Updated: Nov 21, 2019
Nashville SC took advantage of the 2019 MLS Expansion Draft to bolster their roster, adding six players via the draft and trades in the immediate aftermath. The moves bring the current roster up to a total of 15 players.
Selected from Minnesota United FC with Nashville's first pick in the expansion draft
Danladi is a low risk, high reward pickup for Nashville. The former first pick in the SuperDraft is able to play through the middle or on either wing, and he has legitimate game changing speed. "He's a player who can stretch the field, get in behind," said General Manager Mike Jacobs. He's talked in the past about David Accam as a "vertical threat", and Danladi fits that mold. "He supplies something that all teams need," said Smith. "He stretches the pitch. He's very positive, very aggressive. I believe he's still got plenty to prove. He had a breakout in his first year, and for all sorts of reasons, he's had a couple of lean years. I'm sure he's hungry to get back on track and be a real star in MLS because he has all the credentials to do that."
After a rookie campaign in which he scored eight goals, Danladi's form has failed to reach the same heights; he's scored just three goals in the following two seasons. Some of this is down to injuries (he's missed 21 matches with injury), and some of it is due to growing pains many young players experience. However, it's safe to say that he hasn't quite lived up to expectations in Minnesota.
Jacobs and head coach Gary Smith are banking on being able to turn that around in Nashville. His salary is cap friendly, and he counts as a domestic player. He's shown glimpses of being an instinctive finisher, and with attacking pieces around him like Hany Mukhtar, David Accam and Randall Leal, he should receive service in dangerous areas. He fits the vision of a team that presses high and is dangerous in transition. At best, he turns into a double digit goalscorer for Nashville. At worst, he's a pacey option off the bench.
Acquired via trade with Houston Dynamo: Zarek Valentin (NSC's second Expansion Draft Pick) + $75k 2021 TAM if Willis meets certain performance-based metrics
Willis is a veteran goalkeeper in the league. He's spent time with DC United and Houston Dynamo, and his 88 saves in 2019 ranked 12th in the league. "With Joe and Adrián [Zendejas], we have maybe the strongest goalkeeper corps in the league," said Smith. At 31, Willis should have several years left at the top level, and has been noted as a strong locker room presence. At 6'5" he's a commanding presence in the box, but has good ability to get down quickly for lower shots. He'll be a reliable goalkeeper for the expansion side.
Selected from New England Revolution with Nashville's third pick in the expansion draft
The California native has been somewhat of a journeyman in his nine season in MLS, spending time with Chicago, Seattle, Kansas City, Houston and New England. He had one of his best seasons in 2019, playing over 1,700 minutes for New England as they pushed for a playoff berth. He's positionally versatile, able to play in the center or on either side, and his experience in the league will be a huge asset for this young club. He's also incredibley well-disciplined, only being sent off once in 224 MLS matches.
He may not be their long-term answer at centerback, but a pairing of Romney and Anibaba is a solid back line. Mike Jacobs is familiar with him from his time at Sporting, and Anibaba should step into this squad as a veteran leader.
One thing to note is that Anibaba's contract ends in December, leaving him as a free agent. It's hard to imagine Nashville would select him if they weren't confident in their ability to re-sign him, but it's definitely something to keep an eye on.
Selected from Sporting Kansas City with Nashville's fifth pick in the expansion draft
Medranda is one of the more versatile players in MLS, described as a "Swiss army knife" by Mike Jacobs. He's probably most comfortable at center midfield, but has played left back, left wing back, left midfield, right midfield and even center forward on occasion. Only 5'5", the young Colombian is has good acceleration and a clean touch on the ball. His positioning hasn't always been great on the defensive side of the ball, but on the ball he's a difference maker.
"Jimmy's versatility on that left hand side, whether at left back or left midfield, is huge," said Smith. "There will be individuals saying he's better in central midfield. I do think that there needs to be an area for him to really focus on, and that's part of our challenge."
Medranda was the regular left back for Sporting in 2016 and 2017, before losing the role in part due to injury, as well as some struggles defensively. He missed a full year with a knee injury, before making a return in August 2019. He's an exciting player to watch. He's young and counts as a domestic player. Despite having other prominent players in his preferred positions, he'll find a way to get on the field for Nashville.
Acquired via trade with Montreal Impact for $50k GAM, $50k TAM and a 2020 international roster spot
The highest profile move of the night, Nashville SC sent a decent package of allocation money and an international roster spot to Montreal in return for the left back. Capable of playing in a more advanced role, Lovitz has become one of the more consistent left backs in the league, and should have the position nailed down for Nashville in their first season.
Under Gregg Berhalter, Lovitz has become a regular with the US Men's National Team, with 13 international caps in a position that has historically been a problem for the national team. Lovitz isn't a flashy player, but he's arguably a top-5 player in his position across the league.
"As far as left backs go in this league, and maybe even around Europe and South America, Daniel is as good as any," said Smith. "He brings tremendous experience and incredible quality to that left back spot, which is where we see him." While I think Smith may be over-hyping Lovitz a bit, the fact remains that he's a top player at left back, which is traditionally a tricky position to fill in MLS. At 28, he's in his prime and will bring an added level of exposure because of his role with the national team. $100k in allocation money and an international spot seems like a good deal for Nashville, who now have a left back for the foreseeable future.
Acquired via trade with Sporting Kansas City for $50k GAM, $125k TAM and a 2020 international roster spot
This trade initially seemed like an overpay, but less so after details emerged that the trade was part of a handshake deal to acquire Medranda as well as Zendejas. He's a promising goalkeeper who has performed well at the USL level, but was stuck behind one of MLS's best in Tim Melia. Just 24, he has tremendous upside, and has experience in Mexico with Tijuana's U20 side.
Like Willis, he's a 6'5" goalie who is unusually good with the ball at his feet. While he seems set to start the year as Nashville's second choice, he has the potential to be their long term shot stopper, and potentially win the starting role sooner.
After pushing the narrative that they planned on trading away multiple picks, it was a bit of a surprise to see Nashville end the night with six players.
The use of international spots raised some eyebrows, but with Daniel Ríos and Cameron Lancaster expected to have green cards before the season begins, Nashville will have four international spots to work with, with the added possibility of acquiring more via trade.
Nashville's roster building will continue with the start of free agency on November 25, followed by the MLS re-entry draft (selecting MLS players who are out of contract but don't qualify for free agency) on November 26 and December 3. As always, we'll have it covered at SpeedwaySoccer.com and @SoccerSpeedway.