Position profile: center midfielders

Next up in our position profile series, we’ll take a look at Nashville’s center midfielders. With just four midfielders currently on the roster, it’s clearly the least deep position in the squad.

Previous entries: Forwards | Attacking midfielders

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Dax McCarty

33 years old | 24 appearances | 2149 minutes
1239 passes | 86% pass completion | 7 key passes | 1.90 xG+xA | 0.66 G+
Casey Gower-Broadway Sports

McCarty’s 2020 season went about as well as one could have expected. The leader on and off the field, he was one of the most consistent performers of the year for Nashville. One of the best passers in MLS, he was consistently able to win the ball in midfield and pass it to feet quickly. While Nashville wasn’t necessarily an expansive possession-based team, McCarty set their tempo on the ball, and he and Aníbal Godoy were at the heart of their best passing moments.

Despite being 33, McCarty shows no signs of slowing down, and played in all but two of Nashville’s 2020 matches. While age waits for no one, it sure seems like McCarty has several years left in the tank. With a (hopefully) more regular-looking season, he should be able to start the vast majority of Nashville’s matches. With the way this roster is constructed, he’s practically indispensable.

Aníbal Godoy

31 years old | 21 appearances | 1677 minutes
1011 passes | 92% pass completion | 3 key passes | 1.16 xG+xA | 0.04 G+
Casey Gower-Broadway Sports

Honestly, Godoy and McCarty’s profiles are really similar. Godoy brings a nice left-footed balance to the midfield, and while he covers plenty of ground in his own right, he’s probably less of a box-to-box player than McCarty.

Godoy’s passing range and accuracy were a fundamental building block for Nashville in 2020. Similar to McCarty, he is consistently able to play the ball to his forwards feet in the final third. It’s an underrated but important quality, and one that a) kept Nashville’s attack floating through the tougher stretches of the season, and b) will be a core aspect of their attempts to score more in 2021.

This passing ability is also why McCarty and Godoy are so difficult to replace. It’s hard to find players who cover ground, do defensive work, and advance the ball into the final third with the excellence that they do. It’s harder to have three on a single MLS roster under budget.

Godoy will miss time with international duty this season, as Panama have both World Cup qualifying and the Concacaf Gold Cup this summer. For Nashville, keeping him healthy otherwise to minimize time missed will be absolutely crucial to their success in 2021.

Brian Anunga

24 years old | 17 appearances | 1044 minutes
496 passes | 85.9% pass completion | 0 key passes | 0.00 xG+xA | -0.49 G+
Casey Gower-Broadway Sports

Fortunately for Nashville, they found a real bargain in Brian Anunga. Signed for $50,000 from USL Championship’s Charleston Battery, Anunga was thrust into the deep end in 2020, making 17 appearances, including starting two of Nashville’s three playoff matches.

Anunga is absolutely excellent on the defensive side of the ball; his G+ interrupting score is top 10 in MLS. He’s a brick wall in front of the back four, cleaning up and cutting out passes before they get to the box. He’s an absolute menace in the tackle.

While he’s secure on the ball, completing 86% of his passes, he’s not nearly as aggressive in possession as either Godoy or McCarty. While playing safe certainly has benefits, part of what makes Nashville tick is line breaking passes from midfield. If Anunga wants to take the next step in his progression and cement his status as an every week starting caliber player, he’ll need to take more calculated risks on the ball and develop his ability to unlock a defense. If he can add that to his arsenal, he’ll be a fixture in this lineup for years.

Matt LaGrassa

28 years old | 9 appearances | 417 minutes
191 passes | 83.3% pass completion | 1 key pass | 0.34 xG+xA | -0.12 G+
Casey Gower-Broadway Sports

A stalwart for Nashville’s USL side, LaGrassa played probably a larger role in 2020 than anyone expected, starting a handful of matches and coming off the bench in several more. Like Anunga, he’s safe on the ball, but actually tried to be a bit more aggressive in possession.

LaGrassa has good vision and an underrated passing range. He was one of the best passers of the ball in his three seasons in USL, and while he’s not one of the first names on the team sheet for Nashville, he can certainly do the job. He’s also going into his fourth season under Gary Smith, and both understands his system and has his trust. With just four players in midfield at the moment, he looks like he’ll see a decent amount of time on the pitch.

Next up in our position profile series, we’ll take a look at Nashville’s fullbacks.

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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