Nashville SC

Press conference: Gary Smith and Aníbal Godoy after preseason friendly v. FC Cincinnati

Aníbal Godoy photo from file/Courtesy Nashville SC

Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and midfielder Aníbal Godoy met with the media today. Watch or read their full comments here.

Head coach Gary Smith

“Well, a much more beneficial and realistic preseason game today, as expected. With the rivalry that we have with Cincinnati, it was good competition, and a very tight encounter today – which I think both teams will have taken an awful lot from. So I’m delighted with the minutes, with the realism and the step that we’ve taken forward in physical terms.

“Unfortunately today the result across 120 minutes didn’t go our way, but in all honesty at this point, it is a long way down the priority list. It is purely about getting the group back on track and into some sort of rhythm.”

Talk us through each of the goals that was scored.

“The game started very brightly for us. The picture of the team, and because of the way that the minutes were played was a slightly different format to probably a lot of other preseason games that we’ve had. But we started off very brightly.

“Alex Muyl did very well down the right-hand side, worked in a A terrific cross into the near post that Luke Haakenson glanced into the far corner. Sadly, but I think three or four minutes, five minutes after that at the most, we conceded, and looking back at the clips, a bit of a breakdown, I think, more so on the right-hand side, strangely enough again, with Alex got caught on the wrong side of the attacking player, who squared it for one of Cincinnati’s forwards to guide in about eight yards out.

“The second goal, Cincinnati took themselves into the lead. Aníbal got caught in possession around the halfway line. In all honesty, in a bit of a rear-guard action, too many players got drawn towards the ball, and Cincinnati were able to work it our of there, down sort of left-hand channel of the penalty box, and the lad did well to guide it past Joe.

“And then the equalizer, which I have to say the build-up to, I can’t overly remember well. But I do remember Alex Muyl doing a great job smashing in a rebound to get us back on level terms.

And the winner, in all honesty, came from a turnover again, in the middle of midfield. Which, unfortunately was a little bit of a feature: there was some sloppiness in some of our play today, which was very out of character. From the turnover, they did a good job again of working the ball centrally. Young – I think academy player, if I’m not mistaken, for Cincinnati – had a little bit too long on the edge of the box, but idid a wonderful job of curling it into the for top corner. I think that was about 115 minutes in.

So an awful lot went on in the game. It’s difficult to try and get the competition right, running into the right group of players when you’re looking at a more senior group, maybe wanting to run into their senior group. Because everyone’s preseason is at different places. But I think both teams did a very good job. I spoke to Pat Noonan before the game and I think we just about got it right. I know we felt as though the minutes were in a very good place for our group to move forward towards the weekend.

Alex and Luke scored from wide areas how did the central guys fare?

“It is strange when you look at the ebb and flow of players in preseason. There are days where some of the guys look very leggy and maybe have not quite recovered from the work that they’re putting in daily. I would honestly, maybe, summarize it today that the more senior characters in our group were not performing at the level that we’ve seen them, and would normally expect. That can be for a multitude of different reasons: they didn’t come into the game – the majority of them – until 45 minutes or an hour into the game, so there’s a lot of lag time there to keep themselves mentally as well as physically engaged. And generally, maybe just finding their way. There’s a lot of changes within the group across the course of 120 minutes, and you can lose a bit of continuity.

“On the flipside of that, I thought that some of the younger guys, and maybe some of the individuals that are not always getting the main – or a lion’s share – of press, guys like Josh Bauer, Rob Castellanos, I thought Brian Anunga had a much better outing today in the center of midfield. And then the likes of Luke and Daniel [Ríos] did a very decent job of showing a lot better than maybe they have done in the past two weeks in some of the competition. And again, that can be getting themselves into a much more realistic vein and feeling a bit sharper.

“But you do tend to find that, in these early stages, you’re very, very fortunate if everything comes together in preseason games. We’ve been working at certain aspects in training: You tend to find that those aspects come out in the game. And some of the other more natural characteristics, if you like, are sometimes pushed to the background, and I need to keep reminding the group of what it will take and what it does take to win games consistently once the season starts.”

What have you seen from Ahmed Longmire so far?

