Here at Broadway Sports Media, we recently introduced a new series on our feed.
Each time a Nashville SC player reaches a milestone in appearances for the club (10, 25, 50, 100, 150, 200, and so on…), we will take a snapshot look at their history for the Boys in Gold.
On Saturday, Alex Muyl hit a milestone by making his 100th appearance for the club.
Nashville SC acquired Alex Muyl via a trade three matches into the club’s pandemic-altered debut season. Mike Jacobs sent the New York Red Bulls an international slot for two seasons plus a conditional $50,000 GAM for Muyl. In return, Nashville received the Manhattanite along with his homegrown rights.
Muyl quickly established himself as a dependable piece for Gary Smith. Even if he is not a penned-in starter, Muyl almost always comes off the bench as a planned substitution.
While not officially announced, Alex Muyl seemingly has signed a new contract this offseason that bumped his salary from $331,000 to $500,000 annually.
What the numbers say
Comparing Alex Muyl to his peers is an incredibly difficult task. Where exactly do you start?
Just within the last year, he has played as a winger, central midfielder, wingback, fullback, and attacking midfielder. I believe he even pitched in as a center back as part of a back three for a few minutes last year, although my memory escapes me as to what match that would have occurred in.
The point is that when Muyl spends so much time in different roles throughout the season, it heavily skews his numbers. It is to be expected that he would score more goals and whip in more crosses than other midfielders, given the amount of time he occupies a more traditional winger role. In the same vein, he would be expected to have amassed more defensive interventions last year than an average winger since he spent a good chunk of the season deputizing as a wingback/fullback.
Despite the difficulty, Muyl has made a measurable impact on Nashville based on his topline numbers. He has contributed seven goals and nine assists. Among NSC players in the MLS era, that places him fifth and sixth in those categories, respectively.
When you zoom out on the league as a whole, Muyl falls quite a bit further down the list. Among MLS wingers with at least 2,000 minutes played since 2020, Alex Muyl ranks 74th of 80 qualifiers in goals added (g+) – American Soccer Analysis’ more holistic measure of overall impact.
However, Muyl’s game has always been one that does not necessarily translate into statistical measures.
The eye test
Perhaps more so than any other player on Nashville’s roster, the eye test matters much more than any statistics that Muyl contributes to the score sheet.
The discussion around Muyl must start with the premise that he is Nashville’s “glue guy.”
For those unfamiliar with the term, a “glue guy” is a veteran player who holds everything together by doing many little things that often go unnoticed. In American sports, it is a moniker often tossed around other team sports such as basketball and hockey. Most great soccer teams have one as well, even if the sport outside the United States has never quite adopted a synonymic term.
Through his versatility and tireless work, Muyl established himself as Gary Smith’s indispensable glue guy.
As mentioned previously, his versatility for Nashville is unmatched. As a chess piece, Gary Smith can toggle in and out of formations based on Muyl’s ability to fill a lot of different roles.
That movement around the pitch has been highlighted most this season. By starting Muyl, Smith has been able to seamlessly switch between a 4-4-2 Diamond and 4-4-2 Empty Bucket (sometimes denoted as a 4-2-3-1 depending on your view of Hany Mukhtar’s positioning). In the “Empty Bucket” formation, Muyl plays a traditional winger role. Whereas in the diamond midfield, he shifts back into the central midfield to play a shuttler role. It is that versatility that has made Muyl virtually undroppable.
The latest switch to a central midfield position may have unlocked the best version of Muyl in Music City. At that position, Muyl can affect the game defensively, push up as a second-line presser, and still find his moments to drift and contribute offensively.
Last year, Muyl spent a considerable portion of the season playing in a wingback role until the arrival of Shaq Moore. Muyl added quite a bit offensively to the position. Ultimately, it was never going to be his permanent home as he struggled at times defensively when pinned back into Nashville’s defensive third.
Muyl is a top-notch defender, but his best contributions come further up the pitch pressing opponents and forcing mistakes. A week ago, his famous armpit goal resulted from repressing D.C. United in the box and putting his body in front of an attempted clearance. While that deflection took a fortunate bounce, it highlights how he mucks up the game for opponents by bringing a bit of Red Bull energy to Nashville’s defensive structure.
It is that non-stop running that is easy to miss on initial viewing. If you pause and watch sequences back, you might begin to appreciate all the work Muyl puts in, even if it does not show up in the stat sheet.
Alex Muyl will always be one of the most polarizing players for Nashville SC or any team that he plays on.
Soccer, more so than most American team sports, sees supporters fall victim to analyzing teams through the lens of the billion-dollar Galáctico sides at the top end of the Champions League rather than through the lens of an American-style salary-capped league. In MLS, each roster cannot feature a bench full of technically gifted marvels. You need a number of glue guys and role players that can undertake the dirty work that allows those stars, like Hany Mukhtar, to succeed.
With a fresh contract seemingly signed, Muyl should continue to play a vital role for Nashville SC. As long as Gary Smith is patrolling the touchline, Muyl will have a place as part of the core of the club.