It's hard to believe that Nashville SC's time in USL ended just four days ago, falling 1-0 to Indy Eleven in the Eastern Conference semifinal. Since the loss, focus has quickly shifted to 2020 and Major League Soccer. News has already leaked of two additions to the squad, and fans are eagerly awaiting news on which players from the USL side will make the move to MLS with the club. Ahead of the roster announcement from Nashville SC, we're here to give our thoughts on which players we would bring up were we making the decisions.
Some ground rules: We gave ourselves a five player limit. We are not including players already on MLS contracts. This includes Daniel Ríos, Cameron Lancaster, and Derrick Jones (signed to MLS contracts from the start of their time in Nashville), as well as the two loanees, Forrest Lasso (FC Cincinnati) and Jimmy Ockford (San Jose Earthquakes).
It's also worth noting that we've made our picks based on the 2019 MLS roster rules, which will likely change with the off-season's new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and player's union. It remains to be seen what effect the CBA could have on roster building, but it may be significant. With that being said, here are our picks.
Ropapa Mensah - As the others will mention, he has a combination of youth and potential that no one else on the roster can match. I also think we’ve seen the most improvement in Ropapa of anyone on the roster over the last two years. He’s been a guy who wasn’t close to first choice at the start of either season who clawed in and guaranteed himself minutes. His stock is on the rise, and I’m buying.
Bolu Akinyode - Everyone knows how high we’ve all been on this guy from day one. But he’s proven us right over and over again. He’s the most consistent performer from the USL side in a position that both the coach, and the general manager have gone on record saying is one of the most important. That paired with the usage we’ve seen of Derrick Jones lead me to believe that Bolu could be a roster filler in the holding midfield role. The flip side of that argument has to be that barring injuries to guys ahead of him, Bolu would’ve found himself fourth on the depth chart. Despite this, the guy has performed at a high level in all of his minutes, and has at least given the front office something to think about.
Ropapa Mensah - Has arguably the highest ceiling of any player on the 2019 USL roster, and looks like he could be a decent option off the bench at the MLS level. He’ll be 22 for the majority of next season, and could occupy a Supplemental or Reserve roster spot. His recent call up to Ghana’s U23 side will only increase his value, which Mike Jacobs and co. will be more than aware of. Of the three players I’ve listed, he’s the only one I feel confident will turn into a contributor at the MLS level. If he can stay fit over the offseason, I think he'll have a good chance to contribute in 2020.
Bolu Akinyode - He’s 25, so he would take up a senior roster spot, and possibly one of the club’s eight international spots (he occupied an international spot for Nashville SC at least in 2018, but should meet the requirements for a domestic roster spot). If Nashville can take him without using an international roster spot, he seems like a solid depth piece at the MLS level.
Alan Winn - I could see him being brought up on a Reserve Roster spot and immediately being loaned out or sold to another USL side, but I don’t think he’s ready to play at the MLS level right now. If he makes the jump, I think it would be as more of a longer-term play on his upside.
Bolu Akinyode - It's no secret that we are big fans of Akinyode’s game. His ability to read the game and break up play is second to none in USL. He would be a solid depth piece to have especially during international breaks. He would have to occupy a space on the Senior Roster, but I think the pros outweigh the cons.
Ropapa Mensah - A young player who has a solid combination of speed and physicality that would allow him to be successful in MLS. He definitely is still a bit raw, but has huge upside and I think he can develop into a solid winger at the MLS level. The fact that he would only occupy a Reserve or Supplemental Roster spot makes the likelihood of him moving up even better.
Ropapa Mensah - Mensah is a young player who has shown flashes of potential during his tenure at Nashville, including leading the team in goals scored during various times of the side’s USL inaugural season. I do believe he needs to stay a winger in order to make the roster, as he hasn’t developed enough yet to be an out-and-out striker. As mentioned before, would be a great depth player, seeing time in U.S. Open Cup matches, and could provide a change of pace off the bench.
Bolu Akinyode - You could easily make the case that Akinyode was Nashville’s most dependable midfielder during his two USL seasons with the Boys in Gold, leading the team in passing accuracy at 89% (minimum 10 passes), tackles (104) and tackles won (74) this year. Although he’s young (25) and has never logged any MLS minutes, the New York Red Bulls Academy product has lots of upside as a defensive midfielder depth piece, and a possible regular if he develops further.
Ken Tribbett - Tribbett had some injury struggles late in the year, but was still Nashville’s best defender throughout the first half of the season before Forrest Lasso and Jimmy Ockford came on board and became regular starters. I believe his versatility to play multiple positions could help as a depth piece.
Do you agree or disagree with our thoughts? Let us know which players you'd bring up to MLS in the comments or on Twitter.