Elliot Panicco took a major step forward in 2023, stepping up in some of the biggest moments of Nashville SC’s season and making a real claim on the starting job.
2023 Grade: A
2023 by the numbers
Matches played: 11 (22nd on Nashville SC)
Minutes played: 877 (20th on Nashville SC)
Clean sheets: 5
2023 in review
It was a quiet start to Panicco’s season. Other than featuring a couple of times for Huntsville, his first minutes for Nashville SC didn’t come until the end of April. He started all three of Nashville’s Open Cup games, keeping a clean sheet in two of them.
Before July, it seemed like it was going to be a normal backup keeper season for Panicco. However, that all changed in the Leagues Cup. He backed up Joe Willis in the first game against Colorado, but started the following game against Toluca while Willis attended to a personal matter. Things didn’t go as planned for the 27-year-old. Nashville conceded four times and lost the game 4-3, but still advanced to the round of 32.
Willis retained the starting spot in the next two matches against FC Cincinnati and Club América, but Panicco was the hero in both. He was subbed in specifically for the penalty shootouts in both occasions, and he didn’t disappoint. Panicco saved a penalty in each shootout and helped Nashville advance to the quarterfinal.
His heroics in the two shootouts awarded him a start in the remaining Leagues Cup matches. He earned two clean sheets in three games and only conceded one incredible goal scored by the greatest player of all time.
His season’s “low moment” came when he stepped up to take the 11th kick in the Leagues Cup final shootout. His kick was saved by Drake Callender, losing the match in heartbreaking fashion. However, his impact was already felt by the Nashville staff, fans and media.
After the magical run, he started two MLS matches, keeping a clean sheet against Messi and friends and earning a spot in the MLS Team of the Week. Even though he played fewer matches than Willis, there was a clear competition between the two, especially after the Leagues Cup.
Panicco is returning to Nashville in 2024 and will be looking to solidify his spot within the squad. Splitting time for keepers isn’t normal in soccer, where generally teams have a clear number one. With that said, Panicco and Willis seem to have a good relationship and the coaching staff trusts both, so a split time solution could work.
Considering Willis’ age, Panicco has a real chance of winning the starting spot next season, although it won’t be easy. He has put himself in a really good position and it would be hard for the coaching staff to ignore his output.
Nashville is competing across four competitions in 2024. Whether it’s through split time, playing the cup games or becoming the starting keeper, Panicco has a huge role to play for Nashville SC in 2024.
Moment of the season
While there are several to choose from, this one was hard to ignore. Panicco made a last minute save on Messi’s shot to earn a clean sheet against the eight-time Ballon D’or winner.
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) | Brian Anunga (C)