Breaking down Nashville SC’s 2023 roster decisions

Nashville SC announced their 2023 roster decisions earlier on Thursday. Eyebrows were raised at some decisions, while others seemed expected by the majority of the fanbase and media. Nashville did not announce or confirm any ongoing negotiations with out of contract players, with several eligible for free agency when it opens on December 13.

The surprises

Dax McCarty

The club’s first captain and undoubtedly a legend in Nashville’s brief history finds himself as a free agent. After a somewhat unimpressive 2022, McCarty played a huge role for Nashville in 2023, logging over 2,500 minutes for the Boys in Gold.

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Nashville’s reliance on McCarty showed a huge need to rejuvenate their midfield. For McCarty however, it was an opportunity to showcase that he is still able to contribute at a high level. Many MLS teams can use his veteran presence, leadership and overall quality, especially as a free agent.

Nashville didn’t announce any ongoing negotiations, but an offer might still be made for McCarty to stay in Nashville. It is almost guaranteed that the 36-year-old will have more than one offer from around the league, meaning Nashville will have to beat other teams for their former captain’s signature.

While money is obviously important, it’s not always the lone deciding factor for a player of McCarty’s caliber and age. Another big deciding factor is the length of contract; McCarty has been on one-year contracts for two seasons and might look for something more secure long term. Other things like location, roster build, post-playing prospects, and ability to compete for silverware immediately are significant factors.

Retirement is still in play for McCarty’s career. He’ll turn 37 in April, and has expressed interest in coaching and media after he hangs up his boots. Regardless of how this situation ends, McCarty will always be remembered as a legend for Nashville, on and off the pitch.

Valair Shabilla

Fafà Picault

Fafà Picault was in the last year of his contract when Nashville traded for him in the winter after nearly signing him last summer. They knew he would be eligible for free agency this winter, and so did he.

Picault was one of the bright spots for Nashville last season, with his 11 goal contributions the second-highest on the team. He was direct, aggressive, tricky and confrontational, all qualities Nashville needed, and gave their attack a different dimension than they had previously. In a lot of ways, Picault was what Nashville thought they were getting when they signed David Accam.

I’d be surprised if Nashville hadn’t offered Picault a new deal. It also makes sense for every player to test free agency when they’re able; it’s the only time in their careers when they hold all the leverage in negotiations, and at 32, Picault won’t have many chances left to find a long-term deal.

He’ll have plenty of suitors around MLS, and I expect Nashville will be one of them.

Ben Wright

Kemy Amiche

“Why is it surprising that Nashville declined Kemy Amiche’s option?” you might ask.

Amiche was claimed off waivers by Nashville last winter in a move that surprised most people. The 22-year-old French attacking midfielder wasn’t selected in the SuperDraft, but had an interesting profile, coming through the youth academy of FC Lorient in France and playing three seasons with their reserve side.

He was a star with Huntsville City FC in MLS NEXT Pro this season, leading the team with eight goals and six assists and earning their Player of the Season award. With Nashville’s struggles in midfield, there was speculation that he might get a chance with Nashville next season. However, he does occupy an international roster slot, and given how tightly Nashville manage those, there may not have been space for him on the senior roster.

It will be interesting to see where he lands, or if there’s the possibility of returning to Huntville on an MLS NEXT Pro contract.

Ben Wright

So what now?

Nashville have just 21 players on their senior roster. The Coyotes will enter Concacaf Champions Cup in Round One, slated to kick off from February 5-8. This gives Nashville as few as 67 days before their 2024 season begins, with preseason camp likely to start at least six weeks in advance. Nashville have a lot to do and little time in which to do it.

This is the most flexibility Nashville have ever had going into an offseason, and with McCarty and Picault gone, they have the biggest holes to fill. Even if McCarty returns, they still need to get significantly younger in midfield and add players who can progress the ball. If Picault signs elsewhere next year, they’ll have to replace a huge portion of their secondary scoring, and already needed help on the wings.

With potential changes to MLS roster rules looming and a schedule that promises to be even more crowded than their busiest-ever season, Nashville should be quite active in the winter window.

The full 2024 roster:

Goalkeepers (3): Ben Martino, Elliot Panicco, Joe Willis
Defenders (7): Josh Bauer, Daniel Lovitz, Lukas MacNaughton, Jack Maher, Shaq Moore, Taylor Washington, Walker Zimmerman
Midfielders (8): Tah Brian Anunga, Sean Davis, Aníbal Godoy, Randall Leal, Hany Mukhtar, Alex Muyl, Jacob Shaffelburg, Joey Skinner
Forwards (3):  Teal Bunbury, Adem Sipić, Sam Surridge

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids. Mastodon

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