By Ben Wright (@benwright), editor.
NASHILLE, TN - Randall Leal's name didn't send shock waves through Nashville SC's fanbase when he was signed back in September, but that wasn't for lack of pedigree. Leal is an elite talent, highly sought after in the transfer market, and a prized acquisition for Nashville.
"I’d love to tell you that Randall is an under the radar hidden gem, but he’s a pretty prominent name in CONCACAF," said Nashville General Manager Mike Jacobs in a September interview with Speedway Soccer. "When you think of guys who come into our league from other countries, players like Diego Valeri in Portland or Sebastian Giovinco in Toronto, those are pretty prominent players in their home countries. Maybe because of a lack of exposure here in the states, people didn’t know much about them."
In person, Leal doesn't go out of his way to show that he's an elite athlete. Aside from the earrings and tattoo sleeves, you'd be forgiven for thinking he's just another guy. He's quiet and friendly, more than willing to talk with a fan or a member of the media. On the field, however, he's a dynamic and hard-working playmaker, able to change the game with a single touch.
"I think I’m a fast player, I’m an intelligent player," Leal told Speedway Soccer after Nashville unveiled their inaugural kit. "But ultimately, I don’t think words can describe who I am. I need to prove myself in every training session and in every game so that I can give back to their fans and the commitment that the club has shown to me."
Throughout our conversation with him, Leal consistently talked about repaying the club and the fans for their investment in him and the role they brought him to Nashville to play. From humble beginnings in San Jose, Costa Rica, Leal's play on the pitch reflects his upbringing; a hard working, competitive and and motivated player, who will fight for 90 minutes whenever he steps foot on the field.
While he most often played on the left wing for Saprissa in the Costa Rican Liga FPD, Leal is a versatile attacker who can fill multiple roles. "He’s versatile and flexible enough to play on either flank or as a 10 or even a center forward as well," said Jacobs. He's a pacy player with great skill on the ball, but he also has the vision and tactical awareness to find space in the final third and play a defense-splitting pass or cross before others would see the play develop.
In a Nashville SC side that includes Designated Player Hany Mukhtar and MLS veteran David Accam, Leal looks set to carve out a role for himself as a core piece of the club's attack. If Leal has a successful debut season, it will more than likely give Nashville a strong shot at success as well.
"As we move forward, we’re making history as the first team in Nashville," said Leal. "Personally, I want to improve as a player and I want to be a reference for Nashville in the future."