Next up in our 2023 report cards: Lukas MacNaughton. The Canadian center back made an outsized impact on Nashville’s season, quickly turning into a crucial member of the squad.
2023 Grade: A-
2023 by the numbers
Matches played: 24 (14th on Nashville SC)
Minutes played: 1,955 (14th on Nashville SC)
Goals: 1 (T-9th on Nashville SC)
Assists: 1 (T-11th on Nashville SC)
Clean sheets: 1
Goal contributions per 96 minutes: 0.05 (15th on Nashville SC)
2023 in review
MacNaughton joined Nashville via trade in April, largely due to the season-ending injury to Nick DePuy. Expected largely to add depth behind Walker Zimmerman and Jack Maher, MacNaughton was immediately thrust into the thick of things, starting seven of the first nine matches in which he was available to play.
Initially in the lineup to cover for Zimmerman, who missed time with injury and international duty, MacNaughton forced his way into Gary Smith’s first-choice group. He started six of Nashville’s seven Leagues Cup matches, including partnering Zimmerman in every knockout match. Just when it seemed like he had fully supplanted Maher in the XI, he suffered an injury that forced him to miss six matches down the stretch. He eventually returned to the lineup for Nashville’s final match of the season, a 1-0 playoff loss to Orlando, firmly reinforcing his position in Smith’s pecking order.
In a lot of ways, MacNaughton’s game is eerily similar to Zimmerman’s; aggressive, eager to step into midfield and challenge, strong in the air, dangerous from set-pieces, and prone to the occasional costly mistake. However, as the season went on, the two formed a much more balanced approach, working well together to form a formidable partnership.
It will be fascinating to see what’s next for Nashville and MacNaughton. At just $87,544 in guaranteed compensation, he has the lowest budget charge of any player to make a matchday squad for Nashville in 2023. This makes him one of the best value signings in MLS, and also heavily due for a significant raise.
Nashville did bring in Nick DePuy with high expectations last winter. He still profiles as a borderline starter, but is coming off a full season without a game, and coming into a center-back corps that is much more crowded than the one he initially joined. It’s hard to see Nashville keeping four starting-quality center-backs on their senior roster, but even harder to see them moving on from MacNaughton, who should go into 2024 with a strong chance at former a starting partnership with Walker Zimmerman.
Moment of the season
After missing a handful of quality chances, MacNaughton finally got his MLS goal, thumping home a cross from Shaq Moore to give Nashville an 2-0 lead against Miami.