Nashville SC nuggets from the MLSPA salary guide release

The MLS Players’ Association released updated salaries for all XX league players. From the Salary Guide release, there are several interesting nuggets that shine a light on Nashville SC’s roster.

Dave Romney still an MLS best bargain

2021 Salary2022 Salary
Dave Romney$225,000$475,000

Despite signing a new contract in early 2021, Nashville’s ironman, Dave Romney, remains one of the best budget-friendly defenders in the entire league. 

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Romney’s new $475,000 per year guaranteed salary ranks just 60th among MLS defenders. You could build 15 teams of entire four-man backlines of higher-paid defenders before even reaching Romney’s name. 

Romney played every single minute for Nashville in 2020 and missed only a couple of matches at the end of the 2021 season. Continuity across the backline is a key marker of success, and Romney provides that continuity for the Coyotes.

Beyond just his constant presence in Nashville’s starting XI, Romney has produced the 11th highest raw Goals Added (g+) total among MLS center backs since joining Nashville in 2020. The 11th highest production on just the 60th highest salary is an absolute bargain.   

Sean Davis’ free-agent contract with Nashville

2021 Salary2022 Salary
Sean Davis$402,500$637,500

With today’s Salary Guide release, we learned that Sean Davis earns $637,500 in guaranteed compensation, just above the Maximum Budget Charge. This means Nashville will need to spend at least $25,000 in allocation money each year to buy down Davis’ budget charge. 

Sean Davis signed with Nashville SC this offseason after spending his entire career with the New York Red Bulls. Davis’ signing, along with Seattle’s signing of DP midfielder Albert Rusnak, represented a colossal leap forward in MLS free agency. 

Throughout the history of the league, MLS rules prevented freedom of movement for players when their contracts expired and the club wished to retain the player’s rights. Slowly, the MLSPA chipped away at these rules and expanded access to free agency. 

With the signing of a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in 2021, Sean Davis seized on the opportunity to test the free agency waters. Davis, by signing with Nashville, became one of the most high-profile free-agent signings in league history. Prior to this past offseason, you cannot find an example of a team captain in his twenties leaving a team that desperately wanted to keep him.It is ground-breaking stuff.    

While we still do not have complete clarity on the new MLS free agency rules as the CBA has yet to be finalized, Nashville’s contract offer to Davis is believed to be the most that any club, other than the Red Bulls, could have offered the veteran midfielder. The Red Bulls aggressively attempted to keep Davis, yet Davis chose to join Nashville.

Davis has been excellent in his first season with Nashville. According to American Soccer Analysis, Davis ranks 18th in Goals Added (g+) among central midfielders with the 5th highest g+ total from Interrupting actions.

Hany Mukhtar and Walker Zimmerman’s new contracts

2021 Salary2022 Salary
Hany Mukhtar$1,505,000$1,637,500
Walker Zimmerman$981,050$1,156,050

A few weeks ago, Nashville announced it had agreed to new contracts for star players Hany Mukhtar and Walker Zimmerman. However, both of these deals were announced after the April 15th cut-off date for this season’s Salary Guide.  We will need to wait until next year to find out exact figures on the new deals for Mukhtar and Zimmerman.

Mukhtar earned a new contract after putting together an MVP-caliber season in 2021. Zimmerman, the back-to-back MLS Defender of the Year winner, also inked a new deal and was announced as the club’s third Designated Player. 

Based on a report from Paul Tenorio, we already knew that Zimmerman’s contract was worth $10 million dollars over four years, an average of $2,500,000 per season. 

Mukhtar’s salary figure, however, has gone unreported. When we do learn Mukhtar’s new salary, I expect a big jump for the German playmaker. He currently ranks only 42nd in the league for the highest salary. After finishing second in the 2021 MVP race, Mukhtar will command a much higher figure.

As listed by the MLSPA, Nashville have the 22nd highest payroll in the league. The new DP contracts for Mukhtar and Zimmerman push them higher, likely including nearly $3 million total increase. This would put them in the 11-12 range.

Brian Anunga doubles his salary, but MLS Free Agency rules hold him back

2021 Salary2022 Salary
Brian Anunga$81,375$176,000

If Sean Davis serves as a perfect example of the loosening rules around MLS free agency, Brian Anunga shows the remaining progress the MLSPA must make to fight for true market wages for its members. 

Anunga signed a new contract with Nashville this offseason, but the salary is considerably less than what Anunga could command on an open free agency market. The problem is that Anunga does not yet qualify for MLS free agency.

Under the new CBA ratified in 2021, players are only eligible for free agency if they are at least 24-years-old and have accrued five seasons in MLS. 

Anunga, 25, falls short of the eligibility requirements as this is only his third season in MLS. Anunga arrived later than most in the United States’ top division. He arrived in the U.S. from Cameroon at 18-years-old and began playing with the Wilmington Hammerheads, then part of the third division. Anunga then spent a season with the Carolina Dynamo followed by three years with the Charleston Battery before agreeing to a transfer to Nashville. 