“Yeah, Ahmed’s done a wonderful job of fitting into the group. It’s never easy coming out of college: it’s such a different world when you step into an environment where it is your job, and you are an entertainer, and winning is an absolute necessity for the team and for you as an individual, for your career. So I think he’s done a really good job of settling in.

“What I’ve seen in this this – what we can class s a month now – are a lot of the things that I think we all felt coming out of college would be his strengths. He’s very athletic, mobile, and he’s quite an aggressive centerback who wants to come and attack the ball. The things that are going to determine his future, and how quickly he can make that transition from where he’s at to getting minutes in the first team, are probably going to be more based around technical aspects: being cleaner and more reliable in possession, and of course, understanding the role that he’s in in a back three, which I’m not sure he’s seen an awful lot. Positioning there is somewhat different of course, than playing in a back-four, which I think he’s a little bit more accustomed to.

“But he’s made a good impression.”

Handwalla Bwana and CJ Sapong didn’t play, you maybe got limited minutes from others. What’s the health situation?

“Handwalla’s got a little bit of a tight hamstring, but we’ve got to determine where he’s at with that. Sadly for him, it tightened up yesterday in training. And he’s looked really bright: very positive, so that hopefully – fingers crossed – is not anything that’s going to keep him out too long. CJ’s had a bit of a tight back; some of the work in the most recent 48 hours, he’s been able to join in with. But it was more precautionary than anything else today. Just to work him through that, and for him to feel mentally in a better place, if you like.

“The guys that you saw out on the field or have taken up the minutes, Eric [Miller] and Alex, they both played 60 minutes. That’s their first 60 minutes in a competitive game. We’ve had work that’s gone on within the group, but that’s very different to running into an opponent, and having to deal with the rigors of what we can class as a pretty competitive environment.

“So they’re all taking those steps forward physically. Like I said at the very start: I wanted the 120 minutes to make sure that a lot of the squad – in fact nearly all of them – got a good portion of the game, which I was able to achieve. In doing so, and having had a limited amount of time to reflect on it, I would question personally if I got the changeover of players and the order of bodies and where they should be in the game, to get the very most out of it as a team. Individually, I think they got quite a bit out of it – minutes and competition – but there’s certainly for me, some questions to be raised about what and how I constructed the groups.”

What are the priorities from this point as you approach the regular season? What do you feel you’ve done the best job accomplishing, and is there anything you wish you could’ve knocked out by now?

“I think the things that I’d be most comfortable and happy about at this point in the preseason would be the physical well-being of the group in general. I think the guys are in a good, good place, and they’re moving towards the opening fixture mentally and physically in a good spot. Because as a player, it’s not just about physically the position you’re in, the confidence comes from that. If you’re not fit and strong, then the confidence in your own play starts to wane and diminish a little bit. So I’m pretty confident and pleased with the way that’s gone.

“I’m happy with some of the attacking, possessional management-of-the-ball aspect of the game. I thought we did a pretty good job today of exploiting some areas of Cincinnati – especially down those flank areas – and I think there’s been some nice progression there for all of the guys that have either played as a wingback, and the connection that they’re now getting with those attacking trio of players, whoever they are. I think that understanding has moved forward.

“Strangely enough, in emphasizing more of a positive aspect to the game, you normally find that people start to forget about the things that have underpinned the group, and have given us so much joy. Which, for the most part, have become part of our DNA: tough to play against, determined group, hard to break down. We were a little bit too expansive today. One or two poor mistakes allowed opportunities to develop – they’ve still got to be finished by the opponent, but we certainly should and could’ve avoided even presenting those moments – but full credit to them for executing well.

And that’s all part of preseason as well: When you play against good teams – when you play against teams that have got more of an edge to them and are more clinical, then you’ve got to reduce those mistakes. I think it’ll be a bit of a poke in the eye for us today – and it should be, that we’ve been beaten. Nobody likes to be beaten, in whatever way, shape, or form. But in terms of moving forward, I think it’ll be there’s be far more positives than negatives to take away.

What have veteran signings Teal Bunbury and Sean Davis settled in?

