Nashville SC

Press conference: Gary Smith and Joe Willis after a point in Chicago

Joe Willis photo from file

Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and goalkeeper Joe Willis met with the media after a scoreless draw in the Windy City. Watch or ready their full comments here.

Head Coach Gary Smith

“Well, I have to say first and foremost that anyone that was fortunate enough – or unfortunate enough – to get close to the field would have understood that the surface was incredibly difficult after the American football that was played only yesterday. Both sides had a lot of difficulty in trying to manage the ball, they did it slightly better than us, but in all honesty, chances were few and far between for both groups. It was always going to be a game of character and blue-collar work. And we do that well. The point out of today’s game, the clean sheet at the end of a long, long road spell here is something that I’m very proud of for the guys, for the rotation in the group. Extremely pleased to come out unbeaten and move on to Wednesday’s game, which will be a really tough one, of course, against Orlando.”

Were CJ Sapong’s and Hany Mukhtar’s absences rotation decisions or more?

“I’d anticipated that the field might be difficult. I was really uncertain as to what degree, and even I was shocked at the state of it when we got on the sideline. CJ was more a case of giving a flat-out rest to. I think he needed it: he’s been carrying a few lumps and bumps. Hany was in good-enough condition, obviously, to be part of this, and had the field been in better shape, I might have risked hm. But I just wasn’t prepared to put him into that situation, knowing that all the qualities he has were really not going to be seen on that field. So plenty of other guys that got a chance, and great opportunities, some more minutes for some of the forwards that haven’t seen as many, and those guys put in a sterling effort.”

What were the specific issues with the field? Was it the torn turf, was it the paint? What was particularly difficult to deal with? Was it worse than some of the worst football-affected surfaces you’ve dealt with at Nissan Stadium?

“I’ve got to say, that’s the worst grass field I’ve been on in a long, long time at this level. the lines are not a problem, they’re just acoustically bad. They don’t look great, but it obviously gives you a very strange dynamic of the field. It was the quality of the surface that was most difficult to deal with. The grass was too long, I’m guessing that it was left that way to try and cover up some abnormalities on the surface. There were huge chunks out of it – you could see when the ball moved that it was very unnatural. Personally, I thought it was underwatered, it was firm, it was lively, and it wasn’t helped by quite a strong breeze that was whipping around the stadium.

All-in-all, an extremely difficult set of circumstances to try and play an attractive game of soccer on. What we know is that if you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to be able to adapt though, and today we’ve adapted in the right way, and we’ve got something out of it when a lot of teams, I think, would’ve come here and folded.”

What did you think of the performances of the guys who stepped in for Sapong and Mukhtar, particularly Jhonder Cádiz and Aké Loba?

“Terrific. Listen: these guys need it, it is for sure. CJ and Hany have been on a wonderful run of form, so it’s very, very difficult to leave those guys out of the group, because you realize what they give everyone, and what they give the group. I thought Jhonder’s efforts were terrific, he had a real go for an hour, bearing in mind he’s not seen the field from the start for a good while. I thought his attitude on Wednesday night gave him the nod, and got him in front of a couple of others who deserved it too. Daniel Ríos can be very disappointed that he didn’t start the game – he’s been great for us in three or four starts prior to Wednesday, but I just had a feeling that Jhonder might give us a little something – relationship with Randall [Leal]’s a very good one, the pair of them were wonderful.

“And then of course, Aké gets more minutes than he has done in a long while, and he’s still making that transition – not just physically, but he’s also making a transition with the group. And whilst the surface was not ideal for anyone, I thought his attitude and the way he went about his business was wonderful for the group.”

what do you see as the objective over the next stretch of games now that you’ve hit the 45-point mark?

“The objective is to make sure mathematically that we’re above that line. I truly never take any game for granted – whatever position you’re in in this league. Every single team you run into has enough quality to embarrass you if you’re not in the right place mentally or physically. We need the mathematical points to be in the playoffs. Revs are the only one that have done it, I believe, at this point.

