Head coach Gary Smith
“It’s not very often we get these opportunities to maybe have a bit of downtime and recover and regroup. I think the international window has given a majority of players a nice balance between a bit of refreshment physically and mentally, but also some much-needed work on the training field as we plan for what will be another very intense five games in 15 days against some top opposition.
“So it’s been a good balance, and the players look in a good place for the time that they’ve had to recover. And I hope the result of that will be seen at the weekend.”
What do you prioritize when you have this length of a break? Is it rest, or reinforcing some of the team’s priorities on the field?
“To be honest, I think it’s a bit of both. You know, this time around – probably more so than any other time that I’ve been here – I felt as though the guys, No. 1, needed a break. Secondly, I’d set a bit of a challenge for the group, and those guys, in fact all of the fellas, had done an incredible job of hitting those targets, points-wise, and maintaining a level and a standard of play to keep us in a very good position. So there was a bit of a reward thrown in there as well.
“I think it’s been hugely helpful to get away from the training ground for three or four days after that final game in New York. And seeing everyone come back in, in a much brighter and more positive and energetic disposition, if you like, has meant that the work that we’ve been able to get through has been that much more productive. You see a few cobwebs in the first couple of days, but still plenty of good work to be achieved.
“And I think as I look back from the body of work that we’ve been able to cover, there will be some things in there that we can reinforce that we’ve been doing well – and I think there’s also been some areas of our game that have got just a few frayed edges to them. You get that sometimes when you’re playing so much, and you’re unable to really work that out in some more practical surroundings on the training field.”
What were you able to do during the break? Did you manage to disconnect just a bit?
“This time of year, it’s incredibly difficult to switch off completely, with six games to go and such a challenging schedule of away games in this latter part of the season – and also playing against some of the top teams now to see the schedule out. So it’s not easy. However, there were a couple of days certainly straight after the New York game that I was able to literally just try and shut the curtains and sit in a dark room and forget about everything, really: just make sure that mentally, I’m having some downtime, around the family. Sometimes just doing normal things, you know, getting out and having a bite to eat and even spent some much-needed social time with my wife – which is always very nice. She’s always complaining about the lack of time that I actually spend around her.
“So it was lovely to be able to go out and have a drink, and just have a very normal period of time. And then I started to get myself back together again for what is going to be a very exciting and interesting run-in.”
Did you watch the players on international duty, and do you expect to have them involved in DC this weekend?
“I didn’t see the first round of games, I have to admit. My boy had a game and it collided with the whole schedule that was on that day. So I got to see the other games. Really pleasing, obviously to see Aníbal [Godoy] and Walker [Zimmerman] at the center circle with the armbands on in the game out in Panama. Alistair [Johnston]’s had another terrific round of qualifiers. Randall [Leal] hasn’t played as much.
“All-in-all, I think for the guys, there’ll be obviously some mixed feelings on results and how this is all mapped out for them. But we’ll get the data back slowly in the next 24 hours. It’s always difficult to try and work out physically where those guys are at. The fact that Alistair’s played three games in a short space of time again is obviously to see. But it’s not until you get their actual data back that you can tell how much stress their bodies have been under in those games. And Alistair’s a young man: he’s, I’m sure, high as a kite in the moment at the way things are going for him and his country. So he’ll be in a very positive mood, and I’m sure wanting to be involved – and he’s of course a big part of what we are at the moment.
“But I think the guys come back into town today. We’ll evaluate their mental and physical position, and then I’ll make some choices from there. But the guys that have been here worked hard, got some rest, they’re ready to go, they’re rearing to go, so there’s some exciting and some important decisions to make.”
What sort of value does the MLS Cup playoff experience of a guy like CJ Sapong bring as you approach the postseason?
“I think that’s the best thing, Drake: nobody’s taking anything for granted here. We play some of the top sides in this run-in. I’ve mentioned it two or three times, and for a particular reason. We go to DC, we go to Philly, we play Orlando, New York [Red Bulls] are in fantastic form. These are tough, tough games, and we’ve got four out of the next six away from home again. So there is no given, especially in this Eastern Conference this year more than any other that I’ve seen.
“So No. 1, we have to get the right balance of quality play on the field, of professional play on the field, and obviously those individuals will determine whether we add points to the board, and we can confirm our spot in the postseason. Once we’ve done that, the question I think you’re asking is: what and how will CJ enhance the group, and what will he be able to give us?
“Well, I think we’ve been able to see over the course of this 28 games that we’ve already had that he’s been a wonderful addition to the group. Really good tallies so far in front of goal. I think there’s so many other qualities that he brings to the group. Not just that connection and the creation and of course his goal-scoring. His attitude, his workrate, his determination: he’s added to an already very disciplined and spirited group. And of course his background and his achievements up to date give us, I think, a little bit of an edge when that time of year comes around. He will have seen the challenges and the pressures and the stresses of postseasons. He’s been successful, he knows what it takes. He looks after himself and I’m sure when that time comes around, he’ll be in the best shape possible to try and add to his tally.
