The second player signed by Nashville MLS, Cameron Lancaster is a serial goal scorer who threatens opponents in a variety of ways. I talked to Jonathan Wright who covers Louisville City for Bourbon Barrel Sports (he's also my younger brother) to get some more information on the reigning Golden Boot winner.
Finishing: Lancaster is a player who only needs a half chance to score. "He's a great finisher," says Wright. "He mostly scores goals from inside the box. This past year had scored 18 inside the box, so he's definitely a player whose main strengths come into play near the goal." This is very apparent in the above highlight package. Lancaster is quick to pounce on loose balls or latch onto a through ball and bury it first time. He's very aware of where the goal is at all times, and consistently finds the bottom corner.
Nashville sorely missed this kind of consistent, opportunistic finishing last year, and having a player like Lancaster will immediately increase the number of goals Nashville will score, even if the number of chances created doesn't drastically increase (I think it will - more on that later.) Lancaster averaged a goal every 83.8 minutes in 2018, scoring with 24% of his total shots. For reference, Brandon Allen lead Nashville with a 23% conversion rate, scoring seven goals to Lancaster's 26.
Lancaster isn't the biggest player (he's listed at 6'0" but is closer to 5'11"), but he's able to scored with his head. Three of his goals last season came in the air, as well as his last minute USL Cup winner in 2017.
Lancaster's goal scoring consistency isn't a one-season wonder, either. In 91 appearances in all competitions over the last four seasons, he's scored 42 times. That's about a goal every other match, which is an internationally recognized mark of an elite striker.
Audacity: Once, when asked to describe Clint Dempsey, Bruce Arena said "he tries shit." The same could be said of Cameron Lancaster. While he's most lethal in the box, he's not afraid to hit a shot from distance or on a volley. According to Wright, "he's a player who can score from angles where the defense and keeper aren't expecting a shot to come from." His goals against New York (0:20 in the video) and North Carolina (1:24) are great examples. Both are taken from well outside the box, with Lancaster spying the keeper off his line and having the vision and confidence to drop it over him. Very few players would even see that chance, let alone try it and succeed.
Set Pieces: "He became a bit of a set piece specialist for Lou City," says Wright, "especially on direct free kicks. Some of them were from incredibly difficult angles and distances." Lancaster put away a league-leading four free kicks in 2018, and has scored six in his past three seasons. The first two goals in the above video both come from direct free kicks, the second coming from an impressive distance.
Systematic Fit: Lancaster is very much a number nine, but is able to play in a variety of systems. Under James O'Connor, he played as the lone striker in a 3-4-3. When John Hackworth took over, he played in a 4-2-3-1. "Both of these formations were very much attacking in nature," says Wright. "Both used the wings to provide service to him. He can definitely set other players up, but for City he was always the furthest man forward. He can link up, but he's best when he's just asked to finish." Louisville City has a tradition of excellent wide players, with the likes of Bryan Burke, Mark-Anthony Kaye, and Oscar Jimenez providing service to their forwards. "If you can get people around him who can set him up and give him chances (or even half chances), he's a player who will make the most of it." While Nashville doesn't have a Jimenez on their roster, they do have several players who can provide service and just needed someone to put them away last season. Lancaster should be an immediate impact on that front.
Tenacity: Similar to Daniel Ríos, Lancaster is a hard-working forward who doesn't give up on a play. "He never stops fighting for the ball. I guess you could describe him as scrappy," notes Wright. "He'll really fight to win possession against defenders who are bigger than him." This never-give-up attitude will only help Nashville, as the assumed pairing of Lancaster and Ríos up front will see both forwards pressing defenses and going after loose balls, keeping seemingly broken down attacking moves alive.
Injuries: "If you're planning on building an entire team around him, definitely have a contingency plan in place," warns Wright. The only major weakness in Lancaster's game is his consistent struggle with injuries. Primarily the reason his career in England never took off, Lancaster started out his career in Louisville with a torn ACL after one appearance. Since that 2015 season, he's been on the field more consistently, making 86 league appearances over three seasons, but injuries have forced him to miss the occasional game, most notable the 2018 USL Cup after he went off injured early in the conference championship. However, the amount of minutes he's been able to play over recent years might be an indicator that his injury struggles are mostly behind him. And as Nashville is known to conduct some of the strictest medicals in the league, rest assured that the team staff is confident in his health going forward.
Assessment: Lancaster is a truly elite player at the USL level, and he is just entering his prime. He's a serial goal scorer with a true finisher's instinct. Signed to Nashville MLS ahead of their scheduled debut in 2020, he'll need to keep his scoring form going. We've seen this type goal scoring ability translate, with players like Dom Dwyer and Christian Ramirez making the leap from USL/NASL to MLS, and there's no reason to think Lancaster can't do the same. If his 2019 season is anything like last year, Nashville supporters will be in for a treat.
The above quotations from Jonathan Wright were edited and abridged for clarity. Watch for his full interview in our next podcast, coming soon. For more Nashville soccer news, subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on twitter @SoccerSpeedway.