Scouting Nashville SC academy players with first-team potential

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ronan Briscoe is a founding contributor of Soundwave Soccer, where he covers Nashville SC, Huntsville City FC, and Nashville’s academy. We’re excited to have him contribute a deep dive into several players from Nashville’s academy who have been standout performers.


It was on a balmy November afternoon in Atlanta that Nashville SC’s academy took its first steps. 

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A little over three weeks after Nashville SC’s final game in the USL Championship, a 1-0 loss to Indy Eleven, a team of Under-12s took the field in the U-12 Generation Adidas Cup. On day two of that tournament, they achieved the first win in Nashville academy history, a 1-0 win over Minnesota United.

A lot has changed since that day. 2023 is the first year in which prospects coming through Nashville’s academy have a full pathway from the academy, through Huntsville City FC in MLS NEXT Pro and on to the first team.

The academy is the lifeblood of many a very successful MLS program, and in many ways has shifted the league’s position in the global game. In recent years, we’ve seen loads of players come through MLS academies and earn meaningful minutes with the first team. Several have been sold to Europe for very high transfer fees, dollars that can be re-invested into the academy pipeline.

Just as a couple examples, take a look at the Philadelphia Union and their seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of MLS quality midfielders they’ve had in recent years. Brenden and Paxten Aaronson have both been sold for a combined $15 million, and Jack McGlynn appears next in that pipeline after breaking into the first team and starring for the US youth national team at the U-20 World Cup.

There’s also the success of St. Louis City’s very young academy, which has already produced a few notable homegrowns. Across the league, good academy setups are also located in Seattle, New York (both of them), Los Angeles (both of them too), and many many others. 

And then there’s Dallas, the paragon of American soccer academies.. The list of players who have come out of that academy seems endless: Weston McKennie, Chris Richards, Ricardo Pepi, Kellyn Acosta, Jesús Ferreira, Alejandro Zendejas, Paxton Pomykal, Reggie Cannon, Justin Che, Tanner Tessman and many others.

Essentially, a strong academy can create a culture of long term sustained success within a club. Nashville’s academy is young, and though they haven’t developed at light speed like St. Louis, the trees are starting to bear fruit.

This coming weekend, the U-15 and U-17 teams will take part in MLS Next Cup Playoffs, having earned qualification through the MLS Next Flex tournament. The U-15s begin play on Saturday at noon CST against LAFC, while the U-17s will face independent Southern Soccer Academy on Sunday at 11:30 AM CST. Both squads also gave a good performance in the Generation Adidas Cup, against clubs as big as Pumas UNAM, León, and Real Madrid.

As for the talent within Nashville’s academy, we’ve seen three players make their Huntsville debuts, and it doesn’t seem far-fetched to expect a homegrown signing with the senior team in the near future. Nashville has even had a player picked up by a European academy, as 17-year old attacking midfielder Andrei Jahic now features in the youth ranks of Croatian giants Dinamo Zagreb.

For now, let’s focus on players still in Music City today. We’re looking at some candidates for the next homegrown contract currently in the academy system. This is by no means an exhaustive list, I’ve had to leave off numerous incredibly deserving players to save all of you from reading a 10,000 word article on every player in the academy.

Players like Cannon Scretchen, Isaiah Jones (pictured above), Noah Kasin, Tyrell Moore, Josh Nwokeji, Alejandro Velazquez-Lopez, Samuel Byron, Dominic Wilson, Williams Sorto-Garcia, Cesar Soucre and plenty others throughout the U-17 and U-15 setups show incredible promise.

Adem Sipic

For all the talk of how young the Nashville academy is, they may well have already found a star in the making. Adem Sipic, a native of Bowling Green, Kentucky, has taken part in youth identification camps for both the United States and Bosnia & Herzegovina. If you were unaware, Bowling Green has a sizable and proud Bosnian diaspora, following an influx of refugees from the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s.

Sipic is a classic center forward. He’s big, he’s physical, he’s fast, he’s strong in the air, and he can put away chances when given them. Think of the role that Teal Bunbury has been asked to play since Nashville’s shift to a 4-4-2 diamond. Bunbury is asked to win the first ball, lay it off to one of Hany Mukhtar, Fafa Picault, or Jacob Shaffelburg, and pull the attention of defenders in the box to create space for others, or receive the ball in space and finish quickly.

