Nashville SC faces a monumental roster decision in a couple of months. The club must decide whether to exercise the reported $3 million purchase option for striker Jhonder Cádiz.
Cádiz joined Nashville as a Designated Player (DP) last summer from Portuguese club Benfica on a one-year loan with a purchase option that Nashville can trigger at any time.
With the global pandemic and MLS collective bargaining agreement pushing back the start date to the 2021 campaign, General Manager Mike Jacobs and Head Coach Gary Smith will only have ten matches this year to evaluate whether to exercise Cádiz’s purchase option.
Make no mistake about it, decisions regarding DPs can make or break an MLS team for years to come. A club’s acquisition of a DP is the most significant on-field investment a club will make. Get it right and you will compete for trophies. Get it wrong and you will be playing with one hand tied behind your back.
In evaluating whether Nashville SC should exercise Cádiz’s purchase option, the place to start is goal production. Right or wrong, strikers are judged on whether they can put the ball into the back of the net.
Sure, you want your leading man to contribute in other ways as well. Cádiz will be relied upon for hold up play and contributing defensively to Nashville’s press. But at the end of the day, he will be judged on his goal tally.
To evaluate Cádiz’s goal scoring tally so far, it is best to put it in context of other MLS strikers of the last few seasons.
Below is a selected list of MLS forwards since 2018 ranked by minutes per non-penalty kick goal. By only looking at goals coming from open play and set pieces, we remove the penalty kick goals that allow other strikers to rack up larger goal scoring records. It would be unfair to Cádiz to include penalty kick goals in any comparison with other MLS attackers as Hany Mukhtar has been the club’s go-to penalty kick taker.
As the table shows, Cádiz ranks highly in terms of his goal production in his brief time in MLS. Below him sits a few past Golden Boot winners and other high-profile forwards that fetched a purchase price well above the $3 million option available to Nashville.
Before reading too much into Cádiz’s minutes per goal tally, it should be noted that he has an incredibly small sample size. He has logged only 578 minutes of game action, by far the fewest of any player on this list. His minutes per goal tally could quickly increase or decrease as he logs more minutes.
But the early signs are encouraging. He’s started two matches in 2021 and scored two goals.
Complicating Mike Jacobs and Gary Smith’s decision will be the name sitting two spots behind Cádiz, Nashville’s own Daniel Ríos. The team’s first MLS signing and a carryover from the club’s last season in USL, Ríos has repeatedly earned Smith’s praise, and just earned a contract extension in the offseason.
With a similar goal production rate and no transfer fee to be paid, Nashville could elect to decline Cádiz’s purchase option and hand over the starting job to Ríos. But Ríos will need to quickly work his way back from a preseason injury if he wants to make an impression before the club makes its decision on Cádiz, and on the field he’d need to match or better Cadiz, both in goalscoring and overall play.
Further down the goal scoring list sits C.J. Sapong, an MLS veteran who signed with Nashville as a free agent this offseason. Sapong, 31, has a long history of scoring goals in this league. However, he is on the wrong side of 30.
If Nashville declines Cádiz’s purchase option, Sapong figures to play an important role with increased minutes until the club can conclude a new search for its long-term striker. But at 31, he is unlikely to be relied upon as Nashville’s long-term, first-choice option up top.
As the season progresses, I will continue to bring you stats and analysis that illuminate the decision facing Nashville’s front office. Whether to permanently sign Cádiz or not is the biggest roster decision facing the club in 2021. It is vitally important that the club get this one right if it wants to compete for trophies over the coming years.