Smith satisfied with offensive creativity as Leal nets first preseason goal
TAMPA, Fla. – If Nashville Soccer Club’s first preseason match last week laid out the canvas, the club’s second preseason match on Thursday put the first golden brushstrokes on it.
Head Coach Gary Smith placed an emphasis on attacking creativity as the Boys in Gold began the second phase of their 2020 preseason and carried it into their second game of preseason training against Chicago Fire FC.
“We’ve focused heavily on being a little bit more purposeful with our play, trying to break lines, certainly trying to get down the side of teams or into more creative areas of the field and show more energy to get forward and to make things happen in front of goal,” Smith said. “After the first 20 minutes where we started slowly, I felt a heck of a lot happier about the way those things came together.”
Players like Hany Mukhtar and Dominique Badji put in strong shifts during the first half in terms of creating genuine scoring chances and getting into dangerous areas. In the second half, Alan Winn and Derrick Jones picked up where they left off and generated chance after chance. Late substitute David Accam also joined in on the fun, putting a dangerous shot narrowly wide of the post on a feed from Jones.
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Randall Leal was a bright spot for Nashville SC in this match, linking up with Mukhtar and Dan Lovitz throughout the first half and lining up strong scoring chances before finally cashing one in. As first-half stoppage time was expiring, Leal bolted down the left wing, got a picture-perfect pass from Mukhtar and curled the ball past the keeper at the far post for Nashville SC’s first preseason goal.
Smith has been particularly impressed with Leal since his return from the Costa Rican National Team’s camp this past January.
“Randall showed already what an immense talent he is,” Smith said. “I’ve been incredibly impressed with his individual quality and ability to take players on and to be creative. I think the biggest challenge that Randall will have is adapting to a new environment, new teammates, a brand-new league and those challenges that come with it. In terms of what he’s given us as a creator and a spark and a catalyst for some of our attacking play, I certainly couldn’t be happier and was delighted to see him get on the score sheet today.”
Those positive, creative building blocks came in a match that was also marked by slow starts in both halves that resulted in three Chicago goals. Smith attributed those sluggish starts to the grueling training schedule since returning to Florida. The players are fully aware of the work that still needs to be done to fix that, and Smith is still satisfied with the creativity and chemistry that was on display on Thursday afternoon.
“One or two of the guys coming off, the first thing they said was ‘Listen, if we think we’re going to get away with that come the 29th, we need to think again,’” Smith said. “So the guys are appreciative of what’s needed and what’s necessary. Circumstances around this game were always going to be tough. The guys flew back to Nashville, had a day off, flew back into Tampa, and we’ve had two heavy days to get ourselves back on track again physically. I thought they looked very heavy-legged in the first 20 minutes. But the signs of connection, the signs of understanding are certainly there, and we need to build on that.”