That’s exactly the skillset Adem Sipic has. Down to the tiniest detail. It’s really no wonder Gary Smith has showered praise on the young striker, he fits the exact mold Smith has been looking for in a striker for years. Of course, Sipic has a lot of growing to do at just 17, but the more time goes on, the more it seems he’ll be doing a lot of it in front of your very eyes.

After playing with Nashville’s first team in preseason, Sipic has played six matches for Hunsville City FC in MLS NEXT Pro this season, by far the most of any academy player. This past Sunday, he started his first match, playing 75 minutes and scoring his first professional goal, calmly slotting home from close range after an impressive Huntsville passing move.

Sipic continues to play for both Nashville’s U-17s and Hunstville. But, aside from possibly this weekend’s MLS Next Cup Playoffs, I doubt Sipic will be playing somewhere you can’t watch again. He’s shown ability beyond his years, and he should have a very bright future ahead of him. If he meets the potential he appears to have, Nashville’s high profile misses on Designated Player slots at his position may end up a very distant memory. 

Eli Wachs

Eli Wachs is the most recent academy prospect to make his Huntsville debut, getting a couple minute cameo against St. Louis City SC 2 with the game well in hand. In the few times I’ve seen him play, the thing that’s jumped off the screen to me about Wachs’ game is his passing vision. Sure, he makes all the runs you want out of a winger, and he delivers a good set piece, but his ability to spot a pass is well beyond his years.

Technical ability and passing range can take a player a long way, and Eli Wachs has plenty of both. Wachs is committed to play college soccer at Cal.

Lucas Wolthers

Another player who has joined Wachs on the Huntsville bench the past two weeks is Lucas Wolthers. He’s another big center forward, committed to Indiana, who, like Sipic, shows a great ability to hold up play, in addition to finishing the chances he gets in the box.

Wolthers made his Huntsville debut against New York Red Bulls II and has been involved in matchday squads the last several weeks. With Azaad Liadi going down with another injury, more consistent playing time may well be coming soon.

Jake Grekowicz

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The U-17s have an established number one in between the sticks, and it’s Jake Grekowicz. He’s made the bench for Huntsville one time, and put in good performances in both MLS Next Flex and the Generation Adidas Cup. He’s committed to Michigan State, but for right now, he’s with Nashville, and has been a regular participant in training with Nashville’s first team.

Goalkeeper is a tough position to break into, but the fact that he’s locked down his role with the U-17s and has spent time with Huntsville says a lot about the quality Grekowicz has in goal. There’s a bit of a logjam of keepers in the Nashville system at the moment, with both Ben Martino and Elliot Panicco seeing starting minutes for Huntsville behind Joe Willis, but perhaps Grekowicz can find a way through.

Scott Cheevers

Scott Cheevers is actually one of the names you might have already heard if you aren’t familiar with the academy teams. Last February, Cheevers was called into the USYNT U-15s, though it was just a training camp and no official games were played.

Nonetheless, Cheevers is one of the stereotypical Gary Smith players. I don’t pretend to know exactly how tall he is, but from sleuthing starting lineup pictures, he looks to be significantly taller than everyone else in the academy. Exactly the kind of centerback Gary Smith dreams about on the best of nights.

Aside from his physical profile, Cheevers is also a good defender, and his USYNT pedigree speaks to that. I think of all the academy players who haven’t been named to a squad in Huntsville yet, Cheevers may be next in line out of defensive necessity in the Rocket City.

Alejandro Carrillo

Alejandro Carrillo is a centerback that’s already earned some praise in the academy, having been picked as a 2022 MLS Next All-Star. You might have even watched him put on a good performance in that game, and that form has carried over into the U-17s.

He’s made the bench three times for Huntsville, though he has yet to make his debut. Given the fact that Huntsville has conceded 22 (!) goals in 11 games, I wouldn’t be shocked if that debut comes very soon.

Author: Ronan Briscoeis a contributor for Broadway Sports, and a founding contributor at SoundwaveSoccer.com, where he covers Nashville SC, Huntsville City FC and Nashville's youth academy.

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