We’re continuing our Nashville SC report cards with a look at midfielder Tah Brian Anunga.
Position: Center midfielder
Matches played: 17
Minutes played: 1,051
Goals added: -0.43 (38th among MLS midfielders)
xPass Score: 1.33 (22nd among MLS midfielders)
xG+xA: 0.49 (37th among MLS midfielders)
Average Speedway Soccer rating: 6.8
Average WhoScored rating: 6.5
What went right in 2020?
The acquisition and emergence of Brian Anunga was one of Nashville’s biggest successes in 2020.
Signed for $50,000 from Charleston Battery, Anunga looked like a low risk, high reward signing going into the season, able to play a depth role but unlikely to see a ton of action.
That wasn’t the case at all in 2020. While the condensed schedule certainly meant rotation players saw more minutes than usual, Anunga’s play earned him a significant role. While he wasn’t necessarily in the first choice 11, he was certainly in that next tier of players.
With Aníbal Godoy missing five matches to injury, Anunga stepped in to replace one of Nashville’s most important players without the overall level of play dropping. More of a natural defensive midfielder, Anunga’s presence allowed his midfield partner to push forward and play more of a box-to-box role.
While he doesn’t have the same passing range as Godoy and doesn’t make Dax McCarty’s killer late runs into the box, he covers a ton of ground defensively. Using really intelligent positioning and fierce tackling (he’s the 6th ranked midfielder in the league at breaking up play, per American Soccer Analysis’s goals added model), his greatest contribution is being a shield for the defense.
In possession, he started to show better forward passing and a bit more range down the stretch, but relied mostly on short, simple passes to move the ball and maintain possession. He finished the year with an 85.9% completion rating, right on par with McCarty’s 86%.
What went wrong in 2020?
Like most of the more defensive-oriented players for Nashville, not much went wrong for Anunga. He outperformed preseason expectations and carved out a big role for himself moving forward.
Against Columbus in the Eastern Conference semifinals was the first time we saw Anunga struggle, and it’s hard to fault him against one of the league’s best midfields. He gave away some sloppy fouls, and struggled in possession more than usual.
In fairness, though, Anunga wasn’t the only one who struggled, and it’s a very, very slight knock on an otherwise stellar debut season.
What needs to improve in 2021?
With Godoy likely to miss time on international duty with Panama, and another congested schedule, Anunga should get plenty of chances to see the field again in 2021. Continuing to be a defensive stalwart while improving his forward production would be a success.
McCarty and Godoy are 33 and 30, respectively. At some point in the near-ish future, Mike Jacobs will need to look for a successor to at least one of his preferred midfield pairing. Anunga is already very much in the conversation; if he continues on his current trajectory, he could develop into a long-term starter for this Nashville side.
Most memorable moment
This interaction with Eric Miller is pretty great…