“I think for both of those guys, the experience and their standing – in terms of respect around the league and certainly within the group that they’re in now – is obviously very, very good. And certainly that alone helps that transition. Both those guys are obviously very understanding of the challenges of preseason of any given MLS season.

“The keys obviously are trying to work those individuals into the style and the system that you’re playing, and then of course the relationships that they build, and the quicker they build them, the sooner that we can get the best out of those guys. In both of those cases, they’ve done a great job; they’re wonderful people, very, very good characters, very honest characters. They’ve both come in in really good condition – which has obviously given them a very good platform to move on from.

“Sean’s had a little bit of a tight quad that he’s overcome, and I didn’t want to get too pushy with him today, so hence the 45 minutes instead of anything prolonged. But Teal’s in a slightly better place, and given CJ’s omission and the way that the groups are shaping up, it made absolute sense and looked pretty decent to have Teal in for 60 minutes, and of course Daniel in the other half of the game as what we would class as an out-and-out striker.”

How is the new shape coming together, and is it still the plan as the regular season approaches?

“Certainly it needs work. A lot of it, honestly, is recognizing the moments at which the guys can get more pressure on the ball, and the cohesive nature in their changes of pace. We’ve got an intelligent group of players, they take good information on board, but they’re going to make mistakes, and only by making mistakes – and highlighting that in some of the video that we have postgame in the debrief – can we work out how we can correct those situations, and how much more consistent we can be.

Because there are certainly good things happening: we got some decent pressing moments within the shape that we had, but there does have to be a very decent relationship and understanding between the front three, the midfield two, and of course when the wingbacks come and join in.

“So work to be done, no doubt, but you know, this shape – unless you’re going to play a more reckless style, if you like, and really commit players higher up the field – there’s always an achilles heel to every system, and it’s recognizing that, understanding it, and most importantly, managing the moments in the game. That’s why you see so many teams that score first go on and earn points out of the game. We’ve got to get that balance right.”

A couple of your players have mentioned that they feel the team is built for tournament play. Do you see that, and is there an emphasis on any of the different competitions that you’ll participate in this year?

“First of all it’s nice to hear that the guys, in their opinion, have got some belief in – if I’m absorbing this correctly – that they feel they’ve got the ability to win silverware. Whether that’s an Open Cup, or whether that’s in a cup competition.

“If you look at our form last year, if I’m not mistaken, we were one of the most consistent teams throughout the year – four defeats. We finished in a wonderful league position for our second year in MLS, so I’d have to disagree with whoever said that a little bit, if they’re just looking at tournament play. What all of the guys here understand – and I think last year’s performance has reflected that – was that the year before, we ended up in a playoff game – or wildcard game – with Miami which gave us extra playing time, and it congested postseason and did not give us the best possible opportunity of going to Columbus [in the Eastern Conference semifinal], and we fell foul of that.

“The guys, I think, galvanized themselves mentally and physically, and said, ‘look, if we have any chance of winning MLS Cup, we have to finish in a more beneficial position in the regular season. Which they did. Unfortunately, we were still pipped in those penalties in Philadelphia, and there are always lessons to be learned. But in two years of this organization, we’ve slowly-but-surely improved. And I have no reason to suspect that won’t be the case this year.

One thing is for sure: if you attack every weekend as if it’s your last, then you’ll get something out of it. The times that you take things for granted, and you take winning for granted, and you think you’re better than you are, and you get a bit complacent, guaranteed that your form dips. That is a reality of not just this sport – I would imagine of most. Having been around and built this team here that’s functioning in a very positive way, the players’ challenge this year is to maintain that sort of focus and desire that they’ve shown in the last two. It’s not easy.

“We were just sitting around the dinner table watching the Manchester City game: away at Sporting [CP]. Five-nil up, relentless. Relentless. Players at the very, very top level that have so much appetite for constantly winning. That just can’t be taken for granted, because it’s not something that happens all the time. And if you’re doing really well, you ought to continually reinforce that.

” We’re in that position: we have to reinforce that. There will be challenges this year like no other in our first two years: eight games away, an incredible season at Titans’ Stadium, but we’ve played our last game there, so we’ve got to try and find that form at our new ground. We look forward to it, but that’s not a given. It’s not a given. There’s so many things that we can still improve and continue to reinforce.

