Nashville SC

Postgame press conference: Gary Smith and CJ Sapong after draw in St. Paul

CJ Sapong photo from file

Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and striker CJ Sapong met with the media after their 1-1 draw against Minnesota United. Watch or read their full comments here.

Head coach Gary Smith

“Well first of all, I think a point here is a very, very good point. So I want to make that abundantly clear before I move on to a couple of other things that went on. The evening was a very, very difficult one: conditions were abominable, tough for both teams. It made the field really difficult to deal with. And then of course, with a break in play, you’ve got to try and get yourself back into gear. What I saw was a very even game. Two sides that were a goal threat, two teams that had opportunities and didn’t convert probably as well as they both would’ve liked.

But in all honesty, the biggest decision in the game was not given our way, and that moment probably cost us a game in the end. So as happy as I am with a point, I’m also as disappointed about some of the choices and the interpretations that are made. I just don’t understand, having seen the replay now, how that cannot be given as a penalty. I just don’t understand it.

Penalty aside, it seemed Hany was taking a beating, what did you see in it, and did you communicate it to the officials?

“Well the crazy thing is, that when we have a lot of the competition [committee] stuff come around before the season, the talented creative players on every team are a bit of a target, you can understand that. But the league, understandably, are trying to clamp down on that. Make life – I don’t want to say easier for those players, but certainly make it harder for some of the more destructive elements to put them out of their stride. I would hazard a guess that 75% of the time, if not more, that Hany was manhandled, or overpowered, that the referee deemed that he was actually instigating it, or had tried to buy a foul.

“Now, we’re back to interpretation again. The conditions were not good for anyone. It leant itself to hard-working and determined players. But there were definitely moments for both of, really what you would call the creative stars on the field. Hany had opportunities and really should’ve been given the moment to score from the penalty spot, and underline a very determined display from him. And likewise, [Emanuel] Reynoso at the other end, lots and lots of good things going on.

“But I’m just flabbergasted at some of the decisions that are made. I really am. Truly, you can’t even begin to imagine how, just, mentally lost I am sitting here right now.”

Are you concerned by conceding on a set piece after last year’s troubles?

“It’s a free kick that shouldn’t be given by Alex Muyl. He dives in, it’s really poor defending. It’s a tough area, you know. We gave them the opportunity at the edge of the box. The guy connects well, it’s the lesser of the evils. He gets a really nice run at the ball if you like, and they get another stab at it.

“In these conditions, and when you’re luck’s in, that’s what happens. Look, I think we’ve defended the vast majority of dead balls here in a much, much better fashion. I’m very, very happy with where we’re going with that – most importantly, the mentality of the group. A slightly different situation down by the dead-ball line there, but still nevertheless, Second phase, and it’s disappointing.”

What did you think of the initial combination for the goal scored by CJ Sapong, especially in bad field conditions?

“Listen, there’s some really decent play. I thought we had opportunities that we didn’t actually take advantage of. The amount of times that we failed to clear their back line or find the ball that worked around their backline was astounding, really. But maybe the footing on the field – giving everyone the benefit of the doubt there. But yeah: really nice combination, great to see. The pair of them working together and putting themselves in such a positive position. CJ’s got off the mark, wonderful. We’ve spoken about the goal from CJ. And Hany, how he should have got the penalty, how he’s made a goal.

“But I’ve got to say, I thought Randall was very, very bright tonight. He looked a real threat, he’s a thorn in their side for pretty much most of the evening. And again, but for maybe a little bit more of a clinical edge in front of goal, or in and around the goal, he may have had a little bit more joy.”

What was your lightning delay itinerary, and what was your communication in terms of returning to the field, etc.?

“It’s tough, especially when you’re away from home. We got the initial shout of 30 minutes, and then I think there was an immediate strike again, reset the clock. And then, I want to say we got within 15 minutes of going out and there was another strike.

“All in all, the guys can only try and stay as engaged as possible: some stretching, some minor activities when they know that they’re going to start to get themselves back out on the field.

“It is very tough when you’re the away team. You’ve got a limited amount of energy, which is why we got out early. I have to presume that they’ve got an area underneath the building here somewhere that they can use, and they’ve taken advantage of that, which is part and parcel of being at home.

