Nashville SC

Press conference: Gary Smith and Jack Maher after a DC draw

Jack Maher photo from fille

Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and defender Jack Maher met with the media after their team’s scoreless draw against DC United. Watch or read their full comments here.

Head coach Gary Smith

“A fantastic point for us in a very difficult environment – a team that’s been exceptionally purposeful and positive here. I believe their last four games, four wins at home, 12-13 goals, I’ve been told. So delighted to take a point away from this difficult away fixture.

“I’m just as happy and pleased about the way that the group went about their business: there were some things that we looked at and worked on in the period we’ve had off. And it’s always difficult once you’ve had that spell of downtime – two weeks without a game after having had so many games in a short period of time – you can sometimes find that the players don’t quite get into their gear quick enough. That cannot be said about the group tonight. The only disappointment was that we were unable to carve out many clear opportunities, and when you look at the type of competition in front of us, as I say, the point was terrific, and I’m just looking for the icing on the cake now.”

What did you think of the backline’s performance? And what was behind the inability to create many chances?

“First and foremost, the backline was without two starting fullbacks/wingbacks in [Dan] Lovitz and [Alistair] Johnston. The fact that Walker [Zimmerman] has had a tough period away on international duty, I think speaks volumes to his character and capabilities. In general, I thought they did a very, very good job. The challenge was always to try and keep a very energetic and forceful team at-bay. Maybe ask them some questions that they’d not been asked for a little while, and not allow them to do a lot of things that they like doing.

“I guess that’s every game, but it’s not always easy to put that plan into practice. The guys did a fabulous job. And as far as set-pieces and aerial difficulties, I think there was one second-phase situation that, in the end, you know, Joe [Willis] makes a fabulous save. But I thought for the vast majority, we looked in-control, capable, and very difficult to play against.

“As far as the other end of the field, I thought we made some good choices in the middle third to manage particular moments. Were we able or capable of getting beyond their backline and being a little bit more aggressive? Not as much as maybe we would have liked. That could have been due to the lack of guys like Randall Leal in the group, who add a different dimension, and maybe the likes of [Aníbal] Godoy, who are very capable of breaking lines quickly and maybe seeing a more-positive pass. So we were without four starters today, and that’s not saying that the guys that came in didn’t do a good job – because they did. But those guys that were not in the group possess some qualities that, when we’re at full strength, I think you can see the slight difference and the slight changes in the dynamic of the way we play. Tonight, it was vitally important we got something out of the game. I’d love to have won it, I’d love to have created more chances, but the fact was, the game as it presented itself, was one that was going to be very, very competitive, and we were certainly that.”

Did you see a difference in DC based on who they were missing, such as Paul Arriola, as well?

“Well, yeah. I mean, I’ve watched a lot of footage of this group, we’ve obviously played against them. They created and gave us some problems at home that not manny teams have. But it was due to their forceful nature, their re-pressing, their energy to get high up the field and restrict. And tonight, I thought we did a very, very good job A) of playing around that pressure when we needed to, and B) when they were in position, not allowing them to secure the ball, or to combine in areas higher up the field in the final third and play at a pace that a lot of teams can’t handle.

“They’ve been as aggressive and as successful here in goals scored and home points as we have in recent times at home at our place. 13 goals here in their last four home games tells you that they have put teams to the sword. So it was never, ever going to be an easy game, and throw into the mix that we’ve got playoff connotations on the line all across the board. So there was always going to be a little bit of a different edge and feel to it. And tonight, the passion and the competitiveness that any playoff game would’ve maybe featured.”

How do you value getting a result versus the need to earn wins to keep the rest of the playoff-contending group at bay?

“Listen, we’ve got a tally in mind; we’ve got a focus on certain games and certain situations. Tonight it was important, after a break, that we didn’t get beat. It would have been great, as I’ve said, to have won. But you know, I’m happy with the performance and the platform we have. And given some of the omissions, it’s been a very good away trip for us.

“But we need to focus on us. We’ve worked incredibly hard to get ourselves in a good position in the table, and to maintain that position – or one of strength going into what we hope’s going to be a postseason and a successful one – will mean we need to add a particular amount of points to the board. It’s irrelevant to who we play or where we play, we need a particular amount of points. There’ll be certain situations that I’ll appreciate that and so will the players, and there might be a slightly different look to that.

