Let’s take a look back.
The start of Nashville SC’s second season is quickly approaching. Nashville are coming off a successful expansion year. Unsurprisingly under Head Coach Gary Smith, the Boys In Gold were an elite defensive unit, conceding less than a goal per game. Built from the back, the first-year side made themselves incredibly difficult to break down, keeping them competitive despite their consistent issues to score goals. Even with a below average attack, they managed to earn one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, capping off a very respectable first year.
Leading into year two, Nashville have made it a priority to improve their attack. With their core returning and their defense in tact, General Manager Mike Jacobs has signed a mix of proven veterans and promising young attackers to bolster their performance in the final third. Strikers Daniel Ríos and Cameron Lancaster are joined by winger Kharlton Belmar to improve an attacking corps with Lebo Moloto, Ropapa Mensah and Alan Winn already on board.
Heading into the 2019 USL Championship season, Nashville’s future looked bright. Now, in 2021, the same can be said of the Boys In Gold, who are preparing to follow up on a successful expansion season in Major League Soccer.
Nashville SC and Mike Jacobs are using a familiar blueprint to build Nashville’s MLS roster. Like they did in USL, they focused heavily on building a strong defense and a team identity in year one, before adding pieces to the attack to create a more complete team.
“Heading into 2021, we’ve got a really firm handle of who we are, and what we have the chance to become,” Jacobs said after signing a contract extension this offseason. “2020 was a season where we were able to create a foundation and identity. And ’21 is going to be all about trying to build off that as well as adding and enhancing.”
Nashville have already begun that process of adding and enhancing. In addition to Jhonder Cádiz and Handwalla Bwana, signed late in the season with an eye for 2021, they’ve also added a high-potential young player in Rodrigo Piñeiro and a proven goalscorer in CJ Sapong.
It remains to be seen how these pieces will all fit together on the field. And it should be pointed out that not all Nashville’s big signings were home runs in 2019, either. Cameron Lancaster seemed like a sure thing after a record-setting season the year prior, but struggled massively with injuries, scoring five goals in just over 700 minutes. Likewise, Kharlton Belmar only contributed five goals in 31 appearances.
But importantly, Nashville improved dramatically in year two. Their already-elite defense improved, and their attack added 17 more goals in 2019. On the back of this improved attack, Nashville jumped from eighth to second in the table, a marked improvement stemming from a methodical build.
The rest of MLS is improving as well, and on their own, Nashville’s signings don’t guarantee a free-flowing attack. However, if history does indeed repeat itself, Nashville’s blueprint may just lead to success.