Nashville SC quite busy in the MLS half-day transfer window on Sunday. Immediately following the end of the 2021 season, the Boys In Gold made a flurry of moves, acquiring attackers Teal Bunbury and Ethan Zubak, as well as flipping four international roster spots for a total of $1 million in General Allocation Money.
Eight players have already departed, while backup ‘keeper Bryan Meredith saw his option declined but is in talks to return. Additionally, Rodrigo Piñeiro and Miguel Nazarit are both expected to leave the club on loan, and Nashville may well move out other players to open space on their roster. This essentially leaves Nashville with 24 players on their roster.
Head coach Gary Smith shifted to a 3-4-1-2 system for the majority of the 2021 season, allowing Nashville to make use of their stocked center-back corps. The back three should continue to see heavy usage in 2022.
Jalil Anibaba is available to leave the Six Strings as a free agent. Robert Castellanos played just one match in his first season in gold, but he’s highly rated by Nashville’s technical staff and has been touted to fill Anibaba’s role and see significantly more minutes in 2022. Still, Nashville is thin at center back, with just four natural central defenders on the roster. They’ll certainly add at least one more center-back before the season begins.
Additionally, Nashville could use another full-back option, preferably one who’s able to play on either side. If not, Alex Muyl is a natural option to slide into a role as a wing-back in the 3-4-1-2 system. He was frequently used as cover in central midfield, and while he’s a willing deputy in midfield, his long-term future seemingly lies in wider areas.
While the back three was almost exclusively used for the final two-thirds of the season, I expect Nashville to work in a 4-4-1-1 more often in 2022. Smith is on record saying it’s his preferred formation.
With the form of CJ Sapong, Aké Loba’s minutes were significantly limited, and there wasn’t a clear role for him in the front two. Switching to any system with a “front four” will give Loba a clear path to the starting XI, and barring an unforeseen setback, he should be a lock in the lineup next season.
There are clear drawbacks to a back four system. It takes Hany Mukhtar out of his best role as a pure second striker, and it leaves one of Jack Maher, Dave Romney or Walker Zimmerman out of the starting lineup. While in 2020 Nashville almost exclusively used a back four, and the back three was featured primarily in 2021, 2022 should bring more formational flexibility, with both systems being used based on matchup and player availability.
The clear need on the roster is in central midfield. Dax McCarty will turn 35 early in the season, and Aníbal Godoy will turn 32 before Nashville take the field. Both will continue to play significant roles, especially Godoy, who one source described as “a 32 year old who plays like a 21 year old”.
Brian Anunga has performed reliably as a deputy in midfield, and at 25 he’s still developing. But Nashville need another midfielder capable of playing what the technical staff define as “meaningful minutes”. There’s no replacement for McCarty or Godoy’s forward passing; in fact, the current midfield corps aren’t anywhere close.
Nashville are aware of this need and will take action. With a massive stockpile of resources accumulated on the eve of free agency and the transfer window, I expect that the club will sign a midfielder who will be able to play significant minutes and improve their overall corps. With free agency set to open on December 15, a move could come soon.
As we continue to move towards the 2022 season, Nashville have maintained their excellent core and made a couple of shrewd acquisitions. Most importantly, they have flexibility. Mike Jacobs and his staff have amassed a treasure trove of allocation money, and with an open DP spot to work with, they’ll have the freedom to add significant reinforcements if needed.
With time, flexibility and a coherent plan, Nashville’s squad looks in good shape with 76 days left to go.