Nashville SC

Press conference: Gary Smith and Walker Zimmerman preview Toronto FC

Walker Zimmerman photo from file

Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and defender Walker Zimmerman met with the media to preview their upcoming game against Toronto FC. Watch or read their full comments here.

Head coach Gary Smith

It’s been quite an interesting week being able to watch some of the teams and opponents around us in that playoff picture playing, over the last couple of days. Having been away and got a very good result ourselves, it’s always nice to be able to get a bird’s-eye view of your next opponent without having any games to concentrate on mid-week.

“Group’s been great: worked hard, in great health, in great shape, and looking forward to this second trip in almost a week into Canada.”

Your teams have a track record of success when they face the same team for the third time in a season, what’s behind that?

Yeah, I’m gonna correct you on that, if I may. I’d have you know that the Miami game that we got beat 2-1 down there, but I think you’re right [otherwise], maybe. I do think that you’ve got look back on the games that we had against Toronto last year as well. I think we’re beyond that now, Tim, in terms of what we might be able to achieve through consequential circumstances.

“Toronto have got their own issues and questions to answer on Saturday. And I’m sure with the group of players that they have, they’re very capable of answering some of those questions, from their run so far this year if we allow them to. We have to concentrate on the working and the challenging and it’s not an easy place to go as we found out but, what? a month? six weeks ago? When all’s said and done, cutting to the chase, they have an exceptionally talented group of players who are very, very capable, and I’ve said it multiple times.

The real crux of the matter is for me: are we going to put ourselves in a position to suffocate that talent, or are we going to allow them to express that talent? My hope is it’ll be the first one, otherwise we’re in for a very difficult evening.

How do you balance scouting the teams that you play up next, given that Toronto and Miami played each other this week?

“Yeah it is quite a difficult one. I think most coaches will probably agree that you always tend to get wrapped up in looking at multiple games rather than just focusing in on one, and trying to compartmentalize the next opponent is definitely the challenge. Tuesday night, watching that game, I tried to stay a tad more focused on the Toronto team for obvious reasons. But you just can’t help but look at what are the template of the Miami team who played, how do they play, what were some of the fundamentals of the group as you work towards a very quick turnaround, having to play them next Wednesday.

I have to say, it was a fairly straightforward one to watch giving the sending-off. I actually thought Toronto did a fantastic job in the circumstances, and there were of course lots and lots of emotional issues as well as physical ones to deal with for that group. So lots to come out of it, plenty to contemplate. I think on one hand you’ve got a really, really talented group of players that are just in a bad run of form. But that can turn so quickly, it really can.

“And then you’ve got a group in Miami who didn’t necessarily start as well as they would’ve liked, but are in an absolute tear of form. They’re in a great run putting terrific results together, and when we turn the page after the game on Saturday, I’ll be telling you how well Phil Neville’s done with that group to put them in the position they’re in.”

What can you take from the last match your team played in Toronto?

“Absolutely a better place. I think more than anything, you can start to look at some of even the logistics of going to Canada, dealing with what was our first game across the border not long after some of the covid restrictions had been lifted. Playing at BMO field for the first time, playing against them on their own field for the very first time. There were lots of different things that we can certainly take out of it, but as far as we’re concerned, there are a lot of things that’ve happened in our world since that game: we have back-to-back away wins, we’re on a good run ourselves, we’re in a confident mood, we’re in great health as a group, there’s lots of competition.

“Hence a tremendous amount of work going on day-to-day where players are trying to fight themselves into the group – which can only make for great competition. I suspect the players -and I know for sure we as a staff – have taken a tremendous amount out of the last game against Toronto. So hopefully we can take some advantage in those areas.”

What has changed within this team since Chris Armas was fired? Has the team evolved?

“I’m not so sure ‘evolve.’ I think you’re seeing a situation now where, through necessity with injuries or suspensions or just pure rotation or maybe even giving one or two of the younger players who’ve shown some terrific form an opportunity, you’re starting to see more of a turnover of players and rotation of bodies.

They’re without two of their – what I would suspect they class as – first-choice strikers through injury, which can’t be very helpful. And I’m sure that the coach is looking at it and thinking to himself, ‘ok, how do I put myself in position as a team where we can see some more confidence in the group? Where we can turn a result our way?’

I have to be brutally honest: how it didn’t work out for them on Tuesday night, I still can’t fathom. They did virtually everything to get something out fo the game. But unfortunately that’s the way it goes when you’re in a tough run. You’ve just got to try and do as much as you can as a coach to get the right bodies on the field at the right time that’re gonna be able to give the very best effort. I’m sure he’s working towards that and he’s constantly thinking about that. But that really isn’t my problem. I have to concentrate on what my group’s doing, and to a degree, it shouldn’t really matter to us at the moment who plays for Toronto or how they play.

