Predicting Nashville SC’s impending roster decisions 

Nashville SC’s 2023 campaign closed this week with a disappointing first-round playoff loss to Orlando City. This offseason, the Broadway Sports crew will analyze Nashville’s season and break down any roster moves as the club prepares for the 2024 season. 

In February, NSC will debut in the Concacaf Champions Cup. This competition will put additional strain on the roster as the season will begin a few weeks earlier than normal. If Nashville advances past the first round, they will need to juggle a crowded calendar with increased travel demands making depth acquisitions all the more important.

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The first big marker of the offseason will be the annual roster decision release. Nashville will declare who is staying (for now) and who will immediately depart from the club. It may also be coupled with information regarding contract extensions and other small nuggets of information. 

The official announcement could come as soon as today or as late as the Monday after Thanksgiving. Nashville has tended to wait as long as possible to publicize its roster decisions, so I would expect to wait a little while longer. 

Whenever the announcement is released, here is my prediction of what you can expect from each player on Nashville SC’s roster.

Roster Predictions*

*Stats include MLS, Leagues Cup, and US Open Cup play

Kemy Amiche
27 Apps | 2,137 minutes | 8 goals | 6 assists (Huntsville City)

Option Exercised. The 22-year-old French midfielder earned Player of the Year honors for Huntsville City after leading the team in goal contributions. With a salary pegged at the Reserve Minimum Salary and under team control for several more years, Nashville will still want to see if Amiche can develop into a first-team player. 

Brian Anunga
22 appearances | 1,092 minutes | 0 goals | 0 assists

Option Exercised. This is one of the tougher decisions. Anunga can be a lightning rod for criticism. With a weakness in ball-progressing capabilities, he is the last person supporters pine for off the bench when a goal is needed.

Despite the consensus among supporters, Anunga has the trust of Gary Smith. As long as Smith returns as the manager, I expect to see Anunga back. This should be the final option year on his contract. In 2024, he will earn his fifth MLS service year qualifying him for free agency next winter.

Josh Bauer
16 appearances | 1,102 minutes | 0 goals | 0 assists

Option Exercised. Bauer made 16 appearances across all competitions in 2023 providing cover at both center back and right back. With two more seasons under club control and at only the Senior Minimum Salary, I expect him back in Nashville. This will come by way of either another club option year on his contract or Mike Jacobs extending a “bona fide” offer as he remains two service years short of free agency. 

Teal Bunbury
38 appearances | 2,188 minutes | 4 goals | 2 assists

Option Exercised. Like Anunga, Teal Bunbury elicits strong opinions among Nashville SC faithful. For a center forward, he does not score many goals and is below-replacement value as a pure attacker. However, as has been pointed out countless times before, Bunbury excels at the dirty work aspects of the position. That industriousness will always endear you to Gary Smith.

At $469,000, any veteran replacement within the league will cost you just as much, if not more. Unless Mike Jacobs already has a replacement plan in place, I expect to see Bunbury back in Nashville one more year.

Sean Davis
40 appearances | 2,499 minutes | 0 goals | 1 assist

Under Contract. Davis signed as a free agent with Nashville ahead of the 2022 season. That contract is guaranteed through 2024 with an option for the 2025 season.

Nick DePuy
0 appearances | 0 minutes

Option Exercised. DePuy, acquired last offseason via trade with the Los Angeles Galaxy, never saw the field in 2023 after undergoing surgery to repair his Achilles tendon. At the time, there was reason to believe that DePuy could enjoy the same career renaissance that Dave Romney experienced when he escaped the Galaxy.

Following DePuy’s injury, Nashville traded for Lukas MacNaughton who performed brilliantly as the third-choice centerback. Does that crowd out DePuy from a roster spot? I don’t necessarily believe so. I still want to see what Nashville has with DePuy before casting him aside, but that could change based on the medical reports from his rehab process. 

Tyler Freeman
10 appearances | 483 minutes | 5 goals | 1 assist (Huntsville City)

Under Contract. Last winter, Nashville signed the 20-year-old forward on a “four-year contract.” What I don’t know is if all four years are guaranteed or if this operated as a 1+1+1+1 deal that many MLS youngsters agree to. Either way, I expect him back on loan with Huntsville next season. 

Aníbal Godoy
32 appearances | 2,594 minutes | 1 goal | 1 assist

Under Contract. Godoy signed a new contract two years ago. His contract is guaranteed for the 2024 season. This is likely the last guaranteed year on his deal. Based on an educated guess, there will be a club option for 2025. 

Luke Haakenson
20 appearances | 623 minutes | 0 goals | 0 assists

Option Declined / No Offer. Haakenson remains one year short of MLS free agency, so he is still under club control. If Nashville does not hold an option year, they can extend a “bona fide” offer and keep him for another year.

However, I predict that Nashville will move on. Haakenson’s appearances and minutes played dropped to the lowest of his career . If he does stay, it will be in large part due to carrying only the Senior Minimum Salary.

