The Post Card: Midseason MVP, attacking depth and more

It’s Wednesday, my dudes. After a long and drawn out transfer saga, Luis Suárez shocked the world by confirming that he is not signing with Nashville SC. It’s little consolation, but you get another mailbag with me instead of a much-needed goal scoring option. We can’t all be winners.

You got it, NSC Ronan.

1. I do think Nashville will sign at least one more player. It likely won’t be a “big” signing, the way Shaq Moore was, but I’d be surprised if they don’t add another player or two to give them some depth and maybe compete for starting minutes.

2. I was arguably the biggest proponent of Ríos while he was in Nashville and thought he could have been an excellent striker if he had been able to stay healthy. That didn’t pan out. He and Bunbury are completely different players, but just looking at their numbers will answer your question.

PlayerMinutesGoalsShots/96xG/96G-xG/96G+
Daniel Ríos104212.120.27-0.18-0.33
Teal Bunbury32512.660.300.47-0.66
2022 stats per American Soccer Analysis

As Tim Sullivan of Club And Country would quickly point out, Bunbury’s sample size is so small that it’s negligible. Their attacking numbers aren’t that different during Ríos’s time in MLS, but they’re heavily skewed by the fact that Bunbury played more as a winger in New England.

PlayerMinutesGoals/96Shots/96xG/96G-xG/96G+
Daniel Ríos23470.292.950.40-0.110.30
Teal Bunbury34890.332.390.290.04-1.43
2020-2022 stats per American Soccer Analysis

They’re very different players (more on that later), but I don’t think you can make an argument that Ríos is significantly better than Bunbury, and definitely not from their performances in 2022.

3. It’s never a bad time to re-watch It’s Always Sunny.

To me, this is the biggest issue with Bunbury in 2022; he’s being miscast as a target striker, and that’s never been where he’s comfortable.

Gary Smith’s attack heavily revolves around having a no. 9 who can play with his back to goal, physically challenge center backs and link up with the rest of the attack. Ríos was a natural at this. Bunbury has typically been much more comfortable on the wing. I’ve been surprised to see Bunbury get so many minutes as a 9. He’ll likely have to get minutes up front since the ‘Yotes don’t have many other options, but I think he’d be more effective out wide.

As an aside, Jhonder Cádiz would absolutely kill in this current Nashville team.

Not long. The plan was for Godoy to start full-team training this week. Nashville have three matches in a week, and I expect Godoy to be involved in at least some of them. They’ve historically been very cautious bringing players, especially older players, back from injury. I think they’re just making sure they don’t rush Godoy back and reaggravate an injury to one of their most important players.

Answering the first part since I got a ton of questions about the second that I’ll answer in a minute.

Willis and Panicco haven’t been too different in terms of performance. I think Panicco gives you more upside in the future, and there’s certainly value in giving him games to continue developing. But rotating goalkeepers never really works. Gary needed to pick on and stick with him, and I think he’s already done that with Willis.

Nothing that I’ve heard of. Rodrigo Piñeiro is on a guaranteed contract through 2023, but no one knows what the terms of his loan to Unión Española are. They might have a purchase option. They probably don’t. Nashville never even acknowledged the loan and don’t even list Piñeiro on their roster page as they do with other loaned out players… It’s not great.

I personally think Piñeiro is a good player who would do well in MLS, and I’d love to see him get another shot. He’s scored five goals in 1,276 minutes in Chile (a better goals-to-minutes ratio than any Nashville player besides Mukhtar), but I think too many bridges were burned last year for that to happen. I’d love to be wrong about that.

All that is to say, bringing in a U22 signing probably depends on what their plans are for Piñeiro long-term, and I doubt that happens until the offseason.

I think Mukhtar and Zimmerman have been the clear standouts. Aside from them, Lovitz has been consistently reliable. He’s played multiple positions this year, including both left and right center back. With some of the struggles on the right side of the pitch, he’s had to carry a lot of the attacking workload. He’s been incredibly valuable.

I actually think Anunga has improved significantly this year. He’s been more aggressive with his passing, which has led to more turnovers than we’re used to seeing, but he’s clearly trying to add another dimension to his game. He’s still an elite ball winner, and I think he could be a starting caliber midfielder if he’s paired with a more dynamic, creative midfield partner.

Luke Haakenson is another player who I think has improved a lot this year. If it wasn’t for the fact that he has kept Aké Loba off the field on multiple occasions, I think fans would have a very different opinion of him. He’s a better attacker than he gets credit for, can play multiple roles, and is incredibly consistent. Those are all great ways to make sure you get on the field.

Don’t forget, Haakenson was taken in the fourth round of the SuperDraft. 16 of 26 teams completely passed on their fourth round selections. Of the other nine players selected, five currently don’t have a club. The other three currently play in the USL Championship or USL League One and never made an MLS appearance. Haakenson has made 36 appearances for Nashville and has been in all but two match day rosters for the last two seasons. That’s just ridiculous value and an exceptional job to identify talent.

I don’t think CJ Sapong’s performances have regressed significantly, but his production has. He’s 33 years old and has played the fifth-most minutes of any outfield players this year. He needs to be used more sparingly, but there isn’t anyone in the squad who can come close to doing what he does, and thus he plays every game.

I saved the Aké Loba questions for last. Partially because it’s the spiciest question, and partially because I needed to stall as long as possible to think of how to answer this.

The short answer is that Loba hasn’t come close to having the impact anyone expected when he signed, and seems to be concerningly low on the depth chart.

Loba is on a guaranteed contract through 2023, with a further option for 2024. I don’t realistically see Nashville getting rid of him before then. They cannot buy him down out of a DP spot and given how he’s performed, I don’t expect they’ll get much transfer interest, at least for anything close to what they paid for him.

He’s still just 24, and while it’s been frustratingly inconsistent, he has shown a few fleeting glimpses of potential. Nashville will certainly hope he can flip a switch and turn into a contributor. I think there’s still an outside shot he does, but he needs to do it quickly.

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids.

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