Nashville SC’s lottery ticket drafting strategy

Last week, Nashville SC selected Akron goalkeeper Will Meyer with the 38th pick in the MLS SuperDraft. It marks the third straight draft that Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs has selected a goalkeeper.

  • 2020: Elliot Pannico
  • 2021: Tor Saunders
  • 2022: Will Meyer

Jacobs recently outlined his goalkeeper drafting strategy.

“When you also look at players who have transitioned from the amateur college ranks to MLS, it’s not uncommon to see players on the backline do that. When you see how important the goalkeeper position is, you look at players like Matt Turner or Tim Melia, or someone like our own Joe Willis. We’ve kind of joked about the fact that we’re going to keep drafting goalkeepers until we can find the heir apparent to Joe [Willis] at some point..”

The goalkeeper drafting strategy makes sense. The more lottery tickets you buy, the better your chance of winning the lottery. While the rise in MLS academies and introduction of Targeted Allocation Money has deemphasized the later rounds of of the MLS SuperDraft, there still are diamonds hidden in the rough. 

While there have been 34 goalkeepers drafted after the first round since 2016, only three of those late-round selections made an MLS appearance in 2021. But not included in those numbers is New England’s Matt Turner. The 2021 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year winner went undrafted in 2016. Turner was the winning lottery ticket that was never purchased. 

Nashville SC hopes that by consistently selecting goalkeepers the next Matt Turner will not go undrafted. Instead, Nashville will have purchased that winning lottery ticket goalkeeper that can eventually take over for Joe Willis. 

It is a low risk, high reward strategy. But it begs the question, why does the club not apply the same lottery ticket strategy to outfield positions? 

Afterall, there are just as many examples of recent late-round draft picks hitting in outfield positions. Philadelphia’s Jack Elliott has turned into one of MLS’ top center backs and Jared Stroud became a key role player for Austin FC this season.

Nashville even has its own late-round success story. Luke Haakenson, a fourth round pick in the 2020 SuperDraft, wiggled his way into the squad as a frequent substitute for Gary Smith’s side.

To be clear, there is a financial and other resources commitment made to each draft pick. Given the low success rate of late round picks, it has led to numerous teams to simply pass on picks past the second round. 

But as long as Mike Jacobs is playing the lottery ticket game in looking for Joe Willis’ heir apparent, it stands to reason that he should do the same for outfield players as well. Nashville SC should not go down the road of simply throwing away lottery tickets without even scratching the card, as the club did by “PASSING” on its third round pick last week.

It may not pay immediate dividends. But there is no shortage of lower league teams that can take players on loan. Plus, Nashville will field a MLS NextPro team next season that can provide developmental minutes to young draftees. 

The late rounds of the MLS SuperDraft may no longer be an important player acquisition mechanism. But they should not be entirely abandoned. Mike Jacobs should not toss away lottery tickets. Whether it be the heir apparent to Joe Willis or a surprise contributor off the bench, you never know what you may find if you just give someone a chance.

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