As we enter the new year, it is worth looking back at Nashville SC’s offseason to this point. Nashville is just days away from the beginning of preseason camp as the club prepares for its fourth season in MLS.
It has been a unique winter for MLS and soccer across the globe as the World Cup dominated coverage. With attention focused on Qatar, you will be forgiven for letting smaller news items related to Nashville SC slip from your radar.
Let me catch you up on what you may have missed and what may lie on the horizon for the Boys in Gold.
Eric Miller headlines the departures
In November, Nashville announced its end-of-season roster decisions. Right-back Eric Miller headlined the departures as he headed to free agency. While maligned throughout his time with the Coyotes, Miller provided valuable depth at both right back and center back that has yet to be replaced. Mike Jacobs could still work out a return for Miller, but there have been no rumblings yet of a new deal.
In addition to Miller, Nashville also parted ways with Robert Castellanos, Irakoze Donasiyano, Bryan Meredith, and Will Meyer. Castellanos and Donasiyano each picked up a single league appearance for Nashville with Castellanos delivering a memorable Man-of-the-Match performance in Toronto.
Castellanos fractured his ankle early in 2022 before returning on loan with the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Donasiyano, Nashville’s first-round selection in the 2021 SuperDraft, never broke through and failed to impress on loan this year with Phoenix Rising of the USL Championship.
Meredith and Meyer, both goalkeepers, depart the roster having failed to log a single minute, which is not unordinary for reserve keepers.
New arrivals to Nashville
Nashville has been very quiet this offseason. The biggest acquisition has been the trade for Fafà Picault. Nashville sent $50,000 in 2023 General Allocation Money (“GAM”) and $50,000 in 2024 GAM to Houston. An additional $150,000 in 2024 GAM could be sent if Picault meets certain performance-based metrics.
Picault, 31, is a veteran MLS winger with loads of pace and a penchant for scoring goals. Picault can play on either side of the pitch but has been used most often on the left cutting inside on his dominant right foot.
Picault appears destined to split time with Jacob Shaffelburg on the left side of Nashville’s 4-4-2. Shaffelburg sparked Nashville’s attack upon his arrival to the Music City. His pace gave Hany Mukhtar another running mate on blistering counterattacks that have been vital to Nashville’s offensive identity.
Shaffelburg’s permanent transfer was made official this offseason. Toronto FC received $250,000 in 2023 GAM and $50,000 in conditional GAM for the trade. Nashville immediately locked up Shaffelburg to a four-year contract with an additional club option for 2027. That level of investment demonstrates the faith Mike Jacobs and Gary Smith have in the young Canadian.
The latest confirmed arrival is Laurence Wyke, formerly of the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The English center-back will provide veteran depth behind Nashville’s starters. Barring a rash of injuries, I do not expect to see much of Wyke in GEODIS Park. He’s likely to fill a similar role as Josh Bauer or Robert Castellanos have done in the past.
Six selections in the MLS SuperDraft
The new arrivals also include the six players selected by Nashville in the MLS SuperDraft.
- Round 1, Pick 11: Joey Skinner (LB) – Clemson
- Round 2, Pick 06: Sean Suber (DF) – Charlotte
- Round 2, Pick 20: Alex Meinhard (FW) – Tulsa
- Round 3, Pick 07: Makel Rasheed (DF) – Xavier
- Round 3, Pick 20: Rory O’Dirscoll (MF) – New Hampshire
- Round 3, Pick 26: Lyam MacKinnon (FW) – Villanova
The importance of MLS’s college draft has waned in recent years, but there is still value to be found. This offseason has proved, yet again, that there are multiple avenues for players to develop in the massive soccer ecosystem of the United States and Canada. Former Nashville SC defender Alistair Johnston, the 11th overall selection in the 2020 SuperDraft, featured for Canada at the World Cup and earned a multi-million dollar transfer abroad to Celtic.
