Lukas MacNaughton: 2023 report card

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)

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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.

Looking forward

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.

Previous report cards:

Joe Willis | Dan Lovitz

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids. Mastodon

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