With Austin FC entering MLS in 2021, the league will hold an expansion draft on December 15. In this draft, Austin will be able to select five players from current MLS teams to add to their roster. Each squad can protect 12 players on their roster (with a couple additions – more on that later), and can only have one player selected.
Nashville SC are expected to announce their end-of-season roster decisions soon, but we’ll look at the roster as it stands now to predict who general manager Mike Jacobs and his staff decide to protect in the draft.
Automatically protected players
Homegrown players 25 years old or under, as well as Generation Adidas players, are automatically protected. Nashville acquired the HG rights for three players (Derrick Jones, Alex Muyl and Handwalla Bwana), and SuperDraft pick Jack Maher is signed to a GA deal. These four players will be protected in addition to the 12 others Nashville can designate, meaning that they’ll have a total of 16 players ineligible for selection by Austin.
Required protected players
Teams with four players occupying international roster spots must protect at least three of those players. Nashville currently have Hany Mukhtar, Randall Leal, Miguel Nazarit and Jhonder Cádiz in international spots.
Predicted protected list
As mentioned earlier, Nashville will have a total of 16 players protected during the expansion draft. Below are our predictions for who they keep safe during the draft (protected players listed in bold):
To start, Cameron Lancaster will technically be either protected or unprotected, but he signed a long-term deal with Louisville City and can realistically be excluded from this process.
Of the players on the protected list, there are a couple obvious choices.
Walker Zimmerman is the MLS Defender of the Year and was recently signed to an extension through 2023, with a club option for 2024.
Dave Romney played every minute of the season, and was one of the signings of the season coming from an LA Galaxy team that very much did not value him properly.
Joe Willis was one of the league’s best goalkeepers this season, and Nashville won’t take any chances with him.
Dan Lovitz is 29, the oldest of the defenders on the protected list. Nashville will probably start looking for options at the position before too long, but he’s a key part of the team and would certainly get interest if unprotected.
Dax McCarty is 33, and while he’s towards the later stages of his career, he’s clearly a very valuable player for Nashville. The captain and obvious leader of the team, his intangibles are just as valuable as his play on the field. While Nashville may take a chance on leaving him exposed and hope that Austin passes, that seems unlikely.
Similarly, Aníbal Godoy was a key player for Nashville, and one they invested in heavily. While he struggled with injuries at times this year, he’s too valuable to leave exposed.
As mentioned above, Nashville are required to protect three of their international players. Their three Designated Players are the obvious choices here.
Daniel Ríos seems like a bit of a coin flip. Nashville certainly could leave him unprotected and hope that Austin go with other targets from around the league, but he’s a green card attacker who had pretty impressive production in limited minutes this season. He seems certain to be a factor next year, and isn’t worth taking a chance on losing.
In the same vein, Brian Anunga is a low-budget midfielder who produced at a high level this year. With Godoy and McCarty not getting any younger, he’s a valuable player to hold on to. He could be a starter for this team in a season or two, and like Ríos, he’s not worth risking.
Lastly, Alistair Johnston is a very high-value player who’s available for a low cost. That’s what teams look for in the draft, and in a salary cap league like MLS, players like Johnston are very valuable. Nashville will protect Johnston, who looks like their starter at the position for the foreseeable future.
With the condensed schedule this year, head coach Gary Smith used a large portion of his squad as he dealt with injuries and rotation. With only 16 players protected, there are bound to be some surprises on the unprotected list.
Jalil Anibaba is a versatile defender that can play anywhere across the backline with experience in MLS. He is also a great leader on and off the pitch that would be a huge asset to a new club. Nashville would love to keep him, but at 32 years old, he is not a long term option.
Continuing with the defense, Miguel Nazarit will almost certainly be left unprotected. He was always meant to be a long term signing but didn’t play a minute, and only made a single appearance on the bench. He is 23 and has a ton of upside but not enough to warrant leaving another defender unprotected. He is on a multi-year deal, and could possibly have a no-trade clause in his contract. That seems like the only scenario in which he’d be protected.
As Nashville is building their unprotected list, they will have to make sure that they are keeping their core group together without leaving crucial prospects available.
The biggest surprise for some will be David Accam. He was brought in with much fanfare and high expectations but struggled to stay fit. He played just 239 minutes this season and didn’t make a gameday roster after September 2. Nashville will hope he can find his form again in 2021, and his high salary may be enough to keep Austin away.
Finally, Dom Badji and Abu Danladi were both given opportunities to earn the starting striker position and both struggled with injury. With the addition of Jhonder Cádiz, at least one will be deemed surplus. They each can stretch the field off the bench but did not have enough end product. With Daniel Ríos impressing down the stretch, Badji and Danladi seem like the third and fourth choice players. With more signings on the wing likely this winter, they’re probably surplus to requirements.
Teams are required to submit their offseason roster decisions within 24 hours of their elimination from the playoffs (or on November 30 if they didn’t make the postseason). Clubs aren’t required to publish those decisions at a set time, but it shouldn’t be long before Nashville announces their roster decisions.
Clubs are required to submit their list of protected players for the Expansion Draft by December 14, with the draft taking place the following day.
Between Nashville’s roster decisions and their protected list, we’ll have a much more clear idea of where things stand heading into the 2021 season. One thing is for certain; a lot of moves are coming for the Boys in Gold.