Gary Smith, Lebo Moloto, and Daniel Ríos spoke to the media after training before Nashville's match against Ottawa Fury.
GARY SMITH (Head Coach)
On Nashville’s upcoming home stand: “Pleased to be back home, number one. There’s no doubt about that. It seems to be that when we go away, we’re away for a period of time. I’m sure there’s some issues with scheduling at First Tennessee that affects that, but delighted to be back. We come back into town a confident group after a very decent four game run away from home with three victories in there. The guys are happy about that. They look in a good place, they look confident. I do honestly think that the mindset in this group is to reinforce that form and to make sure that from here on out, whatever happens at home, we’re as productive as we can be. We’ve proved that our away form can be of a decent level, and we’ve certainly got to bring our home form to that type of standard now.”
On how to bring their good road form to First Tennessee Park: “It would be easy for me to say, ‘look, this is what we need to do, and this is how we need to do it, and that will get it done.’ It just sadly doesn’t work that way. As I’ve said before, what you tend to find when you’re at home is that teams will come in with a slightly different mentality, and our challenge is to make sure that as many ways as possible that we can replicate some of the qualities we have away from home. When I say that, it’s not always as easy as it seems, because the game opens up when we’re not at home. The pressure’s not on us to force the game, and teams tend to be a little more positive and open minded when they’re at home. The reinforcements for us are can we control the game with the ball, are we able to create opportunities? A glut of goal scoring opportunities last week that are fresh on our mind. But on the back end of that, there’s certainly an area of our game with such dominance in territorial advantage where the focus from one or two defensive players to deny counterattacking moments, and to really put any seed of positivity completely out of the minds of the group that’s coming in. And this is not just against Ottawa. You see many, many times at all levels, where teams have got good control of the game and they get done with a sucker punch. Teams counter attack well, and out of the sort of face of victory, you end up losing control of the game. So there are two or three areas that we’re focused on, but reinforcement of some of the good moments we’ve had thus far is uppermost in our mind.”
On success from wide areas against Ottawa: “The things that have changed with this group for the most part, and I said this yesterday to a couple people, is the confidence that has grown in the way that the season has unfolded for them. They’re a side that take great pride in keeping the ball. Nikola [Popovic] has done a great job in setting a technical standard in this group. When they’ve got the ball, they’re bloody difficult to get it back off of. Us trying to control portions of the game I think will be detrimental for them. Some of their weakest areas are when they’ve got to defend for large periods of time, so we certainly want to take advantage of that. But in terms of changing anything [from Ottawa’s 3-0 loss to Nashville], I think they’ll be mindful of what happened. If he’s not, that would be strange. I would think that the players, having been on a good run of eight unbeaten, will be looking at their last defeat, which was us, and saying that we need to show slightly better than that. I’m sure they want to keep this run going. So whatever it takes to keep this run going at our place, I’m sure that will be paramount for the manager and the players."
On how Ottawa’s defense will match up with Nashville’s attack: “I honestly think that their defensive record is based around keeping the ball. I’m not saying that they’re not capable defensively, because they are. But if you look at their stats, they maintain the ball more than any other team in the league. They pass the ball more than any other team in the league, which means that they’ve got the ball more, or certainly for longer periods. The key for us is to take the ball back. The more we can have it, I think the less that they grow in confidence, certainly we can exploit one or two areas of their team that I do believe we’re capable of doing. But you’ve got to have the ball! They’re going to make it tough for us. They are a good footballing team, and they’re very confident. But we’re also looking to keep ourselves on a good run and to reinforce some of our recent form. It should be an excellent game.”
