NASHVILLE, TN - Nashville SC's Gary Smith, Jimmy Ockford, Matt Pickens and Alan Winn spoke to the media following Nashville's 1-0 win over Birmingham Legion at First Tennessee Park.
GARY SMITH (Head Coach)
Opening Statement: "Well obviously I'm delighted to be bagging the three points tonight. The game really unfolded in a fashion that I expected. Our wide flank play was very good. We looked bright and purposeful from dead ball situations and in the first half I felt as though we deserved to go in a goal to the good. Second half was a slightly different picture. They started to deal with our wider threat better. I think Tommy [Soehn] changed shape a little bit and the game looked like it was really petering out to a 0-0 draw. There were some substitutions as you saw to try and jump-start something more exciting and positive and my hope is, in the end, it worked because with Ropapa [Mensah] out wide does a wonderful job one v. one against their fullback, owns the corner, and the rest you know. So delighted, we've got a lot of players out and I felt as though there were times we missed Lebo [Moloto's] creativity. Daniel [Ríos] and Cameron [Lancaster] are arguably the best forwards at USL level and of course we're missing Captain [Michael Reed] and Derrick [Jones] so they're big players to try and continually keep filling those cracks and I thought the group did a wonderful job tonight to get a victory out of what looked like it was really going to be a draw."
On the set-piece at the end that led to Jimmy Ockford's goal: "There was nothing out of the ordinary. It wasn't really a training ground movement. [Justin Davis's] delivery to the back post looked like it caught them a little bit by surprise. We have some good targets in there, some big bodies, and in the end one of them counted. I've seen it multiple times where teams break the deadlock or win a game in such a tight affair with a set-piece and that was obviously the case."
On getting the ball to wide areas: "The first period, they played in a shape and a format that we might have expected. They've had some joy and they've been in a good run. It offers wide areas as a bit of an outlet or a staging ground for attacks. We'd worked and looked at trying to take advantage of that in the first period. I thought we did that well. Alan [Wynn] looked bright, got in some really good positions, caused the fullback a lot of problems. Likewise, Kharlton [Belmar] on the far side, the final ball, the final shot, effort probably wasn't quite where we would have liked it. I felt one of the biggest issues given the change in dynamic of the team was when we did get into some good spots, not enough players breaking into the penalty area, not enough targets and Kenny [Tribbett] and Bolu [Akinyode] are very similar guys in more of a foundational role in that midfield. They did a great job but you lack that extra body getting higher up the field, but that's a consequence of players being out and they did a wonderful job the pair of them and in the end it was enough, and we needed it to be enough."
On Pickens' 100th career clean sheet and his performance in the match: "I think the word there is presence that he gives the group with his experience and physical stature and vocality back there. I think he's, if you look back at his career and what he's achieved, he's one of the top goalkeepers, one of the best goalkeepers I've seen in the U.S. in my time. The ability for him to continually move his career on and the amount of games that he's played, I think is a testament to the professional nature of the world that he works in. Tonight's performance probably wasn't one of his most outstanding. He did what he needed to. He made a couple of important interceptions and saves and when called upon he did what he does and has done 100 times before that. He kept a clean sheet."
On if the team has a knack for last-second winners: “Let me tell you, it does nothing for my stress levels, the inner anguish that you feel on the touch line. The delight and the sheer exhilaration of scoring that late knowing that you’ve pretty much won the game is amazing. But I had 90 minutes of tension and turmoil sitting on that bench. We’ve got five games at home here. We want to keep the pressure on the top groups. We still feel that there’s an outside chance of the Eastern Conference title. To keep in that race, you’ve got to win. We have to keep the pressure on. It’s not in our hands now, but if we don’t keep the pressure on, then the teams above us go into their games knowing that the world’s a much more comfortable environment to work in. Birmingham are now going to be at home to Indy on Friday. As far as I can tell, they’ve got to win that game. Birmingham have been on a terrific run, but they’ve now lost two on the spin. I can’t believe anyone in that group is going to want to lose the game. So now all of a sudden, there’s a little bit more edge in the Birmingham side. They’re a good side. Speaking to their manager before the game, he’s seen some real positives, and understandably. So this is a good result tonight with players out. It wasn’t an easy game, it never was going to be. I’m sure they were aware they had two very tough games. They’ve got to win the next one, and if they can, then tonight’s result will be worth even more.”
On taking positives from this match into Saturday’s match against Pittsburgh: “Of course. There were some good performances. The first half for me was the more positive display. We’ll have some players coming back at the weekend. Daniel [Ríos] had 20 minutes tonight, which is a nice step forward. I would hope that Lebo [Moloto] and Derrick [Jones] are a step closer. Slowly but surely, I think we’ll start to piece together a group that looks like a championship-winning team. Now, is that an Eastern Conference-winning team? Maybe. But I certainly want to be in as good a position as I can be to have a very decent run in the postseason. The Pittsburgh team we’ve got coming in has always been extremely difficult to play against under Bob Lilley. They’re doing a terrific job, they’re in a great spot. But what we know is that if we can take care of them, however that comes about, then we do ourselves another massive favor in the step towards a conference title possibly and a top four spot.”