“But I’m very aware and appreciative of not looking too far ahead too soon. I think it’s a recipe for disaster if you do that.”
Do you think the blowout nature of your previous game against DC provides a challenge in reminding the guys that this is actually a top contender that must be taken seriously? And what do you expect DC to do to make life difficult for your team?
“First and foremost, it was a very, very good win at home against them. I think we saw all of the qualities and the abilities that they have. A team that plays with their heart on their sleeve, and they’ll be, I’m sure, very much up for this challenge against us, having been beaten at our place. The implications are massive. Their form has seen them go through the gears and put themselves in a very good spot, as you’ve said.
“I don’t think anyone will take it for granted, I really don’t. Any of the buildup, the information and the preparation that I’ve tried to lay out for the guys is one of ‘toughest game of the season.’ It will be a real blood-and-thunder challenge. There’ll be an awful lot on the line for both teams. We still have lots to prove. We certainly want to finish in the very best position we can, and if we can get a result against this talented group, then we’ve got a much better chance of finding ourselves in a terrific spot.
“As I say: with six tough games to go, every point counts for every team. So I don’t think either team will be taking it too lightly.”
You mentioned 45 points as the goal before the year, and already have 47. Do you have a specific target in the final six games?
“Yeah, I do have a mental target. I’m not prepared to share that. The players will be given their challenge tomorrow as we look a little bit deeper into the weekend’s game. And I think it’s – if anything else – is giving just a little bit more of an incentive to the group that they understand the magnitude of where we finish, of what that means in the postseason, and of course initially getting into that position.
“So I think as we look at these final games, we’ll all have our idea of what we can get and how we can get it. But these first couple of games, we run into DC and Philadelphia, who are serious contenders for the top four – and in between, we run into last year’s champions [Columbus Crew]. I don’t think they can be written off by any stretch. They may not have had the sort of season that everyone will have expected, but winning a championship and achieving what they did last year gives you… it galvanizes the group at important times, and I can fully see them going on a bit of a tear in the last few games of the season, and making a charge for those playoff spots.
“So three incredibly tough games. If we can be in a position by the end of this week where we’ve secured a postseason berth, I think that’s our first challenge.
Defender Taylor Washington
You have the Preds hat on and their season starts tonight. How exciting is it to be in a city with so much cool sports stuff going on as Nashville – and to be a part of that with Nashville SC?
“I think when we came here, I didn’t realize the impact that not only Nashville SC would have on the community, but the Titans, Preds, even the Sounds. To see us do extremely well last year and this year, the Titans do extremely well last year, and the Preds are always great. I think to form a great city that’s center around sports is something that’s going to be great for the citizens here. That gives them something to look forward to, keep up with.
“Coming from New York, growing up as a Knicks fan… following a bad team can be tough at times. It’s so good to have a city where you have sports teams doing well, they’re enjoyable, the atmosphere in the games is always so much fun. And I’m blessed to be a part of it.”
Is there potentially an underrated factor you can point to that’s helped lead to the team’s success?
“No, I wouldn’t say underrated. I just think that the way our style of play is, and the way that we have so many attacking options – whether it’s Hany [Mukhtar], whether it’s Randall [Leal], whether it’s Daniel [Ríos], whether it’s CJ [Sapong] – I think our ability to be very versatile, go through the middle but also out wide – utilize guys like Dan [Lovitz], guys like Alistair, myself – to be able to whip in crosses to help them find someone’s head to put in the goal. I think having different versatility of options of what we’re about.
“Don’t think there’s ever a side of our game that’s underrated. But you know, from talking to other teams, I think we’re a team that other teams don’t like to play. Our style of play, the way that we fight and our tenacity, makes us every game a challenge for everyone, so we’re proud of that.”
Do you feel like low preseason expectations have motivated the team?
“I think any time anyone says they put out projections or whatever, I always – you always try not to look at it as a player, but you end up doing it. I think any time you see that, it’s more motivation. So for us to be in second place with six games to go, our goal was always to get silverware. As nice as it is now, it matters at the end on November 7th after we’ve played Red Bull.
“Where we’re standing, how many games we’ve won from now until the end. I think we’ve garnered a respect amongst the league that Nashville is a formidable opponent in this league. We play our style of soccer, and silenced the haters.”
What do you remember from the previous DC game, observing from the bench as your team put in a strong performance in a 5-2 victory?
“I think everything was just clicking in that game. I remember watching it. DC is a very good opponent. They like to high-press, they like to get on the front foot, they have a lot of energy, almost similar to Red Bull. But I think the way that we play, I think the way that we try to replicate the things that we did before and stick to our gameplan. I think we just have to stick to our gameplan: it’s as simple as that.”