Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith and goalkeeper Joe Willis met with the media today before their trip to Dallas. Watch or read their full comments here.
Head coach Gary Smith
“Good week. Positive mood from the group. A good result last week – albeit frustrating that maybe we didn’t take all three points, but for me that’s a good place to be: we’re looking at possibly being frustrated not winning games, and not just picking up points. So huge progress there in the first two games. But what we know is we’ve got a very different challenge this weekend. Guys are ready for it, they’re n a good mood, they’re in good shape, and I suspect we’re going to run into a very energetic and positive Dallas team that are keep to find their first win. So not an easy task.”
What do you see out of Paul Arriola’s addition for Dallas?
“Listen, I’ve said it multiple times: he’s one of my favorite MLS players. I think he’s a complete wide player, in terms of goal threat, creation, workrate, team player, and technician. I like him immensely, and if I’d have had more money in my piggy bank, than I’d have given it to Mike [Jacobs, General Manager], and we could’ve maybe made a play on him.
“But look: he adds an experience, a quality, and I would suspect a standard in what we would normally see as a young Dallas group. I think he’s a tremendous addition for them. I’m sure he not only will be successful there, but he’ll be an individual that holds those guys accountable, and gives them a level and an expectancy to achieve.”
Given that Dallas was not up to the standard of Seattle or Minnesota last year, do you have to use different motivational tactics to remind the guys that they can’t take them lightly?
“I think the guys have done a great job – albeit ini two games – to try and compartmentalize each challenge. If you look sat the groups that we’ve played, I do think that they’re very different teams that we’re running into here. The Seattle team, as we well know, incredibly good home form, very very creative front line, a wonderful footballing team. Minnesota, on an evening that was incredibly difficult with the conditions, there’s a far more competitive and combative element to that Minnesota team, especially at home. They’ve got, I think, all the qualities to not only be in the playoffs, but to be very, very competitive again. Strong, energetic, and also they’ve got talent in the team to score goals.
“This [Dallas] group is more youthful, it’s energetic. They’ve got a front three that want to get beyond the backline. I expect that we’re gong to see a team that slowly-but-surely are starting to find their feet in this new 4-3-3 since then. They are always going to be a problem with the creative players that they have. Will they always get – in the early stages – the connections right? Maybe not, and hopefully not at the weekend. But I think over time, you’re going to see a really useful team here, with some very positive additions to the group.”
What have you seen through two games that you’d like to continue improving upon?
“Firstly, maybe just to finish off on the last question, there is a big emotional and physical toll on the group each weekend. So as far as progression, as far as improvement in the group, I think we’ve seen from week to week – or certainly I have, in the post-match analysis – some of the possession, the understanding of the roles within the shape that we’re playing currently, the connections between players have improved week-on-week. We created more chances last week, certainly got ourselves into much more positive and brighter positions, and I’m seeing a confidence amongst the group that I didn’t necessarily see last year in the long run of away games at the end of the season.
“As far as layering in qualities and abilities as we move forward, of course I’d love to see a better connection when we’ve got movements beyond their backline. We missed out on numerous opportunities where we hit the defender, the ball was sliced out of play. But when we look back at the footage, there were huge opportunities to be had. So, the guys up front are doing a wonderful job: all three of them looked bright as a button last week. I think the three midfield players – as I’m classing them – have been nothing short of spectacular in terms of their team ability and technical work. And overall, I think we can look at a group that have been tough to play against again, and have been very, very decent with the ball.
“Can we add more goals to that? Can we aadd more clear-cut chances? I’d love to see that. But at this point in time, I’m not prepared to turn the screw too heavily that way and give up opportunities at the other end. So I think we’re on a very good and finely-balanced line at the moment that, if we can continue to tread, we’ll be close to adding points again this weekend.”
How much do weather conditions impact the way you prepare?
“Yeah, I’m not sure that the weather down in Dallas – if I’m getting the report correctly – is gonna be too different to what we’re seeing here. 55 I think is the high when we start the game at 7:30. Wonderful time to obviously go to Dallas and Texas to play. The heat in the Summer is incredibly difficult, as you well know.
“I think the one thing that we may well miss out on is the rain that we’ve had in the last two games. But as we work towards Spring and Summer, we’ve got to start getting used to climate changing, obviously being a bit warmer and a bit more humid, and I suspect slowly-but-surely w
“e’re going to see that shift anyway.”