This year, Nashville again held the 11th overall selection. Mike Jacobs used the pick to select Clemson left-back Joey Skinner. As a Generation Adidas signee, Skinner, 19, will not count against Nashville’s salary cap for up to three seasons. The hope is that Skinner will develop into the heir apparent for Daniel Lovitz.
While Skinner will start his career on the roster with Nashville, the same cannot be said for certain with the other five players selected. Most, if not all, of the other draftees will likely begin their professional careers with Huntsville City.
Speaking of Huntsville
Nashville SC’s new reserve team, Huntsville City FC, unveiled its branding and crest in early November.
Huntsville City will compete in MLS NEXT Pro in 2023. The new reserve league began play in 2022 with some admitted growing pains. MLS NEXT Pro is designed to fill the gap between a club’s academy and the first team giving professional minutes to young players ready to take the next step but not yet ready to break through with the senior team.
It was a bit shocking to see Huntsville City named something other than “Huntsville SC” to mirror the parent club’s branding. However, there appears to be a real desire to craft Huntsville as its own, separate club from a business perspective but still shares sporting resources with Nashville.
This strategy could pay immense dividends in following the track laid out by minor league baseball across the United States, including the Nashville Sounds, where reserve teams can stand on their own in their local markets. If successful, it may be a model that other MLS clubs look to follow as they pivot away from “[Club] 2” monikers and teams that receive little-to-no fan support.
Stockpiling GAM from international slot trades
In what continues to be a familiar refrain, Nashville has sold away the vast majority of its international slots for GAM.
It is quite a haul that positions Nashville to add a significant piece to the roster. Supporters have thrown out names such as Eryk Williamson (Portland), Cristian Arango (LAFC), and Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland) as potential targets. However, it is unclear if any of this trio would actually be made available.
The torrent of trades leaves Mike Jacobs with a single, remaining international slot. Aforementioned Laurence Wyke required a slot previously with Atlanta United, but it would be a shock if isn’t close to obtaining his green card. I doubt Nashville would have signed him otherwise.
Randall Leal continues to reportedly be an office visit away from obtaining his permanent resident status. That leaves Aké Loba and Rodrigo Piñeiro, but neither is expected to be with the club in 2023.
Loba and Piñeiro poised for an exit
Both Loba and Piñeiro are poised for permanent transfers away from Tennessee.
As confirmed by my colleague Ben Wright, Aké Loba is in advanced talks to sign with Liga MX club Mazatlan FC. The Ivorian forward never broke into Gary Smith’s preferred starting XI, starting just two games in his two seasons in Music City. A fresh start for both the player and the club is ideal for all involved. Loba’s departure would free up a precious Designated Player slot for Nashville.
Similarly, Piñeiro is on the verge of completing a permanent transfer with Unión Española. Piñeiro spent the 2022 season on loan with the Chilean club and impressed in his time with El Rojo.
ESPN Chile correspondent, Chris Brandt, reported that Unión will pay a $450,000 fee with a 50% sell-on fee retained by Nashville.
Like Loba, Piñeiro’s imminent departure will open a valuable roster mechanism. Nashville could make a new U22 signing. The U22 Initiative allows clubs to sign a certain number of young players at a significantly reduced budget charge.
Rumors of in-coming signings
While unloading Loba and Piñeiro would create significant roster flexibility for Nashville, it has been crickets as to any rumors of a big-time transfer.
The lack of public speculation should not be surprising for several reasons. First, Nashville’s front office has been notoriously tight-lipped regarding transfers since Day 1. Leaks of potential targets have often come from reporters on the other side of the transaction before gaining traction among local and MLS reporters.
Second, Loba and Piñeiro remain with the club, for now. Any word on incoming moves could jeopardize negotiating leverage with Mazatlan FC and Unión Española. Lastly, the club may decide to wait until the more active summer window to make a splash signing.
Although there are no juicy mega-deals to chew on, there have been a few nuggets of transfer speculation in recent days.