“I just thought we came out a bit sluggish. Mentality, maybe – give them some credit, as well: they got on the front foot. I said to the guys in the locker room that unfortunately now, there’s a 30-minute game, or just over, and you’ve got to expect that they’re going to really come after it. And they did exactly that, and got their reward.”

How do you view Aké Loba’s role on the team?

“First and foremost, the guys that are getting the brunt of the attacking work done have looked bright and purposeful. His form in preseason was definitely a step in the right direction. Would I say it’s exactly where we want it to be? Absolutely not, and he realizes that as well. But we’re in a much, much better place.

“The tough things on days like today, and certainly on occasions where, in Seattle, we’re playing well, the dynamic and the balance of the group is such. I mean: yes, he’s going to be a real asset for the group, I believe. But we’re getting through some quite unique circumstances right now. And to get the balance just right and to keep earning points out of this stretch is not easy. So expect there to be some rotation down the line, I’m sure. When he’s called upon to come into the game, he looks engaged, he’s training well. And whenever the opportunity comes along, I’m expecting him to have a right go at it and try and hold that place down.”

Did you get updates on the condition of the pitch as it deteriorated during the weather delay, or did you have to wait and find out after emerging from the locker room?

“We don’t have any contact with the grounds crew, Drake. Not away from home, mate. We walk out on the field and we get going, that’s it. The conditions were dreadful on the field. I spoke to Adrian [Heath] beforehand, and he said the field’s been under snow for large portions of the preseason period. So you can understand that it’s not going to be perfect at this point. At the start of the game, I thought it was in pretty good shape, especially given the climate in Minnesota in the Winter. But it certainly took a pounding, and started to cut up quite nicely.

Striker CJ Sapong

What did you see as the goal-scoring play developed, and when the initial ball didn’t come to you, how did you know to continue your run into the box?

“Yeah mostly, I wanted the original ball from Dax. Ultimately as a forward, you want to keep moving towards the ball, keep putting yourself in a position to score. Hany did well to keep the ball in. After that, my job was easy, just put it into the net.”

What did you see in the way the defense was playing you, particularly as the field conditions began to deteriorate?

“It’s hard to tell. The pitch getting an hour of just rain – it really soaked the pitch back there. I think the defenders were just kind of trying to stay out of that and were being a little bit more aggressive. Obviously, we were sitting back, so it kind of gave them carte blanche to push up.

“Ultimately though, you can tell in a game like that everybody’s just trying to adjust to the elements and ultimately just try to perform. I think it’s just very tough: the weather, the field, the delay – chillin’ then having to warm back up – a lot of factors, but I’m proud of the guys, because ultimately we’re leaving here with a point.”

When the central channel was muddy, how do you figure it out?

“Yeah, that’s something that you only become in-tune with it when you’ve been on that specific field, and have seen how it reacts when it’s wet. Actually, it was still rolling across that central part of the pitch more so than you would think. That was because there wasn’t a lot of grass, really, so t was just mud, and it actually ended up being something that the ball could skid over.

“In the moments in the game, you try to find those patterns, but ultimately you realize you just have to deal with the adversity. If it means today us not being able to master the elements, if anything, we take the experience and we keep pushing forward. Again, two games in, two away games, four points out of six, we’re in a good place, and the guys look great. We’re still confident, so I’m looking forward to continuing to just maximize our potential.”

Two difficult road matches, four points. What do you feel you’ve accomplished to start this long road trip, and do you feel like you’re at a healthy pace?

“I think we’ve helped ourselves. We’re in a formation that I don’t think a lot of teams have seen us in. We have some very good plays, some very good opportunities that just – you can tell – are missing a little bit of sharpness, and a little bit of timing. Again, to be able to be in this position where it’s not quite firing on all cylinders, but still have four out of six points, two away games, knowing that when the Summer comes, it’s gonna be a home-game-heavy schedule, it’s more confidence and opportunity to keep working to get in that sharpness.

“That means that old Nashville SC home park will be nice and sharp, and make it nice and fun for the fans there.”

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