Position profile: fullbacks

We’re starting the defense portion of our 2021 position profile with Nashville SC’s outside backs. With a couple new additions in the offseason, it’s a deep position for the Boys in Gold.

Previous entries: Forwards | Attacking midfielders | Center midfielders |

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Dan Lovitz

29 years old | 24 appearances | 2039 minutes
40 crosses | 2 assists | 21 key passes | 58.8% duels won | 28 tackles | 0.67 G+
Casey Gower-Broadway Sports

Lovitz was another bargain, acquired for just $100,000 in allocation money. Lovitz absolutely locked down the left back spot in 2020, and was a consistent two-way threat. With Dave Romney behind him, Lovitz was able to push forward into the attack, and was one of the better crossers in the league. Only Hany Mukhtar made more key passes than Lovitz for Nashville.

Because of Nashville’s strong spine and their compact mid-block, Nashville’s fullbacks are called on for a lot of defending as opponents often are forced out of midfield into wide areas. Lovitz defended these moments really well. Although Nashville allowed a fair amount of crosses, their fullbacks often forced less-than-ideal service into the box, where Walker Zimmerman and Dave Romney were more than a match for the opposing attackers.

Lovitz had a great 2020, and should be back for more of the same in 2021.

Alistair Johnston

22 years old | 21 appearances | 1798 minutes
11 crosses | 0 assists | 13 key passes | 56.1% duels won | 30 tackles | -0.24 G+
Casey Gower-Broadway Sports

After bursting onto the season last year, Johnston is the future for this club at right back. Now a Canadian international, he’s not just the firmly entrenched starter, but an exciting young piece for one of the more interesting sides in Concacaf. While the sample size is relatively small, if his career continues on this trajectory, his days in MLS could be numbered.

Johnston was solid defensively for the most part last season. He was really safe in possession, completing 75.8% of his 908 passes (among Nashville fullbacks, only Brayan Beckeles did better, and he only played 80 minutes). The real test for Johnston will come in the final third. He’s a fairly strong crosser of the ball, and has the pace to make a half-yard of space for himself. If he can figure out the timing of his deliveries with the strikers, he should be able to improve his attacking numbers.

Dylan Nealis

22 years old | 20 appearances | 1798 minutes
4 crosses | 0 assists | 12 key passes | 45.9% duels won | 7 tackles | 0.01 G+
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Nashville brought in Nealis for up to $225,000 in GAM this offseason. It was a bit of a surprise move, with fullback not seemingly a position of need. However, Johnston will miss time with international duty, and Nealis is great value at the price.

The third overall pick of the 2020 SuperDraft, he actually performed pretty well for a really poor Miami defense, and his underlying numbers are pretty similar to Johnston’s. While he’ll most likely perform in a backup role, at least to start, he’s a really strong player and a great depth addition. He’ll allow Nashville to perform at a similar level when he’s in the lineup.

Taylor Washington

27 years old | 17 appearances | 518 minutes
9 crosses | 1 assists | 8 key passes | 48.5% duels won | 4 tackles | -0.09 G+
Casey Gower-Broadway Sports

Washington’s numbers are skewed by the fact that he largely played in a more advanced role on the left wing, in addition to left-back. He’s capable of playing both, and the USL holdover became a favorite option of Gary Smith off the bench.

Going back to his USL days, he’s consistent in possession, a trait that Smith really likes. He has tremendous workrate, tracking back when playing on the wing and bombing forward from a fullback spot. His crossing has really improved over the last couple seasons, and he puts in consistently dangerous service. While Washington probably won’t see many starting minutes, he’s turned into a very reliable option off the bench, and should be in the matchday squad for plenty of 2021.

Eric Miller

28 years old | 7 appearances | 487 minutes
2 crosses | 0 assists | 0 key passes | 69.6% duels won | 2 tackles | -0.24 G+
Casey Gower-Broadway Sports

Miller started the first two matches of the season, and made two mistakes that contributed to goals conceded. He picked up a bit of an unfair reputation among the fans, but was a reliable option when he saw the field the rest of the season. He appears to be down the depth chart behind Johnston and possibly Nealis, but he’s still and MLS veteran who can do a job when needed.

If Gary Smith uses a back five more this season (I expect he will), Miller could feature either as a wingback or in the center. His versatility makes him a valuable asset, and his MLS experience makes him a valuable leader for some of the younger players. He’s a good option to have.

Nick Hinds

23 years old | 7 appearances (USL Championship) | 475 minutes
6 crosses | 0 assists | 0 key passes | 50.9% duels won | 6 tackles | -0.04 G+
Courtesy Nashville SC

Hinds was signed by Nashville from the Seattle Sounders academy, after spending most of his time with their USL affiliate, Tacoma Defiance. He had a bit of an injury hit 2020, playing in just seven matches, but is a high-upside young player who has the tools to succeed in MLS.

He’s very fast and direct, and isn’t afraid to take on players one-v-one. It remains to be seen if his long-term role is left-back or further forward on the wings. He’ll start the year behind Lovitz and probably Washington, but could work his way into a larger role as the year progresses.

We’ll continue this series with a look at Nashville’s center-backs tomorrow.

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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