By Ben Wright (@benwright), editor.
Nashville have just 44 days until their debut campaign in Major League Soccer kicks off. With 30 players currently on the roster, their squad looks close to completion, and one of their biggest investments come in attacking midfield.
I had originally intended on looking at 10s and wingers in this piece, but there's too much to accurately cover at once. Look for a breakdown of Nashville's wingers in the coming days.
Hany Mukhtar is the highest profile signing to date. The 24-year-old German youth international is coming off the most successful spell of his career, and was signed for a nearly $3million transfer fee by Nashville. In 3½ seasons at Brøndby IF in the Danish Superliga, Mukhtar scored 24 and assisted 23. He's a dynamic, two-way midfielder who covers a ton of ground on both sides of the ball.
Mukhtar played primarily as an advanced midfielder in a 4-3-3 setup in Brøndby, where he thrived on taking advantage of half-spaces in the final third to pick up the ball in the pockets, playing quick 1-2 passes with his forwards or using his pace to create shooting opportunities for himself. He's dangerous from distance with either foot, as well as being opportunistic inside the box.
Over his 3½ seasons in Brøndby, Mukhtar averaged 0.48 goals+assists/96. Those numbers would rank in the Top 10 for MLS attacking midfielders over that same time span. Clearly, there are significant differences between the two leagues, so it's dangerous to assume that productivity will seamlessly translate.
That being said, this is a player with tons of potential, who fits the profile of two-way player Nashville have targeted, and seems capable of fitting in with the new breed of 10s that have been successful in MLS. Having Mukhtar at his best will be key to Nashville's success.
Behind Mukhtar, there’s not a ton of natural depth at the 10 spot. Jimmy Medranda has played in the role before, among the many others he’s played (I covered him earlier in our fullbacks section). Medranda's numbers are eye-catching, although they're not a true representation of his performance as a 10, since they're a summary of his performance in multiple roles.
Another option at the 10 role is Derrick Jones, who played in a more advanced role in his limited minutes for Nashville at the USL level last season. We have a really small sample size to draw from (just 209 league minutes), but he showed flashes of the potential that has made him one of the most intriguing youth prospects in MLS.
His goal against Charleston is the go-to example of what he can do in a more advanced role, and his off-the-ball positioning here is impressive to find a pocket of space and make himself open with a proactive run into the channel. He has all the tools to play in a more advanced role, as well as deeper as a 6 or an 8.
Another option at 10 is Randall Leal, who's primarily a winger, but has the ability to play centrally in midfield or even as a 9. I'm going to wait to discuss Leal in-depth until we look at wingers, but he'll probably be one of the first options to fill in for Mukhtar should the need arise.
Nashville will be depending on whoever plays the 10 role to be a primary source of chance creation, as well as a goal threat in the final third. In Mukhtar, they have a player who can be truly exceptional.