How has the physical aspect for your team held up, and what are you feeling about it going into this weekend’s game?
“Absolutely, yeah. As I’ve said to Tim, there’s an emotional toll on the players, as well: the travel, the emotions of particular games. Last week was particularly tough, especially with the break as well. You’ve got to get up for the moment, you’re then crashing when you’ve got to go back into the locker room, you’ve got to get yourself up again. You’re winning, you end up conceding a goal. There’s so many different emotions.
“I want to be very, very mindful of that. The three midfield players have got through a tremendous amount of work, as well. A tremendous amount. So I’ll start to look very, very closely at that. Obviously, I don’t want to divulge too much for the weekend, but there’s much more scrutiny on that area of the field in particular. And of course, with the attackers, it’s always nice to see them do well, but I also want to keep the players that are on the sidelines engaged, I want to keep them enthused and confident to be around the group, and we’ve of course got two or three bodies on the line that I think could easily walk into most other MLS teams.
“So I want to be very, very careful and try and find the right balance between too many changes, and a loss of continuity; not enough changes, and maybe putting too much stress on the players that are playing, and losing one or two of the bodies that are not.”
Goalkeeper Joe Willis
Did you feel like the set piece you guys conceded Saturday was worrisome after last year’s struggles, or sort of a different type of concession than the ones that became too regular in 2021?
“No, I mean I’m not too worried about it, and we talked about it this morning and looked at it a little bit more. Our setup was, for the most part, pretty good. We had guys attacking the ball. It was a little bit of a fluky play in weird conditions, so we’re going to try not to think to much about that, and focus on what we can do going forward. I think we’re just gonna chalk that one up to a bit of bad luck and we’re confident in where we are with our defensive set pieces right now.”
What’s your relief level seeing that you’ll get dry conditions in Dallas after two wet games?
“Yeah, definitely. Rain, wet conditions are always one of the worst types of games to play in for keepers. But we have a team full of grinders, so I think you’ve seen it in the first couple of games where, whatever the situations is – whether it’s the eight road games, whether it’s bad weather, turf, whatever we have to deal with – there’s nothing you can do to change it, so you just put your head down and work. That’s a testament to the character that we have on this team. But yes, it is nice to get to see a little sunshine in the forecast.”
How have you seen Teal Bunbury and Aké Loba progressing in the team?
“Yeah, I think they’re both acclimating really well. We see them a lot with finishing in training. They’re both really good players, and they right now are adding a lot of depth to our team – because to be fair, we have a lot of good attacking players. Between Hany [Mukhtar], Randall [Leal], and CJ [Sapong] who’ve been starting the first two games up top. As good as Aké and Teal have been, it’s hard to say that any of the guys who are starting shouldn’t be.
“So it’s a lot of positive things coming out of training for sure. I think everyone is going to benefit from that – individually and us as a team, we’re going to benefit from it – when you’ve got guys who are pushing each other. Even guys like Hany, who had basically an MVP season last year, has guys trying to fight for his spot, and guys who are capable of starting week-in and week-out. It can only benefit the team.”
What have you seen from this new-look Dallas team?
“Yeah, they’re going to be a young team with a lot of energy, so they’ll be looking to press us a lot. I know they like to press with three guys high and like to keep a couple guys wide, and really like to hit on the counterattack, and move the ball up the field quickly. So we’re going to have to be cautious of that, and be aware of how many guys we’re sending forward in the attack, and making sure that we have things shored up in the back first.
“But we have a lot of confidence in the way we played our first two games. We look at it as just another game right now, and another opportunity for three points.”
Is it less strenuous and more rhythm-building to have weekly games, rather than the cramped schedule of last season?
“Yeah, for sure. I think it’s a little bit more predictable. You can kind of get into a rhythm, like you said, week0in and week-out. There were times it felt like, last year when you’re having Saturday-Wednesday-Sunday-Thursday games, you’re kind of just hanging on for dear life and hoping to put 11 guys on the field when you get out there, and get out of there. It’s definitely nice to have basically a full, healthy roster, and to have a little bit of time in between games.
“Not just physically, but also mentally, it’s good to step away from a game and be able to go back and look at it. There were times last year where you’d play a game, and we wouldn’t watch video on it, because we had to focus on the next one already. That’s been a little different this year, where you have time to analyze a game and then get a real thorough scout on your next opponent.
“So I think the schedule this year is going to be huge for everyone in the league, really.”