Randall Leal
25 appearances | 1,454 minutes | 3 goals | 0 assists

Under Contract / Option Exercised. A serious discussion regarding Leal’s future must be held this offseason. When healthy, he adds a level of creativity and ball progression that Nashville desperately needs. However, the Costa Rican cannot consistently stay healthy. He missed 18 matches with injury this season.

Leal earns $1 million per year, and that creates a serious roster construction issue. For the purposes of the roster announcement, he will be back. After all, he is under club control for at least one more season. Notwithstanding his contract, I wouldn’t be shocked if Nashville dangles him out on the trade block or finds another solution.

Ahmed Longmire
11 appearances | 743 minutes | 0 goals | 0 assists (Huntsville City)

Option Declined. Longmire, 24, appears to have made no meaningful progress to staking a claim for minutes with the senior team after two seasons playing at a lower level. If any central defender from Huntsville makes the leap, it will be Sean Suber. 

Dan Lovitz
43 appearances | 4,090 minutes | 0 goals | 7 assists

Option Exercised. Lovitz remains Mr. Consistency at left back. He hardly misses a minute. He is not an elite but is an above-average MLS starter. The real question is whether Nashville should work out a contract extension.

Lovitz, who will turn 33 next season, hits free agency next winter. Even though Nashville risks losing him following 2024, providing multi-year deals to players in their mid-thirties is generally frowned upon by general managers espousing analytics-based decision-making philosophies. A new 1+1 deal can always be reached before free agency begins. 

Lukas MacNaughton
24 appearances | 1,955 minutes | 1 goal | 1 assist

Option Exercised. MacNaughton outperformed even the lofty expectations following a mid-season trade from Toronto. In a must-win match against Orlando City, he supplanted Jack Maher as the partner next to Walker Zimmerman. With club options for 2024 and 2025, he is here to stay. At a Senior Minimum Salary, MacNaughton is arguably the best value on the roster. 

Jack Maher
40 appearances | 3,517 minutes | 1 goal | 0 assists

Under Contract/Option Exercised. Quietly, I believe Jack Maher signed a new contract prior to the season. In 2022, Maher earned a base salary of $164,000. That figure more than doubled to $355,471. Regardless, he is under club control for 2024.

The bigger question is what his role moving forward will be. Maher was excellent to start the season but faded as the season progressed. That he was dropped for the final game for Lukas MacNaughton spoke volumes. If the club sees MacNaughton as the starter, they may look to deal Maher for a haul of allocation money. 

Ben Martino
27 appearances | 1,480 minutes | 42 saves | 2 clean sheets (Huntsville City)

Option Exercised. Martino is young (21), cheap (Senior Reserve Minimum), and is homegrown eligible. What more do you want from a third keeper? 

Dax McCarty
34 appearances | 2,576 minutes | 1 goal | 7 assists

“In Contract Negotiations”. After a slow start, McCarty was excellent in the back half of the year. He clearly has gas left in the tank if he wants to continue his illustrious career. At this point, McCarty’s 496 appearances are within legitimate reach of the all-time appearances record (Kyle Beckerman holds the outfield record at 536, Nick Rimando is the all-time leader with 553).

Two more seasons may be enough to get there so long as he stays healthy. Whether in Nashville or elsewhere, that record is worth chasing for McCarty. 

Shaq Moore
43 appearances | 3,921 minutes | 1 goal | 5 assists

Under Contract. Moore’s contract is guaranteed through 2025 with a club option for 2026. As one of the highest-paid fullbacks in the league, Moore needs to produce more to live up to his lofty salary.

Hany Mukhtar
44 appearances | 4,018 minutes | 17 goals | 17 assists

Under Contract. Mukhtar cannot be replaced and has more than earned yet another pay raise, especially if deep-pocketed suitors come sniffing around again this offseason. He is under contract through 2025 (he signed a new deal last season), but it’s a dangerous game allowing his contract to start winding down.

Alex Muyl
43 appearances | 2,977 minutes | 4 goals | 3 assists

Under Contract. Muyl signed an unannounced extension last offseason. As long as Gary Smith is the manager of Nashville SC, Muyl will continue to have a prominent place in the team as the jack of all trades. 

Elliot Panicco
11 appearances | 877 minutes | 38 saves | 5 clean sheets

Option Exercised / Bona Fide Offer. Whether or not Nashville has another option year on his current contract, he is under club control in 2024. After 2024, Panicco becomes free agent eligible and a decision on the future of him and Joe Willis will need to be made. 

Nebiyou Perry
18 apperances | 683 minutes | 4 goals | 3 assists (Huntsville City)

Under Contract or Option Declined. Perry signed with Nashville last offseason from Östersunds FK. The official release labeled it as a three-year contract. I’m not sure if that means three guaranteed years or a 1+1+1 setup. Perry, 24, is not likely to factor into the senior roster anytime soon. If his contract is not guaranteed, churning the bottom of the roster is the right call here. 

Fafà Picault
38 appearances | 2,437 minutes | 9 goals | 2 assists

Entering Free Agency. Picault was a big contributor after joining Nashville this offseason, and was Nashville’s second-leading scorer. However, I am not sure if he has established strong enough roots in Nashville to forgo free agency.

At 32 years old, it is his last big chance to cash in with a multi-year contract with the project of his choice. He could always end up back in Nashville, but I predict he will test the waters first. 