JIMMY OCKFORD (Defender)
On how it feels to score the game-winning goal: "It feels amazing. It was a hard-fought battle from all of us and we grinded it out until the last three minutes of the game and pulled off the three points. It was just amazing."
On his feeling when Justin Davis stepped up for the corner kick: "I had a good feeling it could've come my way and I was just ready for it. I was going to win my battle and I did and I couldn't really see what happened after I headed it and I saw it in the back of the net."
On how the back line held up and Matt Pickens's clean sheet: "I think we're all very strong. We didn't really give them too many chances. We kept them in front of us, communicated well, and Matt Pickens behind us, it's a nice cushion for sure. He's strong in the air, he's a great leader for us, and with his experience he really helps us. He comes up big numerous times and he has 100 clean sheets now and that's great for him. Well deserved."
On him and Forrest Lasso thwarting danger as the last line of defense: "Yeah, we knew it was going to be tough and we just had to be ready and in good positions at all times. No sleeping from the backs so I think we showed that well and we were always in a good spot."
On scoring the team's 50th goal and having Daniel Ríos back in the lineup: "That's great. It's great having Ríos back. He's been a huge part of this team. He's getting his fitness back as well, slowly but surely. He's always dangerous up there. He's good all around, number nine, good at holding the ball. Obviously, he's still in the Golden Boot race so I can see him coming close to that with these remainder games. I'm coming for him, though. Sorry Daniel."
MATT PICKENS (Goalkeeper)
On his 100th career clean sheet and what it says about his career: “I don’t know if I’m a good goalkeeper, but an old goalkeeper. I’d be disrespectful or selfish if I didn’t have an ode to all of the players and teams that I played with that have worked their tail off in front of me for every 100 of those shutouts including tonight. The guys did a good job tonight. Above all, I’m just happy about the three points. It makes it sweeter than just having a point this time of year. Moving in the right direction, got the monkey off our back, now we’re just going to keep going.”
On if he plans to blow up his social media after reaching 100 career goals: “No, no social media here. I’m going to check on my kids, make sure they’re sleeping, go to bed and wake up and get ready for Saturday.”
On how he feels the defense performed overall: “Good. We’ve been playing pretty decent defense. Something that we’ve gotten better at this half of the year. Guys like Alan [Winn] that come on the field are able to help in the possession, break lines so we’re able to get out of our defensive half a little easier. That helps, so it’s good to have him on the field tonight. Same with [Kharlton] Belmar. The guys have athleticism and that frightens teams. They’re going to drop back and make it easier for us defensively when they’re on the field.”
On Birmingham’s play in the second half: “They’ve gotten a lot better since the last time we played them. I think the last time we played them, they had a few injuries. They got a couple of guys back. They’re more athletic; they have a little bit of a bite to them which is hard to deal with building out and getting pressure going forward. I just think that we did start the game well, and they started out the second half a lot better. When they go into half with it 0-0, they’re thinking they need a goal, we’ve got 45 minutes left in this game, so they’re still in it. Mentally, we knew there was going to be a little push from them. They just played Friday night, so we knew there was going to be a little bit of die off towards the end. That’s typical of teams who only have a couple of days rest. Credit to the boys who recognized that and pushed on a little bit more to get three points.”
ALAN WINN (Winger)
On if he anticipated several one-v-one situations: “I tried to anticipate that every game. That’s my role out in the wing is to try and isolate myself with that right wing or right back and then that central midfielder, whoever I’m facing against. It worked pretty well in the first half. Obviously, didn’t execute with an assist or a goal. I transitioned a little bit in the second half, but it kind of slowed down. Definitely could do more each and every game.”
On if he was thinking on how to get the final touch or shot while on the field: “That just comes with the challenge. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. It’s just keep pushing, keep chipping away. It’s one of those games where it didn’t happen, but we have guys like Jimmy [Ockford] who can put the ball in the back of the net in the 90th minute. That helps going forward.”
On if there is any regret not getting a goal sooner: “I don’t ever see opportunities like that as regrets, just more as gateways to get better. You always have these things where it doesn’t click all the time, but that just propels you to be better in this aspect or be better in this whether it’s defensively or offensively. Sometimes it happens, and it’s great. But there is never regrets when it comes to not being able to do your job sometimes because sometimes it helps you reflect on what you need to do to be better the next game. Hopefully, Saturday it’s better.”
On what he has learned from goalkeeper Matt Pickens: “That he stretches all the time. It’s crazy. I stretch a little bit, and then he’s stretching the next 30 minutes, and I’m done. I’m sweating and he’s still going. That’s one thing I’m taking away – stretching and ice baths and all recovery stuff.”