“I know we’ve got the group here to do it, and you know, who knows? Maybe along the way, a couple of additions, at whatever point, to keep that competition and strength, and keep people on their toes. Everyone has to understand that, as well as they’re playing, you’ve got to get the very best out of yourself. Sometimes you can’t do that on your own: you’ve got to have somebody constantly holding a flame to your backside. If that’s somebody around you that’s supplying that competition, then so be it.”

Midfielder Aníbal Godoy

What have you accomplished with Panama so far, and what are the challenges in the final World Cup Qualifying window in just over a month going to mean for your group?

“I think the last window for us, it’ll be more difficult. We lose two games. In this moment, we cannot lose that game like this, because we have now Costa Rica behind us, only one point less. Next window for us is very important, it’s the last window. We need to give everything because it’s the last opportunity if we want to go to the World Cup.

“We have two games at home – two really difficult games at home – against Honduras and the last one against Canada. We know USA play against Mexico the first game, if we win against Honduras the first game, we come here to USA the second game to try to fight for something. Everybody knows it’s difficult, but it’s not impossible for us.”

How did you assess the team’s play today?

“It’s really difficult game, tough game. Today, all the young players for the Cincinnati, they want to try to show the quality, they want to put pressure onto us. I think we need to improve if we want to start well this season.

In my opinion for me, it’s not a good game for me. I think I don’t play well, I lose so many ball like not normal in my position. But it’s the second game, and in this moment, we need to try to think – every day – try to think for tomorrow, try to train to improve. Because I think we need to improve.

“We have more quality this year, we have big players, we have a different shape, and we need to keep working. If we want to change something, want to win something this year.”

How has Sean Davis fit in, and how do you feel he differs from Dax?

“Both players, they have different qualities. Dax is an experienced player, he has so many years in the league. Sean also – Sean is more young. Everybody knows Dax in the league. They have different qualities. I think that both guys help us a lot in these occasions, because we need the role for everybody. Also we have Anunga behind us – we have a good team.

“I think Sean has like one month with us now, he need to keep learning about the system with Gary. He come through Red Bull with different shape, high press, different formation, different style, you know? Everything is new for him, for sure. He’s amazing player, but this is not only about three players or my position [group], this is about the team. This is why last year we go to the semifinal.”

What do you have to continue working on to be ready for regular season?

“We know we have a tough schedule. For us, the first eight games I think we play away. It’s a first for me, in the league. It’s really difficult also because we travel a lot, we travel long. But we need to be ready for this challenge. West Coast is more difficult, they have more quality players there, all the teams like to play. If we want to take something this first eight game, we need to work hard, we need to try to work like a team like we were working before.

We have so much quality in the top, we have really good players one-against-one. We have Randall, Hany, CJ, Teal, Ake, you know these players change the game in one minute. This is why we need to try to not concede too many goals, to try to, with the opportunity we have, try to score.

What do you remember of playing in the Western Conference style from your time with San Jose?

“I think we need to try to working hard. Try to be ready to working hard, because everybody know in the league – now you speak about Nashville, you speak about the defense. Nashville has good shape, Nashville defends well, but nobody speaks about our offense, you know? Last year we create so many chance, we score a lot of scores. This is why we need to improve: try to stay compact, try to defend well the first 15-20 minutes for each game, try to stay focused. Because if we jump the first 20-30 minutes in each game, for sure we take something.

We play away, and in this league to try to win away is so difficult. More if you go to the West – you go to Seattle, you go to Vancouver, you go LA. It’s tough places to play, you know? We need to be ready for this batttle?

How excited are you for a new stadium to open in May?

“I’m waiting for this moment. This is why I was so excited to stay here three years more. I want to feel this feeling in this stadium. The people in Nashville waited for this moment also. The people of Nashville they like more the futbol, the soccer. Now they like soccer more. They follow us, they support us: this is good for us. If we take something away form the first eight games, for sure we go with the big energy ini the first game in the Nashville new stadium.”

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