The Post Card: Moneyball, Gary Smith’s future, Randall Leal’s return and more

Bye week is almost over for Nashville SC, and we’re celebrating with a mailbag. Your questions ranged from food options at Geodis Park to Walker Zimmerman’s taste in music to who Nashville should hire to replace Gary Smith. There was a lot to get into. Let’s dive right in.

Developing players who are confident on the ball and able to play in multiple styles while giving significant minutes to academy kids. Clubs like Columbus and Charlotte have a clear long-term plan for their development and are able to have players move from their MLS NEXT Pro team straight to the first team because they already know what their roles are and are confident and capable to perform them.

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Getting results is a bonus, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a lot of the NEXT Pro teams who develop the best talent are also the best teams. But the whole point is player development. Right now Huntsville City has given 31.5% of available minutes to academy players (I’m counting Adem Sipić and Isaiah Jones in that, but Scott Cheevers, Chris Applewhite, Alejandro Velazquez-Lopez, Dominic Wilson, Jake Grekowicz and Cannon Strechen are also getting minutes). The next manager has to continue that, and take these players from academy kids to professionals ready to contribute at the MLS level.

Post by @jbentley347
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First player that comes to mind: Jacob Shaffelburg. He’s clearly had the talent and explosiveness to be a complete gamechanger, but he hasn’t had the consistency to go from being a complementary piece to a top-end MLS winger. After three goals and three assists in 10 matches, he’s certainly showing that type of consistency.

The second is Taylor Washington. He’s played 10 of 11 matches this season. Only Alex Muyl has made more than Washington’s seven starts. His crossing has improved significantly this offseason, and he’s looked like a capable MLS starter. He’s always been reliable, but at 30 years old it’s rare to see players take significant steps forward. He’s doing that.

With all of Nashville’s center mids in their final contract years (I think), what’s the over/under on players coming back? And who in that group is most likely to restructure a deal to stay with the team?

— Tyler Damme ( Apr 18, 2024 at 9:11 AM

Yeah… that’s a huge question. Aníbal Godoy, Sean Davis, Brian Anunga and Amar Sejdić are under contract through the end of 2024 with club options for 2025. Dru Yearwood’s deal is done at the end of 2024 with no option, at least none that the team has acknowledged publicly. There could be quite a lot of turnover.

I imagine several of these guys will get their options triggered, particularly Anunga – his $270,000 guaranteed compensation is super team-friendly, and he’s appeared in a team-high 11 matches this season. I actually kind of expect he’ll get a new deal before too long.

I think they’d like to keep Dru Yearwood around. He made $593,750 guaranteed last year, which is super reasonable, but his next contract will take him out of a U22 slot and his full salary will hit the cap. He could always explore other options, maybe potentially head back to England, but I think Nashville will want to keep him around.

As far as the rest… things get tricky. Godoy is 34. He’ll be 35 before the 2025 season starts. Nashville offloaded McCarty primarily because they wanted to get younger and thought he wasn’t able to contribute at a high level for an entire season. Depending on his option rate, they could trigger it or try to negotiate down to a lower salary than his current $821,250.

Sean Davis is the big one. He’s the fifth-highest paid player on the team and isn’t a guaranteed starter at this point. I have trouble seeing Nashville wanting to pay him $939,000 to continue this role. He’s 31, so not a young player anymore, and they need more proactive passing from their highest paid midfielders. I could see them declining his option and letting him test free agency, potentially re-signing him at a much lower rate.

Walker’s a Swiftie. I’m a Swiftie. I reject the premise of this question.

I think hotter than it’s ever been, but also not so hot that he’s in imminent danger. If they go on a massive losing streak that’s another thing, but I’d be really surprised if they make a mid-season change.

If they miss the playoffs, though… I think they make a change. Smith’s contract runs out after 2025, so Nashville have a decent amount of flexibility. I think it’s similar to the midfield question. Nashville have had largely the same core since they started in 2020. It’s rare to see that happen for five years. We’re already starting to see some significant changes, and I think that will continue.

As far as replacements, I have no idea. It completely depends on who is available when they do make a change. I’d love to see them take a swing on someone like Danny Cruz or Ben Pirmann with clearly-developed identity at the USL level, but I also get wanting a more proven option.

Post by @daniel.yarzagaray
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Bro, you know there’s only one option.

Chivanada is the goat. If you haven’t gone there during a game, what are you doing?

How would you rate the likelihood that John Ingram would ever possibly scuttle this conservative moneyball approach and embrace a progressive, ambitious style/setup for NSC

— Tracy Edwards (MojojojoSC) ( Apr 18, 2024 at 10:56 AM

I think he’ll stick with it as long as they make the playoffs consistently and get solid crowds at Geodis Park. I do think he’s been fairly willing to spend (Surridge, Piñeiro, Loba, Moore, etc) but a lot of that spending hasn’t resulted in on-field results. I do think there’s room to increase, and while they’ll never be Atlanta or LAFC, I’d love to see them get closer to Columbus or Seattle or Portland.

A whole, whole lot. I do think there are some structural issues going forward – they’ve never had particularly effective patterns of play – and I don’t think they necessarily have the pieces in midfield to relieve pressure through possession. But they’ve missed between four and six starters for huge stretches of the season. Any team in MLS would struggle with that.

Zimmerman fixes a lot of the defensive issues, both because he’s one of the best defenders in MLS history and because he raises the level of the entire backline. Boyd is the most dynamic and versatile winger Nashville have ever had, and he’ll take a lot of the pressure off of Mukhtar.

Leal is big question mark (obviously). He’s played just 24% of available minutes since the start of 2022, and has the most unique profile of anyone in Nashville’s midfield. I really think he could be the answer to a lot of their issues, especially if Smith finally gives him a more central role. Hany Mukhtar needs to stay close to goal, but Nashville haven’t had anyone who can consistently get him the ball. Leal can do that, if he can stay healthy.

Unfortunately he hasn’t been able to stay healthy for basically two years. He’s under contract through 2025 (with an option for 2026). I think this year is his last chance to stay in Nashville. If he can’t stay on the field or come close to his 2021 form, Nashville probably moves on.

Something like this:

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions! These are always fun for me to do, and I’ll try to make these more regular over the rest of the season.

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. Mastodon

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