State Of The Roster: MLSisBack Tournament Edition

Updated: Jun 30

By Ben Wright.

It's been 113 days since Nashville SC played a match. For a new franchise and a new fanbase, that's a long time. With just over a week to go before the club returns to action in the MLSisBack Tournament, it's time for a refresher on the expansion club's roster. We took a page from the Sounder At Heart book to take a look at where things stand in Nashville.


WHO'S STILL HERE FROM LAST SEASON?


Nashville played in the USL Championship last season, the second division in the American soccer ecosystem. The move to Major League Soccer prompted an almost wholesale change in roster, with just a couple players making the jump to the next level.


Daniel Ríos: The Mexican striker was the first player ever signed to Nashville SC's MLS team, and showed why the club valued him so highly with 20 goals in the 2019 season, becoming the first-ever USL player to score 20 goals in consecutive seasons. Ríos came off the bench in Nashville's first two MLS matches, and looks set to be a big part of the remainder of the season.


Derrick Jones: Fans of the USL side will remember Jones from his highlight reel solo goal against Charleston in the playoffs last season. The midfielder was another player signed for MLS, but despite featuring heavily for Nashville in preseason, he has yet to make an appearance off the bench.


Alan Winn: Winn was a standout for Nashville at the USL level, earning an MLS contract. He made an appearance off the bench in Nashville's first-ever MLS match, a 2-1 loss to Atlanta United.


Matt LaGrassa: Another standout for Nashville at the USL level, LaGrassa was signed to the MLS roster last fall, and did not make the matchday squad in either of Nashville's first two matches.


Taylor Washington: Like LaGrassa, another standout at the USL level with plenty of pace to spare. Did not make an appearance in either match.


Ken Tribbett: A stalwart defender in USL, Tribbett is part of a very deep centerback corps in MLS. Has not made an appearance.


Cameron Lancaster: A serial goalscorer at the USL level, the Englishman struggled with injuries in Nashville and never found his form. Loaned back to Louisville City of the USL Championship before the season, but has a recall clause in his contract if Nashville find themselves in an injury crisis.

Casey Gower/Speedway Soccer

WHO WERE SOME BIG SIGNINGS IN THE OFFSEASON?


It's hard to narrow down just a couple signings when Nashville essentially built a new roster this offseason, but here are a couple big ones...


Hany Mukhtar: A German attacking midfielder, Mukhtar was signed as the first designated player in Nashville SC history. At 25 years old, the playmaker has yet to hit his prime, and showed flashes of his potential in Nashville's first two matches. He played all 90 minutes in both matches, and will be one of the first names on the team sheet when healthy.


Walker Zimmerman: Nashville spent big on the defender, shelling out a league-record fee of up to $1.25 million to acquire the 27 year old, who scored the first goal in club history in front of 69,000 fans. At 6'3" and with plenty of MLS experience, the centerback will be a core part of Nashville's team in 2020 and beyond.


Dax McCarty: McCarty is a 15 year veteran of Major League Soccer, and was a clear choice to captain the club. Acquired from Chicago Fire, McCarty is a consistently hard worker and an underrated passer of the ball. At 34 years old, he's getting towards the end of his career, but should still have a couple seasons left at a high level.


Randall Leal: A highly regarded name in Concacaf, Leal was signed from Costa Rican powerhouse Saprissa and currently occupies a designated player spot. The 23 year old winger had some bright moments in the club's first two matches, but definitely has more to contribute to the expansion side. He'll be one to watch in Orlando.


Aníbal Godoy: Nashville spent a lot to get the Panamanian international midfielder. The reported $650,000 in allocation money they gave up to acquire him was met with skepticism around MLS, but Nashville's first two matches showed why they valued him so highly. Godoy is a strong physical presence next to McCarty in midfield, and is capable of spraying a gorgeous pass with his left foot.


WHAT HAS HAPPENED SO FAR?


Nashville failed to win either of their first two matches, but weren't outplayed by any means. The debut side fell victim to some impressive finishing (as well as some sloppy mistakes) to concede three goals in two games, but still were statistically one of the best defenses in the league.


Nashville's biggest issue came at the other end of the field, scoring just one goal through a set piece and struggling to consistently create chances (only four teams created less). Some of this could change as the squad develops chemistry. Some of it could change with Ríos touted for a bigger role. And some of it could change with a new signing, with Nashville SC linked to a couple high-profile strikers. With a signing very unlikely before the tournament begins next Wednesday, it will be down to head coach Gary Smith and his current roster to figure out ways to generate more tangible attacking output.


WHAT TO WATCH FOR


We've talked about this previously in more detail, but here are the bullet points.


Will Daniel Ríos solve the attacking woes? Will a simple change in personnel up front solve some of Nashville's issues? Will Ríos adjust to MLS quickly enough to make a real difference at the tournament, or will it take more time? How he performs in the tournament and whatever season will take place afterwards will have a major effect on Nashville's transfer plans.


Will Smith make a change at right back? It's hard to pass judgement on a player after two games, but Eric Miller was at least partially at fault for two of Nashville's three goals conceded. There are a lot of reasons why, and overall he probably needs more time to adjust, but Nashville have two options waiting in the wings: World Cup veteran Brayan Beckeles and SuperDraft pick Alistair Johnston. With squad rotation likely in a congested schedule, it's likely that both will see the field. Could one of them take their opportunity and nail down the starting role?


Will Jimmy Medranda be a factor? Medranda's signing wasn't talked about much, probably because he's spent the better part of two years out with injury. He had just returned to full fitness before the season went on hold, and he's a versatile, hard working player who's able to create from nothing. If he's fully healthy, don't be surprised to see him carve out a more significant role after the restart.


Can the defense keep it up? Nashville looked like an elite defensive side for stretches of the first two games, and were definitely built with solidity at the back in mind. World Cup style tournaments are filled with success stories of teams who were hard to play against. Nashville look like a team built in that mold. Will they play like Greece at the 2004 Euros, playing strong defense and taking their chances from set pieces to win a trophy? Or will Nashville turn out more like New Zealand in 2010, who were disciplined at the back, but whose goal-scoring goals made them the first side to ever be eliminated from a World Cup without losing a match?

Nashville SC start their MLSisBack Tournament campaign on Wednesday, July 8. They'll take on Chicago Fire at 8:30 central on ESPN. Make sure to check SpeedwaySoccer.com for all your pre- and post-game coverage.

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