Nashville SC announced their roster decisions earlier this week, bringing back a total of 26 players from their expansion season. Where does this leave Nashville heading into their second year in Major League Soccer?
The core returns
With 26 players returning (27 if Nashville can negotiate a new contract with Eric Miller), the core of Nashville’s squad will be back for year two. Three of their starters on the backline have signed long term deals, with Walker Zimmerman, Dave Romney and Joe Willis all in Nashville until at least 2022.
Several other players in Gary Smith’s first-choice group were were already under contract for 2021, while others (like Brian Anunga, Taylor Washington, Alistair Johnston and Daniel Ríos) had their options exercised to keep them in Nashville for a second year.
No surprising departures
Four players will not return to Nashville, in addition to Cameron Lancaster, who already signed a deal with Louisville City. Brayan Beckeles, Alan Winn, Tanner Dieterich and Ken Tribbett won’t return, but none of them were a huge factor in the 2020 season. The four combined for just 361 minutes across nine appearances, and while Alan Winn showed flashes of potential to play in MLS, the consistency just wasn’t there.
David Accam started the year as a first-choice player, in the XI for their first two matches, and scoring the winner in their first game back after the Covid-19 break. However, he had terrible luck with injuries, struggling to stay 100% fit until an ankle injury kept him out from early September through the rest of the year. And that was on top of becoming a new father and having his home destroyed by a tornado.
It’s fair to expect more from a player who is getting paid DP-level money (he was a DP before Philadelphia bought down his contract with TAM). While it didn’t seem far-fetched for Nashville to move on, it’s also fair to expect a better 2021 from a player who still has rare speed and had some bright moments in his few appearances. With what will hopefully be a more normal 2021 season, Nashville will hope to have a more normal David Accam.
Miguel Nazarit is another player on high wages. Signed on a TAM deal out of Colombia, the young center-back has plenty of promise, but was always going to struggle to push Romney or Zimmerman out of the starting eleven. He made just one appearance on the bench, though, and seemed to clearly be behind Jalil Anibaba, Jack Maher and even Brayan Beckeles in the pecking order.
Like Accam, his contract was guaranteed for 2021, which may have given Nashville little choice but to bring him back. If he can’t break into the first team early in the season, I expect Nashville will explore loaning him out to try and get him minutes and see if he can contribute in 2022.
With potentially 27 players returning, Nashville would have just three open spots on their roster. That’s not a ton of wiggle room to make moves in the transfer window.
However, they can have a player selected in the expansion draft on December 15. There’s also plenty of opportunity for trades within MLS, something that Mike Jacobs has utilized already in 2020. Don’t count out a few more players departing before the season begins.
In general, teams around Major League Soccer are retaining more players this window.
In Nashville’s case, they’re bringing back the majority of the squad that was knocked out in extra time of the Conference Semifinals, so it’s not unusual to see that many players retained.
It’s also worth pointing out that Nashville already made a couple of moves largely geared towards 2021. While Jhonder Cádiz and Handwalla Bwana came in with time left to play in 2020, Nashville made it clear that we wouldn’t see the best of either player until the following season.
Nashville will make more moves before the season begins. It won’t be a sweeping overhaul of the squad. But it was never intended to be, and after their success on the field, there’s no reason to start over.
With four months before the 2021 season begins, there will be several new faces in the squad when Nashville next takes the field.