On a Gold Cup semifinal being played in Nashville and Nashville becoming a soccer town: “Well the Gold Cup being here, I believe it’s a semifinal, am I right? I don’t know if there’s a way to determine if the U.S. would come here if they’re in the semifinal. We all hope they are. It only galvanizes what goes on with professional soccer. If it was the U.S., I’m sure it would be great for a lot of the community. However, I’m sure that there are lots of individuals, be it Mexico in town, you’d like to think that they’re the two big names that are going to make the semifinal. They’re big attractions. You’d love to see a big crowd. I think it just continues to build the momentum for us for sure in the city moving towards MLS. As far as having pro soccer in Nashville, I think it’s something that the community has been waiting for for a long time. If you look at the way the youth organizations are growing, the support that we get, certainly looking back at the ICC and the Gold Cup, I think it was two years ago now, we had some wonderful crowds. There was some terrific support. And that really did kickstart what we have. Some terrific games, some great support. I think we’ve built some wonderful memories, and in any professional sport, be it international or domestic, I think those memories are what everyone is after. For good and bad, hopefully for good. You want to see those last minute goals, you want to see victories and heroes being made, and individuals that supporters can really get behind and maybe connect with. I think our guys have done a great job of that. When you see the internationals come into town, it does likewise. It builds appetites for all supporters.”
LEBO MOLOTO (Midfielder)
On the previous road stretch: “I think obviously last year, coming into this year we’ve added a few guys. We’re midway through the season, and you can tell that there’s a little bit of chemistry that’s already forming. I think the last two games are proof of that, from being down a goal and coming back. That just shows the resilient connection and the belief we have in each other. I think the last game was basically proof of that.”
On the improved finishing this season: “I think to be honest it’s a combination of both (new signings and familiarity with the system). You have a few guys that we brought in, we have guys that came back. Obviously a lot of us came back from last year. I’m playing with Ropapa and Daniel up top. I played with Ropapa last year and I know his movement, and now with Daniel. I think it’s been a combination of both, being able to score goals and put them in, although I still think we could do better in terms of conceding goals. But I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
On his goal against Hartford: “It’s always good to get a goal. If you’re Ken Tribbett or Liam Doyle at the back and you get a goal, you celebrate it like it’s Christmas. I think for me, I had a couple of good looks first half. I could have easily just went into my shell and beat myself up about it. I just kept on going. I figured that if I could get two chances in the first half, I could still get another three or four in the second half. To get that rebound was a good feeling, to help us tie the game and go on to win the game.”
On their confidence in the final third: “I think goals are a combination of a lot of different things. It’s tough when you’re in a situation when you’re not playing well and you’re not converting a lot of goals. The last two games, for example, we’re playing well. If eleven guys on the field are playing well, a lot of good things happen. You end up creating chances. Even if you lose a ball, there’s that belief. I think the last two games, they have actually proved that. We went up to Bethlehem, we went down 1-0, but before that, we were actually creating chances. So it was just a matter of converting them."
On the mood in the group on a six match unbeaten streak: “Is it six matches? I didn’t even think about it. But I think it’s good. It’s good that we’ve been winning. Nobody wants to lose obviously. I think we have a good group of guys. This is the only year that we’ll have all of us together, and I think we have a good group of guys that we can actually challenge for something. To actually see us go undefeated for that amount of games, it’s a good feeling to think that we can actually do this."
DANIEL RĺOS (Forward)
On the upcoming home stand: “We have a good run now. We haven’t lost in 5 games? Six games right now. We feel good. Right now the team has the right mindset, and we’re preparing well for tomorrow’s match."
On his partnership with Ropapa Mensah: “It’s good that players like Ropapa that hadn’t been starting at the beginning of the season are performing well. It’s good for the team that everybody’s engaged in this part of the season. It’s mid season and we need to achieve the most points that we can.”
On his performance in the first match against Ottawa: “I remember that I scored two goals. We won that game. Difficult surface and weather, and it was the first game at home for them. A big win for us, but it has been a lot of weeks. Their team has performed better, and it’s a different team. They’re coming with a better run like us. It will be a good game tomorrow.”
On how Ottawa has been successful: “They are scoring goals. I think that’s the main thing that they’ve improved. They’re scoring the chances they have.”