Predicting Nashville SC’s impending roster decisions

Nashville SC’s 2022 campaign closed on Saturday with a first-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy. This offseason, the crew at Broadway Sports Media will bring you content analyzing Nashville’s season and the moves the club makes in preparation for 2023. 

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 be departing the club. It may also be coupled with information regarding contract extensions and the triggering of a purchase option for a popular Canadian loanee. 

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The official announcement could come as soon as early this week or as late as the day before MLS Cup, as Nashville did last season.

Here is a prediction of what you can expect to see when the roster release is published. 

Exercising options on the veteran core

Nashville is a veteran-laden team with roster decisions to be made on several core members of the club. 

According to the MLSPA, the following individuals have completed the final guaranteed year of their contracts. 

Teal BunburyOptionExercised
Dax McCartyOptionExercised
Bryan MeredithOptionDeclined
Eric MillerOut of contractNegotiate new contract
Alex MuylOptionExercised
C.J. SapongOptionExercised
Joe WillisOptionExercised

The expectation is that Mike Jacobs will exercise the contract options for Nashville’s core veterans. 

Let’s start up top. While neither C.J. Sapong nor Teal Bunbury is the long-term answer as the starting striker for the Coyotes, both provide plenty of useful qualities and veteran leadership that will likely see them return to Nashville for 2023. 

Alex Muyl, a trusted utility piece, will return to Nashville. Since joining Nashville, Muyl has appeared in all but two matches in which he was available for selection. Rather than merely exercising his contract option, it would not be a surprise to see a new contract announcement for Muyl. 

Team captain, Dax McCarty, should also have his option year triggered. I would not be shocked to see the 35-year-old hang up his boots this offseason. If he pursues a post-playing media career, this might be the year to make the move. With the move to Apple TV+, there is space for McCarty to get in on the ground floor as an analyst.

If McCarty returns, he will inch closer to Kyle Beckerman’s league record for appearances by an outfield player. It will take two full seasons for McCarty (440) to surpass Beckerman (498).

Eric Miller is out of contract this season. If he is to return to Music City, he and the club will need to agree to a new deal. Even if his presence on the team sheet may not spark excitement from supporters, he provides value in creating depth at both right back and center back.

When Gary Smith needs to switch to a three-center-back formation, Miller is often the man he looks to. A new contract for Miller may not be finalized prior to publication of the official roster release, but the club will likely indicate that the sides are in negotiations.

Despite a rocky summer, Joe Willis surged back with a stellar close to the season. The mustachioed keeper’s record-setting Decision Day will remind the club and supporters of his quality when on his game. Among regular starters, he finished the season with the 11th-best Post-Shot Expected Goals Minus Goals (PSxG-G), a key measure of shot-stopping success.

Backup goalkeeper Bryan Meredith, 33, might be the only Coyote not to have his club option exercised. He has never featured for Nashville since joining in 2021. Whether he returns will come down to his ability and usefulness as a mentor to Nashville’s younger goalkeepers.

Building out the Huntsville roster

As part of the official release, Nashville will likely announce that they have triggered the contract options of several younger players.

In August, the club announced the formation of a reserve side that will join MLS Next Pro beginning in 2023. The team will make its home two hours south in Huntsville, Alabama. 

Rather than send players on loan to USL-Championship clubs, Mike Jacobs will utilize Huntsville as a proving ground for Nashville’s younger players that have yet to break into Gary Smith’s regular rotation. 

Contract options to be triggered include Ahmed Longmire, Elliot Panicco, Irakoze Donasiyano, Josh Bauer, Robert Castellanos, and Will Meyer. These players will form the core of Huntsville’s initial roster. The three center backs will garner plenty of viewing interest. If there was ever a long-term injury sustained to Walker Zimmerman, Dave Romney, or Jack Maher, one of those three depth center backs could be called upon to step into a bigger role with the first team. 

Included in this group is Handwalla Bwana. The 23-year-old winger is just one year shy of MLS free agency, which requires a player to be 24 years old with at least five service years. Nashville will need to decide what to do with Bwana.

At $140,000 salary, he earns more than the others on this list. If Bwana does not return, this may be the driving factor. However, Nashville’s return to a 4-4-2 this season reestablishes a winger role that was largely lost when Nashville rolled out a three-man back line. Bwana may not break through into the first team but could be an important piece in Huntsville for Year 1.

Locking up two young pieces

Nashville may use the official roster decision release to announce long-term contracts for two young pieces, Jack Maher and Jacob Shaffelburg. 

After finishing his third season, Maher will graduate from the Generation Adidas (“GA”) program. As a GA draftee, Maher’s $164,000 salary did not affect Nashville’s roster budget. That is no longer the case. He may also be exiting the final year of his guaranteed contract. Nashville controls Maher’s MLS rights for the next two years, but Maher has earned a new, long-term contract.

Nashville will also announce that they have exercised the purchase option for Jacob Shaffelburg. 

The Nova Scotia native came to Tennessee on loan from Toronto FC. Shaffelburg turns 23 years old in November and remains one season shy of MLS free-agency eligibility. Nashville controls his rights for the 2023 season but will be motivated to lock up Shaffelburg long term. He fits Gary Smith’s side like a glove and adds an element of speed and verticality that otherwise goes missing in Nashville’s attack. 

Loba and Piñeiro’s futures

The final piece of the puzzle is the contracts for Aké Loba and Rodrigo Piñeiro. Both players’ contracts are fully guaranteed for the 2023 season, and there likely will not be any news beyond that in the official roster decision release. 

A tough decision will need to be made this offseason regarding Loba. By all accounts, he fits in well into Nashville’s locker room but has completely failed to make his mark on the field. A Designated Player slot is a precious and limited commodity. If Loba cannot break through as a starting striker, Mike Jacobs needs to find a transfer or consider using a one-time contract buyout for Loba. Any announcement on this front will likely not come until early 2023 when a potential buyer or loan destination can be found. 

Rodrigo Piñeiro remains contracted to Nashville SC despite being unceremoniously scrubbed from the roster. He spent this year on loan with Unión Española where he bagged six goals in 20 appearances for the Chilean side.

It is unclear if Unión has a purchase option attached to the loan. Given the messy breakup between Piñeiro and Nashville at the end of 2021, it would be shocking to see him return to Nashville. Either another loan or a permanent transfer will need to be arranged this winter.

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

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