“What we know is: we have the champions coming to our home ground on Wednesday. At home, we’ve been purposeful, we’ve been difficult to play against, and we’ve a good home crowd. They give us an energy and a shot in the harm that all home teams need. Maybe there’ll be a different look to the team. Maybe there’ll be one or two different players. Maybe I’ll play with three forwards – I’m not sure yet. What I do know is: we have a target, and we’re working towards that target, and that point today was another step closer.”

What went into Luke Haakenson’s start, and how did he perform?

“It’s his first full debut, if I’m not mistaken [ed – he previously started June 27 against CF Montreal, actually] – or his full debut, you can only get one, of course – Luke has been absolutely terrific throughout the season. Most of his work, obviously, has been in a training environment. But what he’s been able to do is show the sort of qualities that I felt we might have needed tonight. He’s more than capable of getting into aggressive areas, he’s very capable 1v1, and he’s got a good eye for goal when he can get into that position.

“Tonight’s game didn’t allow him to. In his full debut, he found life a little bit tougher going. He had a role to fulfill defensively, as well, and Luke’s going to be an exceptionally good player for the club. And this was another step towards what we all hope will be a fantastic career for him. But he’s nudged out Alex [Muyl], he’s nudged out one or two others, purely because of the energy and the positivity that he’s shown over a period of time. And he wasn’t able to change the game for us, but I thought it was a very solid hour that we got out of him.”

What part of playoff qualification is in your sights right now? Are you expecting the players who were away on international duty to be available in the upcoming games?

“When you look at the output of Johnston, Godoy, and Randall – picked up a little knock, nothing too serious, but was unable to travel yesterday – those guys are going to be fit and available. They give us a bit of a lift and the type of experience in there that are going to make a difference.

“As far as points go, as far as adding to the table, today was all about getting back into a groove, it was about making sure that away from home the guys can tick a box and they can say, ‘you know what? When we run into this problem again, we’re going to continue to have the confidence to go away from home and know how we’re going to get a result, and know how we’re going to move forward, and know what those challenges are going to be and how we’re going to go about that.’ They’ve ticked that box today: again, clean sheet, point.

“What is vitally important as we go into the final five games in a hugely tight group [on the table] is that there are going to be situations where teams falter, and it doesn’t go according to plan. And I would fully expect in the next five games that we see some results that will make us shudder, and say, ‘how did that happen?’ But it does, because there’s pressure, and there’s difficulties that these players have to deal with. Today we’ve gone about our business in a very professional way, and we’ve got a job done. And that was very much needed.”

Defender Jack Maher

How did you think the unit’s aerial defending was able to have such a positive performance?

“I thought we did well. I think that just understanding we had a really good gameplan going into it, one of the things that we wanted to do was just have guys – me, Walker, Dave [Romney] – very central, very compact, and we would give them wide spaces. But whenever it came into the box, we were really good, and really clinical.”

You’ve played with a bunch of different guys along the backline. How difficult is it dealing with shuffling of the guys right around you?

“Yeah, I think I’ve talked on this for a little while now: but our team is just so deep, and we have guys across the board from No. 1 to No. 30 that can come in and do the job whenever they’re called upon. So just being able to know that you have confidence in whoever comes in and ends up starting, I think just goes a long way, not only for me, but for the rest of the guys.”

Did DC feel like a playoff atmosphere?

“Yeah, it was electric. I think that – I forget who I was talking to – I said right after the game, ‘this place is packing.’ I thought that, going forward, we’re going to have crowds like this for, honestly, the rest of the playoff run and playoff push that we have going forward. So I’m looking forward to it, I know the rest of the guys are, and we just seem to keep getting good results regardless of who’s in the crowd, and whether home or away.”

What do you expect out of Columbus this Wednesday, and how do you prepare for them on a quick turnaround?

“Yeah, they’ve got a really good team. I think we’re going to really have to be ready for all of the guys they have. Whether it’s [Darlington] Nagbe, [Gyasi] Zardes, [Lucas] Zelarayán: all these guys are just really, really good players. They’re going to be a tall task for us, but I think we’re going to be ready.

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