Jacob Shaffelburg
39 appearances | 2,081 minutes | 4 goals | 6 assists

Under Contract. Shaffelburg signed a new deal when arriving via trade with Nashville. It tied him down under club control through the 2027 season. Earning just $195,000 this year, Shaffelburg is one of the best values in all of MLS.

Outwardly, it would appear that he is stuck for four more seasons. But if his agent is worth their salt, they will find a way to get their client a raise in the near future, even if that means drumming up interest elsewhere. 

Joey Skinner
27 appearances | 2,116 minutes | 4 goals | 3 assists (Huntsville City)

Under Contract. Skinner is a Generation Adidas signee, Nashville’s first pick of the 2023 MLS SuperDraft. Therefore, he will be under a guaranteed deal for at least three seasons to take advantage of the roster rules affecting such players. The left back spent the entire year developing with Huntsville. 

Sam Surridge
15 appearances | 989 minutes | 5 goals | 2 assists

Under Contract. The big English lad signed a contract guaranteed through the 2026 season with a club option for 2027. Surridge flashed at times but will need to consistently deliver more end product in 2024. 

Taylor Washington
29 appearances | 924 minutes | 1 goal | 1 assist

Option Exercised. Washington qualifies for free agency based on his one year on the books with Philadelphia and his now four MLS seasons in Nashville. The club has an option for another season, and I expect it to be exercised.

Beyond a riot forming if he were to ever be let go as the only remaining player from Nashville’s USL side, Washington makes a lot of financial sense. Lovitz is an iron man at left back playing nearly every minute available. There is no use in sinking money into a higher-paid backup. Moreover, the goodwill he generates off the field is reason enough to keep him on at just $112,000 per year.

One wrench that could be thrown in here is if Washington expressed a desire to move on from Nashville were the backup role to shift to the younger Joey Skinner. 

Joe Willis
37 appearances | 3,712 minutes | 109 saves | 10 clean sheets

Under Contract. Statistically, Willis arguably delivered the best season of his career. While Elliot Panicco has staked a claim for more playing time each year, this is still Willis’ job to lose.

The more interesting question is where does Nashville see the position trending in the next year or two. With Panicco reaching his service years requirement for free agency after this season, a decision on his future may be made sooner rather than later. Does Nashville deal one of its keepers this winter? 

Laurence Wyke
3 appearances | 281 minutes | 0 goals | 0 assists

Option Declined. Nashville signed Wyke to a one-year deal, with options for the 2024 and 2025 seasons. Wyke, 27, made just three appearances this season, all coming in the U.S. Open Cup, and was loaned out to Tampa Bay Rowdies mid-season.

With Nick DePuy returning from injury and Sean Suber showing promise in Huntsville, there is one too many bodies in central defense. Churning the bottom of your roster is a key Moneyball principle. 

Walker Zimmerman
33 appearances | 2,907 minutes | 4 goals | 2 assists

Under Contract. Nashville’s captain is guaranteed through the 2025 season. In 2023, he took a step back from his DPOY-level form from the past few years. Defensive players are not usually given Designated Player deals for a reason. He will need to regain that dominance to justify himself as one of just two DP center backs in Major League Soccer. 

Ethan Zubak
11 appearances | 428 minutes | 1 goal | 0 assists

Option Declined. Zubak made 11 appearances across all competitions with just one minute played since the arrival of Sam Surridge. This is another chance to churn the roster. Homegrown signing Adem Sipić is joining the senior roster in 2024 and appears set to fill the role as the depth striker straddling between Nashville and Huntsville. 

Predicted roster heading into offseason (24)

Goalkeepers (3): Ben Martino, Elliot Panicco, Joe Willis
Defenders (9): Josh Bauer, Nick DePuy, Dan Lovitz, Lukas MacNaughton, Jack Maher, Shaq Moore, Joey Skinner, Taylor Washington, Walker Zimmerman
Midfielders (8): Kemy Amiche, Brian Anunga, Sean Davis, Aníbal Godoy, Randall Leal, Hany Mukhtar, Alex Muyl, Jacob Shaffelburg
Forwards (4): Teal Bunbury, Tyler Freeman, Adem Sipić, Sam Surridge

Option declined/out of contract: Luke Haakenson, Ahmed Longmire, Nebiyou Perry, Fafà Picault, Laurence Wyke, Ethan Zubak

In negotiations: Dax McCarty


Stay tuned as Broadway Sports will have a full breakdown of the roster decision release when officially announced by the club. 

Author: Chris IveyChris is a senior writer covering Nashville SC. His writings focus on the team at large and often navigate the complexity of roster building around the myriad of MLS rules. Outside of Broadway Sports Media, Chris resides in Knoxville and is a licensed attorney. Beyond NSC, he is always willing to discuss Tennessee football and basketball, Coventry City, and USMNT. Follow Chris on Twitter

Comments

  1. I know the FO will be much more conservative than I would, but you really think this would be it? Just moving on from depth pieces? Better depth is obviously needed, but we really need better starting caliber midfielders, don’t they need to make room for that?

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