With the 2020 season in the review mirror, a lot of focus around Nashville SC has already shifted towards 2021. While the team is making moves (and has another big one in the works), there’s still a lot to look at from their historic expansion season.
While Nashville’s technical staff took their time to sign a much needed DP no. 9, their forwards struggled for much of the season. Dominique Badji started the season as the first choice option, but only managed a single goal before a hamstring injury in September effectively took him out for the year.
Daniel Ríos took a bit of time to adapt to the MLS level, but he really found his footing midway through the season. Tied for the team lead with five goals, and managing that in just over 900 minutes, he looks like a really important player going forward.
Jhonder Cádiz made his first appearance in October. He showed flashes of potential, especially in Nashville’s 3-2 win over Orlando on Decision Day, but never quite found his footing. Head coach Gary Smith has always held the line that his best won’t come until 2021. With Nashville holding his purchase option, he’ll need to show improvement next season if he wants to stay in Nashville permanently.
Nashville’s strength in 2020 was never going to be their attack, but a total of 10 goals and two assists from their strikers in 2,423 minutes needs to improve next season.
2020 Grade: C
Hany Mukhtar and Randall Leal were largely the focal point of the attack to start the year, and neither DP really found their footing until the end of the season. The two combined for nine goals and seven assists, so the season wasn’t a total disappointment. With the unique difficulties of the 2020 season, and the form they showed down the stretch, there’s plenty of reasons to expect an improved sophomore year for both.
David Accam was one of the more recognizable names signed from within MLS, and his 2020 season was a major disappointment. The 30 year old managed just 239 minutes on the year. He scored a memorable winner, and showed flashes on the field, but injuries took him out of contention for the second half of the season. He’ll have his work cut out to be regularly involved next year.
Midseason signings Alex Muyl and Handwalla Bwana were involved immediately, with Muyl locking down a starting spot, and Bwana becoming an option off the bench. While Taylor Washington was a consistent rotation option on the wing and as a left-back, Alan Winn couldn’t capitalize on a couple exciting substitute appearances and won’t be back next season.
Nashville got solid performances from Derrick Jones, playing out of position as a 10, and Abu Danladi, who spent time at forward and on the wings. Aside from Mukhtar and Leal, though, they really lacked a consistently dangerous presence.
Nashville’s wingers/attacking midfielders contributed 10 goals and 13 assists in 7,148 minutes. It ended up being enough in 2020, but needs to improve next year.
2020 Grade: C+
The partnership of Dax McCarty and Aníbal Godoy was one of the greatest strengths of this Nashville team. The two formed a strong pairing off the bat, with Godoy’s passing range and McCarty’s industry both shielding the defense and forming a platform for the attack. Godoy struggled with injuries at times, missing around 900 minutes of action, but McCarty showed no signs of slowing down at 33.
With both on the wrong side of 30, the emergence of Brian Anunga was one of the more encouraging player developments of the year. The young Cameroonian was signed from USL side Charleston Battery before the season, and the reported $50,000 transfer fee looks like an absolute steal in hindsight. When Godoy missed time, Anunga filled in without missing a beat. At 24, he has plenty of time left to develop, and looks like he could become a starter for Nashville.
With Derrick Jones playing largely as a 10, Matt LaGrassa played just over 400 minutes, and the USL standout showed that he can be a reliable depth piece for Nashville at this level. Nashville could use another high-quality option at the position, but their midfield was better than advertised before the season.
2020 Grade: B+
Left-back Dan Lovitz was acquired before the season as a proven MLS player with national team experience. His 2020 exceeded expectations, though, and he was genuinely one of the best left-backs in the league.
With Lovitz locking down the left, Nashville’s depth wasn’t often tested. Taylor Washington played a handful of minutes as a left-back, and looked like a capable deputy.
Right-back was another story. Eric Miller started the season as the first choice option, and was at least partially at fault for two of Nashville’s first three goals conceded. Brayan Beckeles was signed with World Cup and Liga MX experience, but at 34 years old, he never fully adapted to MLS. The defender played just 81 minutes in two appearances, and didn’t see the field after a five minute cameo against Houston in mid-October.
Fortunately for Nashville, Alistair Johnston burst onto the scene and looks like the long-term answer at right-back. After playing further forward, Johnston earned the starting spot in late August and never looked back, playing 1,800 minutes and earning a call-up to the Canadian national team.
2020 Grade: A
Dave Romney and Walker Zimmerman exceeded expectations in 2020, forming one of the premier center-back partnerships in the league. The defenders conceded just 21 goals when on the field together and are a clear building block moving forward.
Romney was one of four MLS field players to play every minute of the 2020 season. Assured in possession, his passing range was key to Nashville’s success on the ball. He signed a long-term contract extension immediately after the season.
Zimmerman was arguably the highest-profile offseason transfer, joining Nashville for a record $1.25 million in allocation money. The defender was worth every penny, scoring three goals en route to an MLS Best XI selection and winning the MLS Defender of the Year award.
With Romney and Zimmerman locking down the majority of minutes, Jalil Anibaba was used sparingly. Most of his 12 appearances came off the bench to secure a result, and was used as a right-back at times. One of just three players to wear the captain’s armband, he’s a very strong depth player, and could see the field more in 2021 with Zimmerman likely to miss time for international duty.
Jack Maher was selected second overall in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft. The 21-year-old was unfortunate in some ways to be stuck behind Romney and Zimmerman, making just three appearances when he probably could have started for several other MLS sides. He missed the final weeks of the season with a knee injury, but should factor into 2021 more.
Miguel Nazarit never saw the field, and only made the bench once. He’s back in Nashville for a second season, with with Anibaba and Maher clearly ahead of him on the bench, he’ll have a tough time getting involved.
2020 Grade: A+
Selected in a trade with Houston following the 2019 Expansion Draft, Joe Willis locked down the starting role for Nashville. The veteran ‘keeper played every minute of the season for Nashville, and signed a long-term extension after keeping 10 clean sheets in 2020.
SuperDraft selection Elliot Panicco beat out Adrián Zendejas for the backup role, but without the Open Cup, Panicco didn’t see the field. Brady Scott was signed mid-season, but was loaned out to the USL and taken in the expansion draft without seeing a minute of action.
In Willis and Panicco, Nashville have a reliable first- and second-choice pairing. It would have been hard to ask for much more out of their goalkeepers in their expansion year.
2020 Grade: A