First of all, I think Wilfried [Nancy]’s done a terrific job in difficult circumstances. You know: losing Thierry [Henry] so close to the season couldn’t have been easy. Being in Florida couldn’t have been easy. And they’ve done a great job as a group to be competitive and to put themselves in the position they’re in.

‘In terms of your question, I think it would only be natural that a team goes back home, with their home fans behind them, they’re more positive, they’re more aggressive in their approach, they’ve – I think we’ve seen a team that are playing with a bit more attacking freedom, if you like, and not so much that counter-attacking team that was prominent in the early games. And that may well have been for a particular reason for that group.

“But I think they’ve done a very good job, they’ve got the respect of a lot of people. This weekend, they have our respect for sure, and we’ll go there knowing that were in for a very, very tough game. And it’s not just about the football that they’re playing, the style of play that they have: I think they’ve proven that they’re a tough nut to crack. They’ve got a good physical presence throughout the group, they’re very capable from dead balls, and we need to be on the money to get a result, to earn some points there, otherwise we’re going to fall foul of a difficult away result.

“We’ll be ready, but it will be a tough game.”

Defender Jack Maher

As a second-year player, how have you seen your game growing with a bigger role in the team?

“Yeah, I think it’s taken strides from last year when I first started to get minutes to where we are now. And I think a lot of that is due to the guys around me: the coaching staff, and just the club in general. Right here, we have all the pieces that we need to be successful. This is a great place for young players to come and build their own and find their way.”

What do you feel about getting road results after finally earning a win in Atlanta?

“I think that we have been playing the same way, but being able to get a result in any away game is extremely, extremely valuable and difficult. I think that whenever – Gary talks about it all the time – finding ways to get points, whether it’s one, whether it’s three, whenever we go to these away games is very valuable and very difficult to do. A lot of the guys in the locker room say how valuable and how difficult going to a hostile environment like Atlanta really is. For us to get three points and a win, I think, is massive, and will go a long way for us at the end of the season.”

What have you seen out of the CF Montreal team, particularly on the front line?

“Yeah, these guys are very good. They’re gifted with a lot of different qualities, and I think one thing that we’ve really got to be cognizant of is just the transition play. These guys are very athletic, very quick, and can strike in a hurry. So we’re definitely going to be prepared and be on the front foot for as much of the game as we can.”

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