“Whatever position we’re in, once we achieve that at the end of the season, hopefully one that’s seen some development in the group and we finish slightly higher than we did last year. At the moment, we’re in a decent spot. If you want me to chunk it down, we have two of the best teams – certainly two of the most capable teams – in the league in our next two games at the back-end of a very, very tough run. We’ve a two-day turnaround, Orlando at home. It’ll be wonderful to get back to Nissan Stadium where we’ve shown some excellent form, and then of course up to New York for a really, really tough encounter against New York City.

“So we finish this stint off of five away in six, and then we get an international break to look at the guys and see where they’re at – hopefully get some recovery, and then enter into the final stretch which may well determine – I hope it determines – the position we’re going to be in.”

Do you feel like this game presented evidence of the idea that Nashville SC plays to the level of its opponent? What’s the lesson if not?

“Claudio, the lesson is this: just have a better pitch. I feel both teams would’ve licked their lips at playing against each other. We’ve scored five goals in mid-week away from home. I think this group’s happy to go on attack. A plus-20 goal differential: we’re happy to go and be creative, we’re evolving very well.

“Today was not their day, it just wasn’t. Circumstances were just not right. The conditions were not good. There’s lots and lots of things to evaluate in this game, and in many ways, today was common-sense football. If we’d have tried to be over-elaborate, play through the third too often, ask too many questions of the guys on the diabolical surface, we might’ve lost the game.

“And this is a good [Chicago] team – a very good team. They can look around their group: [Gastón] Giménez, [Alvaro] Medrán, [Robert] Berić, these guys are top-top-class players. I’m not taking any liberties with this team; I’m not taking any liberties with my team. We certainly weren’t taking any liberties with anyone else’s team, and this result will stand us in very, very good stead. We have to go away somewhere probably in a vital moment, we can refer back to this, and we can look at what we achieved here. We can say, ‘you know what, we might need a little bit more of that again.'”

What are you expecting out of Orlando Wednesday, and what is the challenge of the short turnaround?

“Very, very difficult; the schedule’s not been kind. The fact that CJ and Hany have had a good rest will be helpful. I fully expect – unless there’s some real difficulties – that we rotate them back into the group. I tried to do my best with some of the other guys: we’ve got lots of lads that have done a very very good job over the course of the season who’re ready, are willing. We’ll see how the rest of the players recover in the next 24-48 hours, and we’ll be ready.

“What we know is that we’re competing against a side that are very much capable of being in top-two, -three. No two ways about it. They were beaten very narrowly, of course, yesterday, in a tough encounter in New England, which I’m sure they’ve taken great confidence from even though they’ve lost the fixture. Played well, missed a penalty. The team that we’re going to play have got a lot of fight, a lot of fight. And they certainly won’t want us stretching away from them, and they’ll come to our place knowing that in our last running together, there was very little to choose between the groups. So, next two games will be really, really tough. Probably as tough as they get.”

Goalkeeper Joe Willis

What is it that allows you lock in and make a crucial play near the end after not having a ton to do over the course of the contest?

“It’s just trying to stay focused and keep the end goal in sight. It wasn’t a great game for us, the conditions weren’t great, we didn’t play great. But we had a good opportunity to get a point on the road, so keeping that in mind, you have to play the 90 minutes out. I knew at some point I would be called on, and was able to make the play.”

How did you feel the more direct style worked, and was it the field conditions that made that necessary?

“Yeah, I think it was very necessary to be honest. In the past few weeks – especially the Miami game – I thought we played incredible soccer. We were moving the ball really well and creating a lot of chances. And to be fair, the beginning of the game we tried to do it a little bit. The ball just kept bouncing around, getting stuck, what-have-you. So we kind of had to adjust our gameplan: sitting back a little bit deeper, absorbing pressure, and hitting counter-attacks is something that we’re also familiar with, so it’s nice to have multiple tools in your arsenal. So that’s what we relied on today.”

How do you prepare for Orlando with a two-day turnaround?

“We’re looking forward to being at home. We don’t have a lot of home games left, so we need to pick up points there, and make these games count. Especially against a team that’s in a playoff spot, and playoff contention.

“So yeah, it’ll be a quick turnaround. It’s nice to have a day game [against Chicago] for that, so it’ll give us a little extra time. But yeah, we’ll enjoy getting this point right now. Honestly, within the next few hours, our focus is turning to Orlando.”

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