Interviews | Gary Smith, Kosuke Kimura, Lebo Moloto & Daniel Ríos

Updated: Jul 16, 2019

We spoke with Nashville SC players and staff after training before their midweek match in Memphis. Below are their thoughts.

GARY SMITH (Head Coach)

On how the 11-day break has benefited the team: “It has certainly been nice to get back on the training field for a period. We have a few areas of our game that I felt needed just polishing up a bit. Certainly, for the guys on the back of a couple of difficult results, it gave us a moment or two just to regroup physically. We have had one or two difficulties, some injuries that are now in a much, much better place. I think mentally, it gave us an opportunity to look back on one or two of the difficulties and maybe try and work our hardest here to keep those difficulties at bay.”

On the players’ eagerness to play after two losses: “You would hope so. I’m certainly seeing all the right signs. We’ve got an extremely competitive group. I think there are one or two guys that have seen an opportunity. There are other guys that I believe have seen that they need to do more. And ultimately, we have had a good week or eight days of hard work, and I think it has given everybody a new perspective.”

On what Ríos brings to the team: “I think he has been absolutely outstanding. Sometimes it’s tough to really gel quickly with a group, especially as a forward. You are that difference maker in front of a goal. His hold up play, his determination to try and maintain the ball for the group, his energy to help the group when we don’t have the ball, just his general attitude daily has been magnificent. And on top of that, you’ve got exceptional finishing, which I think has put him into the second spot at the moment in the Golden Boot race, which is a terrific position to be in. So for many different reasons, he has been a wonderful addition to the group and of course a delight to have him here.”

On the team being capable of having a good run in the second half of the season: “I don’t think we have played anywhere near to our potential. There have been, I think, some difficulties to deal with weekly at the club, and daily for the players. Maybe one or two of those to just mention: we’ve had three excellent forwards come in, but one of those is not really seeing the field an awful lot in Cameron Lancaster. We are really looking forward to a prolonged period with Cameron in the team. We’ve seen a brief insight into what he is capable of, but to see him and Daniel out front regularly would be wonderful. Secondly, I think the guys have found that being under this sort of microscope that they have been under, whether it's MLS, whether it’s the future, whether it’s what happens to USL with us next year, there are emotional things that are very tough to try and contend with. I have a much, much greater appreciation for the sides that have gone through this process before now, and I never realized just what difficulties you can run into. I think the second half of the season now gives the players just a little bit of experience to draw on. They’ve got 17, 18 games under their belt now. They’ve dealt with some problems. They’ve dealt with some pressures. I’ve moved the side around a little bit in the early stages of the season. I expect the side to stay a bit more stable and there’s bit more continuity in the group. I think everyone has had a great opportunity to show what they are about. The main purpose of the second half of the season is really to bag as many points as possible and for some of those guys to push on and make a real claim for what comes down the line.”

On if he has leaned on other coaches that have gone through the transition of USL to MLS: “Well I’m not gonna go into it too much, but just daily for the players, forget about what my role is or anyone else in the club, but daily for the players you know they are having to deal with the expectation of a very good side. They are dealing with the uncertainty of the future and they are chasing a dream. Those three issues are exceptionally tough emotional problems to overcome. In terms of me speaking to other people, I have not gotten on the phone to anyone who has been through this before. Last year, I look at FC Cincinnati’s scenario and situation and we were compared to them at the start of the year. There are some very big differences that I think are playing into the way the season has unfolded for us, and the way it unfolded for them. The main one for me is that there were a lot of players in that group that knew their future. There were a lot players that had an eye towards what was going to happen in MLS. Did they all go there? Have they all ended up being a feature in that group? Probably not. But when you are playing every week and you know where you are going and what you are going to achieve, then I think that can be a much more calming feeling than, ‘What is my future? Where am I going to be?’ Comparisons are tough. What they achieved was magnificent. What we are trying to achieve is for our own history and future. As I said, we are looking at a lot more stabilizing and a lot more continuity to this group coming towards the second half of the season.”

On how injuries are looking this week after four went down at Louisville: “The injury report coming in is getting better and better. We’ve got two of those guys available towards Wednesday’s game. Two of them won’t be, but when I look down the line we’ve got a fabulous game coming up, at home, at the Titans’ stadium that I’d love to have all those guys available for. If we look at Derrick [Jones], it’s going to be beyond that game, but the other guys I think have all got a chance. We will deal with this game in Memphis first of all. It’s nice to have a couple of players back. We’ve added a player to the group in the meantime. I certainly think that with this rivalry with Memphis, they’ll want to come out of the blocks. They had no game at weekend after it being cancelled, and they’ll certainly want to put the record straight after getting beat at our place. So we are under no illusions, this is going to be a tough task. In terms of injuries, I’m certainly looking further down the line at the players that could be back and to maybe give us a little bit of boost when we come back home again in ten days’ time.”

On how the longer break will help the team: “I think the break that we have just had has been a big help. As I said, there were some physical issues, as well as trying to piece ourselves back together again mentally. Going in front and losing a game is never easy, especially against the Champions and a side that we know are going to be fighting for possibly silverware. I think it’s given everyone a moment to regroup. Could we do with a game come Saturday? In an ideal world, yes. We’ve had enough time off, but as we have seen before, the schedule can be a bit lopsided. We’ve gone from being a couple of games in front of teams to now going behind in the schedule. We all know our challenge right now is to perform on a more consistent basis, for the side to be a tad more stabilized and certainly to bag as many points in this second half of the season as we possibly can. No difference from anyone else. I certainly feel as though we’ve got more to come.”