Nashville has been linked with Nebiyou Perry, as reported by Manuel Veth of Transfermarkt.
Perry, 23, is listed as a left winger but is noted as having versatility across the attacking midfield line. Other than Östersund, he has spent time in the Swedish second division and with FC Köln’s U19s. Any finalized deal would be a low-budget flier on the once-promising youth player.
The Coyotes have also been linked with free agent Josh Drack, per a report from Christian Salas with AS Chile.
The Los Angeles Galaxy selected Drack 16th overall in the 2021 SuperDraft and subsequently signed him to Los Dos, the Galaxy’s reserve side. The Arizona native of dual Chilean and Japanese descent made one MLS appearance for the Galaxy’s senior club in 2021. Drack started 22 matches for the reserve side this past season. He is a left-sided player that can slot in the defensive line or midfield, similar to Taylor Washington.
Ordinarily, Drack’s potential signing would be pegged to a move made on behalf of Huntsville City. However, the report is adamant that Drack is being courted to sign with Nashville’s senior roster.
I am not closing a door on the move, but it would beg some questions after Nashville selected Joey Skinner 11th overall in last week’s SuperDraft. Unless Mike Jacobs sees Drack’s future further up the pitch, signing Drack would create a glut of left-backs on the roster.
Nashville has yet to address the burning questions
Less than two months remain until opening day and Nashville is no closer to addressing the burning questions I had for the club entering the offseason.
First, the striker position remains as lean as ever. The same trio of C.J. Sapong, Teal Bunbury, and Ethan Zubak remain. Nashville supporters will be hopeful that Sapong can yet again rekindle his every-other-year scoring form. Sapong bagged double-digit goals in 2021, 2019, and 2017.
Even if Sapong returns to form, Nashville needs to step up to the plate again and swing for the fences on a high-end upgrade at striker. Loba’s seemingly imminent departure will open up a DP slot for that express purpose. A new striker signing will happen. It is not a matter of if, but when. Whether in the next two months or in the summer transfer window, Nashville’s front office and coaching staff must be in lockstep on the type of player that can make an immediate impact for the Coyotes.
In the absence of any concrete rumors, there is one name that piques my personal interest, Salomón Rondón. The journeyman striker recently terminated his contract with Everton and is a free agent.
If still in serviceable physical condition, Rondón, 33, presents a plug-and-play upgrade for Nashville SC. He fits Gary Smith’s preference for strong #9s with a hold-up play presence. Having spent six years in England, there would not be a language barrier or culture shock that might otherwise prevent another foreign signing from immediate integration into the starting XI.
The only drawback to Rondón is his age. Nashville has targeted younger Designated Players in the past. This leads to the second question I had for Nashville SC entering the offseason.
The second burning question entering the offseason was whether Mike Jacobs focused on turning over the roster with younger pieces or pushing the chips into the middle for a veteran-fueled title run. So far, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
The title window is closing for Nashville’s current core. As complied by Eliot McKinley of American Soccer Analysis, the club fielded the oldest roster in MLS last season.
The commitment to Shaffelburg locks in a young piece for several seasons. However, the trade for Fafà Picault added yet another member to the core already in their thirties. The next few moves by Jacobs should be telling as to his mindset.
Father time is the only undefeated side in the history of sports. Based on fitness, injury luck, and dedication, you can delay the inevitable, but only for so long.
Nashville can keep chasing the top of the standings with a veteran core but will need to diligently plug in younger pieces along the way. An injection of youth may come following the sales of Loba and Piñeiro. As of now, where this roster is headed remains an open question.
All told, it has been a relatively quiet offseason for Nashville SC. With just under two months remaining until the start of the 2023 season, there is still plenty of time for Nashville SC to tinker with the roster and add more pieces to the group.
Here at Broadway Sports Media, we will continue to provide coverage and analysis of breaking news in the buildup to Nashville’s fourth season in MLS.