Given that Anunga is ineligible for MLS free agency, Nashville could theoretically control his MLS rights by just making a “Bona Fide Offer” (i.e., $15,000 increase or 10% increase in salary from prior year). Nashville went above and beyond in awarding Anunga with a new contract worth $176,000 per year. It is a big step up for the midfielder as he more than doubles his salary. But it is still probably less than what he could earn on a true,  open market. He is only the 161st-highest paid midfielder. For a quality depth midfielder with elite defensive traits, it is a figure likely well below market value.

Anunga will not be eligible for MLS free agency until after the 2024 season. He will be 28-years-old at that time. Short of transfer abroad, he will have to wait until then to receive the kind of significant salary increase he has rightfully earned. 

Alistair Johnston’s winning poker hand

2021 Salary2022 Salary
Alistair Johnston$73,079$445,625

Former Boy in Gold Alistair Johnston signed a new deal after being traded to C.F. Montréal. Johnston skated by the MLS free agency restrictions to a hefty new contract because he is holding a poker hand of pocket aces; access to a UK passport through his Northern Irish mother and qualification for a work permit through national team appearances. 

It is a matter of leverage. 

At the end of Johnston’s contract, he could threaten to leave and sign on a free transfer with any number of teams across Europe. If an MLS team, like Montréal, wanted to keep Johnston in North America, they would need to pay him a true market-rate salary.

That threat of available opportunities in Europe is a big driving factor in Johnston’s 510% salary increase.

Randall Leal signs a fat new deal

2021 Salary2022 Salary
Randall Leal$477,750$965,000

Randall Leal has been a staple since Day 1 in Gary Smith’s lineup. The Costa Rican midfielder serves as an integral link between Nashville’s midfield and forward lines. His contributions do not always show up in the stat sheet, but he is a perfect fit for what Gary Smith asks of the position.

Randall Leal, like Anunga and Johnston, does not qualify for MLS free agency due to a lack of MLS service years. But similar to Johnston, Leal holds an ace up his sleeves as a full international that has received regular Costa Rican National Team call-ups. He would have plenty of European suitors if he was ever made available. Unlike Johnston, I do not get the sense that Leal is itching for a European move after the World Cup. He already spent a few years playing in Belgium prior to returning to Costa Rica and seems genuinely happy living in the United States surrounded by his family and nearly one-year-old son. 

But even one ace, such as potential European interest, in your negotiating hand can pay dividends. Leal received a massive salary increase that firmly puts him above the Maximum Budget Charge as a TAM-threshold player.

The new salaries for Nashville’s pair of 30+ year-old midfielders

2021 Salary2022 Salary
Dax McCarty$725,000$517,500
Aníbal Godoy$771,667$871,250

Your thirties are the new twenties. At least that is what I keep telling myself until I wake up in the morning with a sore back or try and stay up past midnight. My thirties may have hit me like a freight train, but they are treating Dax McCarty, 35, and Aníbal Godoy, 32, extraordinarily well. Nashville’s veteran midfielders received new contracts this offseason. 

McCarty took a significant pay decrease. The veteran midfielder figures to see a considerable drop in minutes with the arrival of Sean Davis. It is a natural progression for McCarty as he plays out his final days after a long and storied career. McCarty is easily the league’s best third-choice holding midfielder and remains an important example and resource within Nashville’s locker room. I expect this to be his last contract before hanging up his boots. 

Godoy received a $100,000 raise and extension. The Panamanian National Team captain has been nothing short of excellent since arriving in Nashville. He has established himself as one of the best two-way midfielders in the league. Godoy is also a vital link within the locker room. As an MLS veteran hailing from Central America, he is an invaluable resource for Spanish-speaking new arrivals to the club. 

Daniel Lovitz’s new deal

2021 Salary2022 Salary
Dan Lovitz$415,556$498,750

Daniel Lovitz received a slight pay bump this offseason. Nashville’s first-choice left back agreed to a new deal that will pay him just short of $500,000 this season. Lovitz, 30, has established himself as one of the premier, if often less heralded, fullbacks in the league. In a tip of the cap to his stellar play, the MLS Extratime crew named Lovitz to the 2nd Team Best XI this past season. 

Lovitz was eligible for MLS free agency having logged eight service years in MLS. Mike Jacobs ensured that Lovitz did not test the free agency waters. Nashville awarded him with a new contract that kept him in the Gold and Blue throughout his early thirties. 

As we dig into the league-wide numbers further, we will bring you more context to Nashville’s salary budget.

Author: Chris IveyChris is a senior writer covering Nashville SC. His writings focus on the team at large and often navigate the complexity of roster building around the myriad of MLS rules. Outside of Broadway Sports Media, Chris resides in Knoxville and is a licensed attorney. Beyond NSC, he is always willing to discuss Tennessee football and basketball, Coventry City, and USMNT. Follow Chris on Twitter

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