On what to expect from Memphis match: “They had a terrific win against Hartford in their last home game. You can only look back at the last game you played, and those feelings will be prevalent in the way that the players are training and the confidence they have around the place. With the game getting called off on the weekend, that’s what they will be leaning on. It’s a stadium not dissimilar to our own. I think the dimensions will be slightly different, but they get great support. They will be, I would think, foaming at the mouth to try and get at us and keep on their positive run. We will be doing likewise though, because we need to get ourselves back on track. I would imagine that the opening 10 or 15 minutes will be fast and furious. Two teams that want to set this all out, and in two maybe different ways to finish their season off very well and to get them into playoffs spot. For us, we are chasing down silverware, and I would think both teams are going to be well and truly out for this one.”

KOSUKE KIMURA (Defender/Assistant Coach)

On how the break has been good for the team: “I mean, leading up to the eleven days, we lost two games, two tough games away. It’s not easy in this conference especially. We have been doing a really good job in our away games but then we lost those two games. We are just regrouping and talking about what we want to be and what we want to achieve this season. Its kid of the halfway point, it’s a good time to settle down a little bit, because we had such a busy month In June and even May. We had lots of away games. We pushed everybody and I think everybody is back in, thirsty and just wanting to go out there and prove that we are a team that can deal with those situations better.”

On if the team was antsy to get back on the field in a game: “Yes, for sure, always. That’s what we want, but at the same time you have to have a little time to think about what went wrong, what we have to do better. You talk about little details but that matters, it adds up. I think we polish that and sharpen up a little bit. Just like you said, I think everyone is ready to go again.”

On how there is no panic after the two losses: “We have good players. I think all the talent that we have in this group is really high compared to other teams. We should have no excuse. We go out there and everybody knows what we can get out of it in a game, and especially the away games we have done it so well, besides these last two games, but that’s what we have. We just keep working on it. That’s it. That is what is going to give us more confidence.”

On the fun of rivalry games: “It might be the best time. We have two losses now. Rivalry, big one, it happened this year. This is something to fight for, always. Something to show to our fans in the community that we care, and this is what we do, and set a good standard. We won at home against them. I think we can do that away as well.

On how well Ríos is playing this season: “He knows where to be. He’s humble. He’s hungry. He has that and I love it. It’s not just him scoring goals. As a teammate, good personality. Sometimes forwards forget and don’t depend much, but this guy, he works so hard defensively. That gives us so much energy as well. Maybe sometimes we struggle scoring, but he is there for you to help defending. That gives another forward, sometimes Cameron, sometimes Ropapa, other players to say ‘We’re not just here for attacking.’ They focus on it. When we’re struggling, they understand that and it helps us defending. When you see him every day, he doesn’t complain, he works hard, and he’s always positive. It’s great that he’s scoring goals and I wish he’ll keep doing it and I think we have enough players to supply that for him.”

On if the players pay attention to other opponents’ points in the standings: “Oh yes, for sure, we talk about it all the time. Yesterday, two days ago, last weekend, it worked in our favor. I think we got to see that, and obviously we see that every day on the table and everybody’s so close to each other, we can’t drop points. Indy’s dropped points, some teams above us are close to us. We’ve got to take advantage of that, but it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win. We’ve got to win.”

On his assessment of the team midway through the season: “I think we did decent, but in the last two games, we’ve got to finish it off stronger than that. At the same time, I think we see really good tendencies, which is scoring goals. We struggled last year, it’s almost like the other way around now. Last year, we defended so well but we weren’t scoring. This year, we’re scoring well, but at the same time, we get caught in counterattacks, a cheap giveaway will turn into conceding goals. At the same time, we see good tendencies and we see that every day in training. It’s getting better, and I think it’s going to keep getting better. You’ve just got to focus every day in training and then just bring it in the game.”

LEBO MOLOTO (Midfielder)

On how the lengthy break has helped the team: “It’s been good. If we would have won our last two games, it would have been a lot different because we would have had momentum going into the next game. But, I think with the last two games, I think it’s good to kind of sit back, reassess the team and see what we can do to improve, and it’s been good in terms of just getting our mind off of the game.”

On if the team is antsy to play again after losing the last two: “It happens in the game, those two games, I don’t think we should be panicking or anything. Especially when we know what we’re doing. I think the Wednesday game couldn’t come any sooner too.”

On why the team isn’t panicking: “I think we have enough good players. We’ve been away this year and we’ve done well, and I think that’s also a big sign of a good team. We’ve been down games and we’ve come back. This was a sign of resilience. I think we’ll bounce back.”

On what he remembers about the last Memphis match: “I remember the whole rivalry, who as the better hot chicken or whatever. It was a good game, it was a tough game. We scored two goals in the last 10 minutes, I believe. So I think it’s going to be intense, because in this league it doesn’t matter if you’re sitting at the bottom or in first, anybody can beat anybody. I think we’ve just got to focus on ourselves and get those goals.”

On his assessment of the team’s first half of the season: “I think honestly, we gave up quite a few goals, and I think compared to last year, we’ve scored a lot more goals. I think we just need to find the balance. You are going to concede goals, but try to keep them as minimal as possible. If it means we have to win 2-1, 1-0, that’s fine. Also, the mentality of the guys, everybody’s looking sharp this past week of training sessions. We’ll have a good game on Wednesday.”

On what Vinnie Vermeer brings to the midfield: “We have a good group of guys. We have a good rotation going on now that we have injuries. I played with Vinnie against Lipscomb [Preseason], and there was some good combination, good understanding. It’s always tough going forward to create chemistry, and I think it helps when you can actually have a communication and talk about it. He’s a solid back-to-back defensive midfielder. He can keep the ball, he can be aggressive defensively. I think he’s going to be very helpful for us on Wednesday.”

DANIEL RĺOS (Forward)

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