Nashville SC’s impending free agent decisions

Following the conclusion of the regular season, the Major League Soccer Players Association (MLSPA) released a list of players who are eligible for free agency entering the offseason. The list includes both players with an option year remaining on their contract and those players on expiring contracts. 

Nashville SC has seven players in the last guaranteed year of their contract. The list includes the following players with a team option year remaining on the contract.

PlayerTeamPositionContract Status
Accam, DavidNashville SCFOption
McCarty, DaxNashville SCMOption
Meredith, BryanNashville SCGKOption
Miller, EricNashville SCDOption
Muyl, AlexNashville SCMOption

A team option means that Nashville SC can elect whether to automatically trigger an extra year on the contract by exercising the option. 

Nashville SC also has two bench pieces that will be completely out of contract at the season’s conclusion.

PlayerTeamPositionContract Status
Anibaba, JalilNashville SCDOut of Contract
Danladi, AbuNashville SCFOut of Contract

If Jalil Anibaba and Abu Danladi are to remain in Nashville in 2022, it will take both player and club agreeing to a new contract. 

Let’s walk through each player and predict what Nashville SC may do.

David Accam – Team Option

Age – 31
2021 Appearances – 13 (on loan with Hammarby)
2021 Minutes – 461 (18%)
2021 Goals – 1
2021 Assists – 1

This is the easiest decision of all. Nashville SC will almost certainly decline the option on David Accam’s contract. 

Accam played seven games in the blue and gold in 2020. This year, the Ghanaian attacker was loaned out to Hammarby IF. Accam has one goal in thirteen appearances on the year for the Swedish club. 

At a total guaranteed compensation of $1,102,916 salary, Accam is Nashville’s third highest paid player. His continued presence on Nashville’s books not only costs club owner John Ingram over a million dollars per year, but also requires the club to apply roughly $500,000 in Allocation Money to buy down his salary cap impact each season. Shedding Accam’s contract from Nashville’s salary cap will create significant space to add new pieces this offseason or give well-deserved raises to Nashville’s underpaid stars.

Dax McCarty – Team Option

Age – 34
2021 Appearances – 28
2021 Minutes – 2227 (67%)
2021 Goals – 0
2021 Assists – 3

This is another easy decision for Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs. Barring a decision by Dax McCarty to retire, Nashville will exercise its team option to extend McCarty’s contract. 

Dax McCarty is a first-choice starter, club captain, and centerpiece of Gary Smith’s midfied spine. While McCarty is now 34-years-old, he has indicated in interviews that he wants to play a few more seasons before hanging up his boots. McCarty is on a relatively high salary at $725,000 per year, but it is money well spent for a club leader that continues to deliver quality on the pitch.

Bryan Meredith – Team Option

Age – 32
2021 Appearances – 0
2021 Minutes – 0 (0%)

Bryan Meredith is a relative unknown for Nashville SC supporters as he has yet to feature for the Boys in Gold. Starter Joe Willis has stood between the posts for every minute of Nashville SC’s MLS existence. 

Meredith is a 32-year-old veteran goalkeeper with previous stops primarily as a backup in both MLS and lower division teams. Meredith’s modest salary ($87,375) leads me to believe that Nashville SC will exercise the team option to extend his contract. By retaining Meredith, Nashville can continue to allow 2020 draftee Elliot Panicco to gain valuable match experience at a lower level.

Eric Miller – Team Option

Age – 29
2021 Appearances – 13
2021 Minutes – 1144 (34%)
2021 Goals – 0
2021 Assists – 0

This is where things begin to get tricky. Eric Miller made 12 starts in 13 appearances in 2021 after hardly seeing the field in 2020 post pandemic stoppage. 

Gary Smith clearly trusts Miller as a spot starter on the right side of Nashville’s three-man backline. But center-back is not Miller’s natural position. Miller’s natural position is as a right-sided fullback in a more traditional four-man backline. He is not as stout defensively as you would ideally want from a center-back and does not possess the offensive capabilities that you would ideally want from a wingback in Nashville’s current, preferred formation. Although not ideal traits for either position, Miller’s flexibility is valuable in constructing a roster.

Miller’s future in Nashville could be tied to the long-term formational plans for Gary Smith as well the future for Alistair Johnston. If Johnston were to head to Europe this winter, Nashville assuredly will trigger its option to extend Miller as he would provide some continuity. If Johnston stays in Nashville for 2022, Miller’s future may depend on whether Gary Smith sticks with the 3-man backline. In such a scenario, it would not surprise me to see Nashville replace Miller with a more traditional center-back and acquire a more offensive-minded wingback to serve as Johnston’s backup.  

Ultimately, I think Nashville triggers Miller’s option. Miller is on a relatively low salary cap figure ($147,000), and he’s a leader in the dressing room. Letting him go provides no meaningful salary cap relief for Mike Jacobs and Miller is clearly trusted by Gary Smith. 

Alex Muyl – Team Option

Age – 26
2021 Appearances – 32
2021 Minutes – 1674 (50%)
2021 Goals – 3
2021 Assists – 1

Nashville SC will trigger Alex Muyl’s team option and likely begin work on a larger contract extension. Muyl is a swiss army knife and the type of willing runner that Gary Smith is always going to love. 

Muyl has played the 11th most minutes of any Nashville player this season, and has appeared in all but two of their 34 matches this season. He’s a key piece of this squad.

Jalil Anibaba – Out of Contract

Age – 33
2021 Appearances – 9
2021 Minutes – 697 (21%)
2021 Goals – 1
2021 Assists – 0

With no team option, Jalil Anibaba has all the power to decide if he wants to remain in Nashville. The 33-year-old versatile center-back is trending toward the latter days of his career. A trustworthy veteran and strong locker room contributor, there will be no shortage of MLS teams that could benefit from Anibaba’s presence on their roster. 

While Nashville may be interested in retaining him, I think Anibaba would serve himself best by testing the free agency waters. If Nashville offers the best terms and situation, he can always return. But if Anibaba can find more money or playing time with another club, it will be hard for him to turn it down.

Abu Danladi – Out of Contract

Age – 26
2021 Appearances – 8
2021 Minutes – 130 (4%)
2021 Goals – 1
2021 Assists – 0

Abu Danladi benefits tremendously from the gains made by the MLSPA in last year’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations. The eligibility requirement for free agency dropped significantly. Under the previous CBA, a player would not be eligible for free agency until they were 28-years-old with a minimum of 8 seasons played in MLS. In the new CBA, those requirements dropped to 24-years-old and 5 seasons played in MLS. These changes were a massive win for the MLSPA and Danladi is a major beneficiary of the change. 

Danladi was famously selected first overall in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft by Minnesota United. He made 67 appearances for the club before being selected by Nashville SC in the 2019 Expansion Draft in the lead up to Nashville’s inaugural season. Danladi has struggled to make his mark in Nashville. He has made just eight appearances in 2021, totaling only 130 minutes played. 

Danladi is at a career crossroads. He needs to find a situation that will provide him greater playing time off the bench. With the crowded attacking pool in Nashville, Danladi will likely look elsewhere for greener pastures. But like C.J. Sapong a year ago as a free agent, a change of scenery and a path to playing time could be all Danladi needs to spark a career resurgence.

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