“I truly couldn’t work out what they’re going to do or who they’re going to play, so therefore, I’ve well and truly stuck to our guns and how we’re going to go about our business.”

How would you define success for a three-game road swing upcoming?

“I think as our form’s turned – and certainly our away form, as we’re running into this glut of away games, that was always the hope – you know, there’s always questions as to what you might be able to achieve away from your home stadium, and it’s been so productive for us. Expectations suddenly get that much higher. We’re all looking around thinking that there’s results available to us.

“But I think it’s easy to forget just how difficult it is to go to anyone’s home field in this league – in whatever the scenario is. And this game at the weekend will be fraught with problems and difficulties: I think mostly based on the quality of our opponent. I would put this Toronto group, technically, in the top four or five in this league. They’re a very, very well-drilled group, they’re a very, very capable group. They’re a very dangerous group that if given the opportunity can make any team look absolutely stupid. And I think that’s something that we have to be fully aware of.

“As far as what I would want out of it: what I always want out of it. I want the group to go into the game with the right mentality, I want them to be prepared and organized for the challenge that they’ve got in front of them, and I want them to give everything they’ve got. And if we do that, and the game doesn’t go our way, there’s no complaints. If we fall short in any of those categories, we’ll walk away and we’ll feel as though we haven’t quite achieved what we’re capable of.

“So it is down to us: if we can get our house in order, we won’t be far away from putting points on the board again.”

Defender Walker Zimmerman

Since you were on international duty for the previous game in Toronto, have you asked your teammates about some of the logistical stuff about a trip to TFC that may not be the same as previous years when you went?

“Honestly, I haven’t talked to them too much about the trip up there last time. I saw the Toronto game at home: that was the day after my baby was born, so I was watching that, screaming at the TV for that 3-2 victory. I did get to see Jack Maher – Milkman’s walking by right now – score his first lucky goal. So I saw that, saw Luke [Haakenson] bag in two goals, but I did get to tune into the game they played this week against Miami, kind of got to get a good eye on them. But certainly feel prepared, but certainly feel prepared having played this group a few times already.”

What do you see in Toronto that makes them more dangerous than a typical team that sits last in the table?

“I think they’re certainly better than the results they’ve had. Even just watching the game on Tuesday, they probably deserved more. It’s an experienced group, and yeah they’re struggling for sure, but any time that you take a team lightly, that’s when you get bit in this league.

“Obviously there’s a lot of history with our playoff against them last year – I think they’ll remember that – and then there’ve been two good games against them: both at our place and then their place earlier this year. It’s an important match for us, we’re in good form right now, and we’ve just got to make sure that we come in with the right approach mentally and play to our ability, and hopefully take the three points.”

How is this team affected when Jozy Altidore is out of the lineup?

“I think Jozy is a special kind of player, where you always have to be aware of him when he’s on the field. He changes the game certainly with his holdup play, with his ability to finish and create. And so when he’s not on the field, I think they do have some smaller forwards. I know [Tsubasa] Endoh went out with an injury midweek, I don’t know if we’ll see maybe a Dom Dwyer come in with his energy, his ability to just be a nuisance up top and cause havoc. Different types of players, but certainly not having Jozy is a big loss for them as he’s a proven goal-scorer in this league.

“All that being said, just means we’re going to have to be focused and organized for maybe some other options they’re going to have to start the game.”

What do you get when you travel with the US and don’t play? Are you rested, have some extra hunger?

“Honestly, I thought I was going to feel more rested, to be honest. I think even just being a part of a process like World Cup Qualifying, you’re so invested in every single game, every single moment, every single training session. Trying to do first-off individually whatever you can to help the team win, and second-off, you always have to be prepared to play at any given moment. So you’re tuned into the moment, your warmups have to be sharp, you’re obviously watching the game very closely to see how you can impact if you do get on.

So I found out when I got back on Thursday early evening, I was like, ‘man, actually I’m pretty mentally, just a little bit tired, despite not having played.’ I think the ability to come in Friday, have a good training session, get the flight to Montreal, get a good night’s sleep, and then obviously I’m a competitor, I want to be out there whenever I can. So it was fun to be able to play again, and it’d been 10 or 12 days since I’d played a game. So I was obviously very ready to come out there and perform. And it was certainly fun.”

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