Today, we’re looking at Jack Maher, who took a huge step in 2023 to become a centerpiece of Nashville’s defense.
2023 Grade: A-
2023 by the numbers
Matches played: 40 (T-5th on Nashville SC)
Minutes played: 3,517 (5th on Nashville SC)
Goals: 1 (T-9th on Nashville SC)
Clean sheets: 11
Goal contributions per 96 minutes: 0.03 (17th on Nashville SC)
2023 in review
After impressing in his 31 matches in 2022, the 24-year-old Maher entered 2023 prepared to fight for a starting spot. After the Dave Romney trade and the injury to Nick DePuy, Maher was slated to take on a bigger role. Even with the addition of Lukas MacNaughton and a couple of injuries, Maher still played the most matches and minutes in his position group.
The beginning of the season saw Maher elevate his game to a level we hadn’t seen before. His excellent defending became a common fixture for the Boys in Gold. However, his biggest addition was becoming the “anchor” of Nashville’s defense. With a rotating center back partner, Maher became the constant piece of Nashville’s spine. His communication and presence on the pitch helped Nashville become one of the best defenses in the league.
After establishing himself as a starter before the Leagues Cup, Maher’s injury limited him to only 55 minutes in four matches during Nashville’s magical run. Missing that time seems to have affected the 24-year-old, who was never quite able to reach the same heights in form as he did before the mid-season tournament. With that said, Maher’s slight drop of form still helped Nashville finish the 2023 season as the joint-best defense in MLS.
It’s hard to judge individual performances when the entire team is struggling. It’s even harder to judge a center back (and a defensive unit) who only allowed 0.9 goals per match. Overall, Maher did his job as well as you could have asked this season.
Maher has earned himself an important spot for the 2024 season. It’s hard to assume, though, that he will be a guaranteed starter. Competing against Designated Player Walker Zimmerman, an emerging Lukas MacNaughton and a seemingly returning Nick DePuy, Maher’s work is cut out for him.
Gary Smith chose to not feature Maher at all in Nashville’s two most important matches of the season; the Leagues Cup final and their win-or-go-home playoff match against Orlando City. Maher’s talent is apparent, but staying mentally strong and consistent for a full season is a must for any Nashville SC defender wanting to start.
His performances in the beginning of the 2023 season made him part of the league best XI conversations. If he is able to reach those heights again, it will be very hard for Smith to keep him out of the lineup.
Moment of the season
While Maher’s cameo in the Leagues Cup was brief, he was part of one of the craziest things to happen on a soccer pitch. In the round of 16, Sam Surridge’s dramatic equalizer sent Nashville to penalty shootouts against Mexican giants, Club America.
Maher stepped up to take the sixth penalty and it was saved, seemingly losing the game. The following 15 minutes saw absolute chaos at GEODIS Park, fans entering the pitch, arguments all around and most importantly, a decision to retake the penalty.
Maher stepped up to the occasion again, and slotted the ball in the same bottom right corner. This time it went in and gave Nashville a chance to win, which they did.