The Post Card: MLS regular season set to end with a wild Decision Day

That was quick, huh? The 2022 MLS regular season ends with Decision Day, a full slate of games that promises to bring the #MLSAfterDark energy to Sunday afternoon.

In the East, three teams are fighting for a remaining two playoff spots, while four teams are still alive in the West. Nashville SC could finish as high as third or as low as seventh. Inter Miami, with all their sanctions and penalties for violating league roster rules, could still host a home playoff match. This league is truly wild.

Anyway, y’all had questions. I’ll pretend to have answers. Let’s go.


Striker.

C.J. Sapong has played 1,591 minutes since his last goal. That came way back on May 28. It’s not like this was unpredictable, either; he’s never scored double digit goals in consecutive seasons in his 12-year MLS career. In 2,631 minutes this year, Sapong has managed just fifteen (15!!) shots on target.

Sapong has put just 29% of his shots on target, the lowest number of his career. He’s averaging a shot every 48 minutes, the third-lowest tally of his career. For all the work he does off the ball, it’s getting hard to justify the lack of goals and generally effective attacking play.

The problem is that he’s the only realistic option. Teal Bunbury has missed 18 games this year with injury, and even when healthy has never been a lone target striker. Ethan Zubak has started just three games this season and only one in the league. And Aké Loba… I mean, you know at this point.

Hany Mukhtar can’t do the job on his own forever. He has 17 more goals than the next-highest scorer on the team. That’s not sustainable. It’s also not fair to the best player in MLS to strand him without attacking help.

The lack of an effective no. 9 really limits Nashville’s ceiling. It’s pretty astounding that they’ve been this good so far without one, and anything they do in the postseason without goals from their striker will be a wild success story.

They need to go hard after an elite, DP striker in the winter window. And they need that signing to actually work out.

I already answered half of the question: DP no. 9. If the league does really add another DP spot (they should, fwiw), Nashville should go after a center midfielder who can progress the ball and help break down a packed defense from the middle of the field. Right now, Nashville have two ball-winners in Sean Davis and Brian Anunga. Aníbal Godoy has played just 17 games this year, and while he’s a bit more attack-minded, he still passes primarily horizontally instead of vertically.

Dax McCarty is the most effective ball progressor in the squad. While he’s had more inconsistencies this season than the prior two, his second half of the year has been quite effective, and he offers more going forward than anyone else on the roster. But he’ll turn 36 a couple months into the season.

Nashville need help in midfield. They have for a while. If they get another DP spot (and if they decide to spend the money needed), a midfielder is the way to go.

They’re not as stuck as you might think. As I see it, they have four options. I’ll rank them in order of likelihood.

1. Loan him out

They paid $6.8 million for him back in July 2021. If they sold him now, they wouldn’t recoup half of that. They need to get him off the books to open another DP spot, but they want to get as much of their money back as possible.

I expect Nashville to loan Loba out in January. Ideally he’ll end up somewhere like Mexico’s Liga MX or Peru’s Liga 1 where he’s been successful before, and he’ll play well enough that Nashville can regain some of his value and sell him either in the summer or after the 2023 season.

2. Sell him at a loss

Like I said, they need to get him off the books, because they can’t afford another season of absolutely zero production from a DP. They’ll take a massive loss on the sale, but sometimes that’s the cost of missing on a club-record signing.

3. Buy him out

If there’s no market for Loba at all, Nashville could exercise their one offseason buyout. It would be expensive – they’d have to pay him the rest of his contractually guaranteed salary. He makes just under $1.5 million a year, but his contract only runs through the 2023 season. Essentially you pay $1.5 million to free up a DP spot. It’s not great, but could be worth it as a last resort.

4. Keep him

I’d be stunned if this happens. He’s liked well enough by his teammates as a person, and he hasn’t burned bridges in Nashville like Rodrigo Piñeiro did, but he’s been really bad on the field. Maybe he was never given a fair chance.

Maybe he never earned more of a chance. Whatever happened, I don’t see a path to more playing time for him, and Nashville can’t buy down his contract to put him on a TAM deal. I will be completely blown away if he’s on Nashville’s roster to start the 2023 season.

Dan Lovitz is the obvious answer, and it’s a good one. I’ll go a different direction: Alex Muyl.

The man can run for days, and surely could keep the energy level high for a full day of pedaling, drinking, and screaming Sam Hunt’s “Body Like A Backroad” just off key enough to give musicians a headache. He’s quick on his feet, genuinely funny, and seems like he could make up plenty of stories about Nashville that would pass for reality.

I hate pedal taverns and party busses with every fiber of my being. They’ve slowly taken over the city since I moved here in 2012 and are a genuine menace to a downtown area which is becoming more and more overrun with tourists and drunk bachelorettes.

But I’d think about getting on a party bus driven by Alex Muyl.

Seriously, Ronan? Just five? Nah, here’s my top 12 plus a hidden gem.

  1. Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour
  2. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
  3. Phoebe Bridgers – Strangers In The Alps
  4. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
  5. Jason Isbell – Southeastern
  6. Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
  7. The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness
  8. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
  9. Lorde – Melodrama
  10. Taylor Swift – 1989
  11. Bleachers – Strange Desire
  12. Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

Hidden gem:

Man, the 2010s were a great decade for music.

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.

Leave a Reply