Finally, Nashville SC have a Designated Player striker. The club signed 24-year-old Sam Surridge from Nottingham Forest on Tuesday, bolstering an attack that sorely needs another dimension.
It’s been a need for Nashville since their MLS debut in 2020. They’ve tried to address it, too, signing Jhonder Cádiz on loan in 2020 and shelling out a club-record $6.8 million transfer Aké Loba a year later.
Neither worked. The two combined for a total of seven goals in 75 appearances. Loba, especially, was a big swing and even bigger miss, one that stunted the team’s ceiling for two years. Signing Surridge is the latest attempt to fix the problem. Will the third time be the charm for Nashville?
“Well, I truly hope so!” Gary Smith said with a laugh during his Wednesday morning press conference. “It’s been a while trying to get this deal done. I know that [General Manager] Mike [Jacobs] has done a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes to make this happen. Sam’s an individual that we all looked at an awful lot.”
Nashville’s pursuit of Surridge has been a long one, with their interest dating back well before the reports of their interest first began circulating in mid-July. With a track record of scoring goals across the English soccer pyramid and on the cusp of breaking into a consistent role in the Premier League, Surridge has a much different and more established profile than any player Nashville have signed to date.
“He’s got a number of different qualities that I think are going to help the side massively. The most important one, of course, is that in and around the penalty area, he’s got a good eye for goal and he can score goals in different ways,” said Smith. “His background tells us that without the ball, he’s going to be a very good team player. Athletically he’s in a really good place. And as a focal point, he’s a good size and has good techniques. And I’m hoping that that quality that he brings is going to maybe even bring a little out of some of the other guys as well.”
Surridge certainly isn’t the first player to come to MLS after finding success in the English Championship and lower levels. Players like Johnny Russell at Sporting Kansas City, Jack Price and Connor Ronan with Colorado Rapids, Liam Ridgewell with the Portland Timbers, and plenty of others have become standouts in MLS after transitioning from England.
Gary Smith looked to one of the league’s all-time greats as the bar for Surridge.
“I would have to example Bradley Wright-Phillips coming in at New York Red Bulls and being so successful and so capable,” he said. “When you see those type of players come over and how impactful they can be, and certainly with the experiences they’ve had, I see many, many similarities in the way that Sam could transition and how he could be. Different players, of course, but certainly more than capable of having a huge impact in this league.”
Comparing Surridge to one of the league’s all-time great goal scorers is certainly high praise, but the parallels are there. Like Surridge, Wright-Phillips struggled to break through at the Premier League level, making 38 appearances for Manchester City before a string of loans to the lower divisions. Wright-Phillips eventually moved to New York Red Bulls, winning three Supporters’ Shield, two Golden Boots, and scoring 117 regular-season goals, the sixth-most in league history.
“Sam, certainly out on loan from some of his parent clubs, has experienced the different levels of football,” Smith pointed out. “I think what it does is give you an experience and some foundation in your mental and physical world. Make no mistake, it is not easy to play at Scunthorpe on a Tuesday night when you’re a young man and you’re trying to find your way.”
“Not to put too much pressure on him, but we think he’s going to be able to come in and compliment the pieces that we already have really well,” said midfielder Dax McCarty. “I don’t think we would have signed him if we didn’t think he could take our team to another level.”
And perhaps with Surridge, the struggles Nashville have had to identify and integrate a top-tier no. 9 have helped them evaluate their process.
“I think there’s always lessons to be learned from the very outset of identifying a player, to then that integration and the understanding of how they fit into the group, and of course their acclimation,” said Smith. “Some of the issues that we encountered, unfortunately, were unforeseen. How players were going to come into the group, the sort of physical condition they would be in.”
“But ultimately, I think in Sam we have a guy who certainly as Mike stated in his press release, fits the DNA of the group… I think there are a lot of things that the players in the group are going to see and understand maybe a little quicker than the other guys.”
Nashville could use a quick acclimation from Surridge, who is still waiting for his P1 Visa before he’ll be eligible to train and play. A win or draw against Toluca tonight would guarantee a spot in the Leagues Cup knockout rounds, after which they have just 10 games left in the MLS regular season. Adding a consistent goal scorer would take them from a dangerous team to a contender.
This time, hopefully, they’ve signed the right man.