Brian Anunga: 2023 report card

Brian Anunga failed to make an major impact on Nashville’s season and saw his minutes reduced again in 2023, but still stands out as a defensive destroyer.

2023 Grade: C-

2023 by the numbers

Matches played: 22 (17th on Nashville SC)
Minutes played: 1,092 (17th on Nashville SC)
Goals: 0
Assists: 0

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2023 in review

2023 was not much different than the previous season for Brian Anunga. Since playing over 1,500 MLS minutes in 2021, Nashville have relied on Anunga less every season following that.

By this point, it’s obvious what Anunga’s abilities and limitations are. He’s a disruptor in midfield and will fight for every inch of the pitch the opponent tries to get over him. On the other hand, he is unable to add any consistent value going forward.

Defensively, Anunga had another great season, averaging 3.98 tackles and interceptions per 90 in MLS. Not only did this lead Nashville SC, but it put him amongst the league’s best in his position. Unfortunately for a midfielder, that isn’t enough to justify the shortcomings on the opposite end, especially in Nashville’s system, without a dedicated destroyer.

Anunga is one of two Nashville outfield players to feature in over 1,000 minutes and not have a goal contribution; the other is defender Josh Bauer. His inability going forward is not just with goals – in MLS he averaged 3.18 progressive passes and 0.32 progressive carries per 90. He also had the fifth lowest Shot Creating Actions per 90 for Nashville, only beating two goalkeepers and two center backs in the category.

Away from statistics, in 2023, Anunga was used as an “extra body” to give other midfielders a break. At no point did he challenge for a starting job when other midfielders were healthy. His lack of ball progression through passing or dribbling was noticed every time he played.

The 27-year-old was looked at as someone who can take over for Dax McCarty and Anibal Godoy, after finishing his fourth season with Nashville SC, it seems clear that he is not at that level. 

Looking forward

It’s hard to blame Anunga for his offensive shortcomings, after four years at the club, Nashville SC knew exactly what player they were getting. In the right system, it’s possible for him to become a regular fixture for an MLS team. 

Putting two true box-to-box or attacking midfielders in front of him would showcase his ability without needing to rely on his attacking contributions. Unfortunately for Anunga, Nashville has yet to play in that system. The closest they’ve gotten was with the diamond, but even then, they didn’t have the right pieces to allow for that.

Anunga’s future is closely tied to the other midfielders in the squad and offseason dealings. If veterans like McCarty, Godoy or Davis leave the team, it would be hard for Nashville to lose another piece in midfield. After all, they need more numbers in that area, not less.

At the same time, his guaranteed salary of $270,000 and the apparent reduction in his minutes might make Nashville reconsider bringing him back for 2024.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this was written, Nashville brought back Anunga for 2024 and Dax McCarty left as a free agent.

Moment of the season

After receiving the biggest loss in franchise history, Nashville SC were looking to right the ship against Messi and Inter Miami who were fighting for a playoff spot. Anunga played all 90 minutes in the Leagues Cup final rematch and impressed defensively. He helped limit Messi and co. to only four shots on target and earn Nashville a point on the road.

Previous report cards:

Joe Willis (A-) | Dan Lovitz (A) | Lukas MacNaughton (A) | Jack Maher (A-) | Dax McCarty (B+) | Fafà Picault (A) | Randall Leal (D) | Sam Surridge (B-) | Hany Mukhtar (B-) | Ethan Zubak (D) | Teal Bunbury (C-) | Jacob Shaffelburg (B-) | Shaq Moore (B) | Alex Muyl (B+) | Aníbal Godoy (C+) | Josh Bauer (B-) | Taylor Washington (B) | Walker Zimmerman (B-) | Luke Haakenson (C)

Author: Valair Shabillamoved to Nashville as a refugee from Iraq at the age of 14. A fan of soccer from a young age, he used soccer to connect with a larger community in Nashville and adapt to life abroad. He's covered Nashville SC since 2019, co-hosting Pharmaceutical Soccer, and analyzing soccer from an audio/video perspective.

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