By Ben Wright (@benwright), editor.
We're continuing our Position Profile series with a look at Nashville SC's wingers. It's a pretty established group of attack minded players, with a couple high-profile options mixed with some depth pieces.
At time of publication, Nashville's starting "three line" (the line of three in the expected 4-2-3-1 formation) looks like this:
Randall Leal has been somewhat overshadowed by the signing of Hany Mukhtar, but he's viewed within the club as a similarly important piece of the roster going forward. He was a consistent starter for Saprissa, one of the dominant sides in Liga FPD, and he's established himself as a regular member of the Costa Rican national team.
Leal is a creative attacking player. For Saprissa, he most frequently started on the left, where he would stay wide to receive the ball in space before carrying it inside to pick out a line-splitting pass or take a shot. He's versatile, capable of playing anywhere across the front four.
While the club views Leal as a playmaker, they see David Accam as a versatile threat. A Ghanaian international, Accam is arguably the fastest player in Major League Soccer, and will look to stay on the back shoulder of the defense and get in behind to receive passes through the lines or over the top.
After a very successful spell as a Designated Player with Chicago Fire, Accam was traded to Philadelphia Union and then Columbus Crew, where he was never able to regain the form he had in Chicago.
2017 was clearly the high point of his MLS career, but after dropping off significantly in 2018, he bounced back a good bit in 2019.
With just over 1,000 minutes in 2019, Accam was in the 70th percentile of MLS wingers for expected goals per 96 minutes played, and in the 75th percentile for successful dribbles per 96. He finished the 2019 season with six goals and three assists, despite playing sparingly in Columbus. With a larger role for an expansion team, Nashville will hope he can get back to his best form.
Behind Leal and Accam on the depth chart, things get a bit interesting. Jimmy Medranda can play in any role across the front three, as well as deeper in midfield and at left back (he was covered in more depth in our defenders profile). Dominique Badji spent a good bit of time on the wings with Dallas, but from what the club has said, they view Badji as a 9, not a winger.
Similarly, Abu Danladi is capable of playing on the wings, but is naturally more of a center forward. Danladi is similar to Accam in terms of pace, and on the wings he is a back shoulder runner and a vertical threat. If Accam is unavailable at any point, Danladi seems like a good option to keep the system relatively similar.
Alan Winn was brought up from Nashville's USL team. Winn played 1,372 USL minutes in 2019, and finished the season with three goals and one assist. Winn can play on either flank, and has good acceleration and close control. At times, he can hold onto the ball too long, missing chances to pick out a teammate or passing up on a shooting lane. However, he has the tools to develop into a solid player at the MLS level and provides good depth for Nashville off the bench. If he can add end product to his 0.35 xG+xA/96, he'll give head coach Gary Smith another option.
There are others who could fill in on the wings like Taylor Washington, Daniel Lovitz, Alistair Johnston, Matt LaGrassa, and Shak Adams, but at the moment it seems like it would take injuries or a formation shift to push them into a more advanced role.
We'll find out more as Nashville starts their preseason schedule, but 39 days before the season starts, Nashville has two good starting wingers and several serviceable replacement options. Getting a high-end option on the right in the summer window would make a lot of sense, and Nashville does hold the number one spot in the allocation order. Stay tuned for more on that in our next podcast.