Nashville SC’s options without Sam Surridge

Nashville SC’s 3-0 win in their season-opening match against Moca FC came at a cost on Thursday night.

Designated Player Sam Surridge, tipped for a breakout season in his first full year in Music City, left the match in the 53rd minute after a heavy collision with Tyler Boyd left him with significant discomfort in his shoulder.

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Surridge will be evaluated more in Nashville, but it’s hard to imagine him not missing any time. It’s a tough blow for a Nashville side that finally seemed to have an answer up top.

With Surridge seemingly set for a spell on the sidelines, here are the options Nashville have up front, ranked in order of how likely I think Gary Smith is to utilize them.

1. Teal Bunbury

Teal Bunbury is somehow the only other senior striker in Nashville SC’s squad. It was always a gamble to go into the season with so few options to lead the line, but the expectation was obviously for a full season of Surridge up front. The 33-year-old Bunbury has spent the last three seasons in Nashville, but has struggled to consistently produce, scoring eight goals in 48 matches.

While Bunbury offers a physical target presence up top, he’s a significant downgrade from Surridge, both in terms of goal-scoring and linkup play. Nashville also don’t have the same effectiveness on the break with Bunbury leading the line. Bunbury is a good squad player and puts in a shift whenever he plays. He’s the most like-for-like option to replace Surridge, albeit with a much lower ceiling.

2. Tyler Boyd

Yeah, things start to get weird here. That’s what happens without any depth.

Apparently Tyler Boyd played as a no. 9 in preseason, and Gary Smith went on record saying taht he was ok with the lack of natural options because of how good Boyd was. To be fair, Boyd was the best player on the field against Moca, and he did play in a more central role, but it’s a completely different thing to have him play as a striker, especially in a Gary Smith system that requires a physical target striker.

3. Hany Mukhtar

Nashville’s talisman has played as a false 9 in the past, almost exclusively towards the end of matches. Again, it’s not an ideal option and would require a significant tactical shift from the entire thing (which, on its own, may not be the worst thing).

At the risk of stating the obvious, Mukhtar is a completely different player than Surridge or Bunbury, but he does offer unique ways of attacking a defense. He’s elite in transition and has the pace to get in behind, but he’s also adept at dropping into midfield to get on the ball and playmaking for those around him. Paired with wingers like Boyd and Jacob Shaffelburg in a 4-3-3, Mukhtar can be very effective.

4. Adem Sipić

This is getting into stretch territory for Nashville. Sipić, the first homegrown signing in club history, has loads of potential but is still an untested 17-year-old. He only started six matches for Huntsville City in MLS NEXT Pro last season, scoring twice in just over 600 minutes.

He’s young, very raw, and still needs time to develop. While throwing young players into the deep end works in some cases, it can be detrimental in others, and Nashville have seemed to be very careful of protecting Sipić. Nashville will rightfully prioritize his long-term development over the next couple weeks, but he’s a wildcard option.

5. Woobens Pacius or Forster Ajago

Nashville signed two strikers in the offseason. 22-year-old Forster Ajago was signed after going un-drafted through the SuperDraft, and 22-year-old Woobens Pacius was brought in from Forge FC in the Canadian Premier League.

Smith has already gone on record saying that Ajago will spend the majority of the year in Huntsville. Both he and Pacius are expected to require international roster slot (at time of publication Nashville hasn’t updated their roster with these designations). Nashville traded away five international roster slots in one go this winter, as well as parting with one to acquire Tyler Boyd.

Counting the slot they acquired from Sporting KC last summer, and that three players (Jacob Shaffelburg, Lukas MacNaughton and Sam Surridge) all require international roster slots, Nashville have none left to work with. Either Pacius and Ajago will be loaned down to Huntsville until Nashville has the international slots to add them to the active roster, or Nashville could trade for one in order to have one of them available for the first team. The latter option seems unlikely.

6. New signing

The MLS transfer window is open until April 23, and there are still a handful of strikers available in free agency (C.J. Sapong, anyone?). Nashville could always acquire another player, but with their roster all but filled, it’s unclear if they even have the space to make a move. There’s not a ton of flexibility.

It’s not an ideal situation. Nashville took a gamble with their roster construction this winter, loading up their backline and their winger corps and banking on Surridge and Bunbury being healthy and effective enough to lead the line. Obviously, in a salary cap league like MLS, an injury to one player can completely change things, and it’s hard to legislate for a freak injury to a club-record signing in the first game of the season.

The simple fact remains, though; this is a really tough position for Nashville to be in this early in the season. Gary Smith will have his work cut out for him over the next few weeks managing a difficult stretch of MLS games and a potential Concacaf Champions Cup matchup against Inter Miami and Lionel Messi.

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids. Mastodon

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