With the season in the rearview mirror (and several USL teams already announcing major personnel shuffles), it’s time to take a look at predicting who will return from Nashville SC’s inaugural roster.
My assumption is that the organization will try to keep the majority of players who played significant roles this year. They may not be able to do so in all instances, whether because a player seeks other opportunities, if the money doesn’t line up, or any other reason. If there’s a change in the technical staff (which I am not expecting), the whole thing could go out the window anyway. Gary Smith reiterated a number of times throughout the year that putting together a squad from scratch made for a tough chemistry situation at times during the year. As much continuity as possible, then, is the preference.
Here’s what I predict, in numerical order on the roster:
1) Micah Bledsoe (GK). Stays – Nashville SC will need a third keeper who is competent, but unlikely to get too restless if playing time is few and far between. Nashville SC will probably have that role available, and Bledsoe has Nashville roots (Lipscomb alum) likely to be comfortable staying in town – with potential loan moves if he wants to seek playing time.
2) Justin Davis (LB). Stays – One of Nashville’s key defensive players over the course of the year.
3) Ropapa Mensah (F/W). Stays – Mensah came into his own at the end of the season as a winger, even if he’s more a scoring forward in the long run. Still just 20 years old and is likely a key player into the MLS era, as well.
4) Ramone Howell (CM). Stays – I would have said otherwise most of the way through the year, but his late playing time came with comments from Nashville SC headman Gary Smith. He indicated that they see Howell as a great developmental prospect, and at 23 years old, he still has room to grow.
5) Liam Doyle (CB). Stays – Named the team’s defensive MVP, and started nearly every game in the middle.
6) Josh Hughes (CM). Goes – Didn’t register a USL minute for the team. While he’s been with Gary Smith at multiple stops, it seems the 26-year old wasn’t a fit for USL play in 2018.
7) Ryan James (LB/RB/CB). Stays – His versatility was key early in the year when Kosuke Kimura wasn’t 100%. While his playing time dried up a bit later in the year, he has a role to play on a solid USL team.
8) Robin Shroot (F/M). Goes – Shroot is another player with a long relationship to manager Gary Smith, but he only got a smattering of playing time. At 31 years old when the next USL season rolls around, he may want to look for a place to gain playing time in the twilight of his career.
10) Lebo Moloto (M/F). Stays – Assuming he’s fully healed up from his late-season knee injury – which seems likely – the creative engine of the Nashville SC midfield still has a role to play with this club. With longer connections to Technical Director Mike Jacobs – who signed him in Kansas City in 2017 – he has the relationships that show the staff’s high opinion of him.
11) Ish Jome (LB/LM). Goes – Jome got plenty of playing time when he first signed with the team, saw that dry up after an ill-advised red card, and then came on again at the end of the year. Still, a team with decent depth at his primary positions may want to offload some salary of a former MLS player (and Jome may want to seek a situation where he’s a surefire first-choice guy).
12) Tucker Hume (F). Stays – He had a strong run to end the regular season, and as the best pure hold-up striker on the roster, has a skillset that can’t be replicated by other returning players.
13) Ian McGrath (M/D). Goes – McGrath has connections to Jacobs through University of Evansville, but a guy who couldn’t find the field in USL play this year may want to look for other options to get playing time, whether that’s a move to a less-established USL club or dropping a level.
14) Jordan Dunstan (CB/LB). Goes – Dunstan got a bit of the field in US Open Cup and one USL minute. However, He was probably hoping for a bit more than that. NSC’s roster is loaded with left-footed center backs (and Gary Smith appears to like balance in the strong foot of his backlline), and Dunstan probably wants playing time elsewhere.
15) Michael DeGraffenreidt (CB/RB). Goes – Didn’t see playing time even when Nashville’s defensive depth was scary. Moves on for playing time.
17) Michael Reed (CM). Stays – A Gary Smith compatriot from the Atlanta Silverbacks and the captain of this team, Reed stays.
18) Matt Pickens (GK). Stays – The MVP of this team has a role if he wants it. There is also a possibility that the player-coach retires from the former responsibility to fully focus on the latter at 37 years old come the 2019 season.
19) Alan Winn (W/LM/RM/F). Stays – Winn signed with Nashville SC over joining MLS Colorado Rapids in the preseason, so he’s certainly a player with the ability to move to a higher level. It would probably behoove this organization to develop him one more year and hopefully make him a signing of the inaugural MLS season.
20) Matt LaGrassa (CM/RM/F). Stays – LaGrassa didn’t play quite as big a role as he might have been expecting, so if most of Nashville’s central midfield talent returns, he may think about moving back closer to his home on the West Coast, but Nashville SC’s staff likes him enough to keep him around if it’s their decision.
21) CJ Cochran (GK). Stays – It’s only a matter of time before Cochran is one of the USL’s top goalkeepers. He’s a great shot-stopper who’s still growing in other aspects of the game. I was surprised to not see him get a couple more appearances this year, but especially if Matt Pickens begins a transition to coaching, Cochran could be a key player.
22) Bradley Bourgeois (CB). Stays – Bourgeois is one of the lifebloods of this team, despite not looking the part of a true centerback at under 6-0. The defense seemed to struggle without him available, and while his physical limitations may mean he’s not an MLS guy a couple years down the road, he’s a great USL player.
23) Taylor Washington (LB/LM). Stays – Still a relatively young guy (he won’t turn 26 until well into the 2019 season), Washington’s speed made a difference for Nashville SC this year, and he has plenty to contribute. Even just a bit of continued development could see him with MLS opportunities (including joining Nashville SC in 2020).
26) Kris Tyrpak (W). Stays – Mid-season signing took a while to find playing time, but was a squad regular over the final month or so of the year. A high-upside goal-scorer when he has time to settle into a squad.
27) Kosuke Kimura (RB). Stays – Like Pickens, he’s probably on the roster as long as he wants to be… but turning 35 early in the 2019 season, he might be getting close to making the same transition from player-coach to just coach.
28) London Woodberry (CB). Goes – Woodberry was the third centerback for this team (when healthy) following the departure of David Edgar, but at times was a noticeable downgrade from Bourgeois and/or Davis. He’ll be 28 next year, and despite an MLS pedigree (two years with FC Dallas, three with the New England Revolution), might look for more playing time at another USL team.
29) Blake Levine (CM). Goes – Mid-season signing didn’t get any minutes. Likely uses the development he received to find another professional opportunity after starting 2018 in NPSL.
30) Bolu Akinyode (CM). Stays – A solid player in defensive midfield, his care for the ball and decent tackling were a major asset this season. He also proved to be a bit of a liability at times tracking back after giveaways, and needs to round that part of his game into better form in addition to being a bit more ambitious with passes forward. He’s still just 24, and I think playing his second-best position (his speed, size, and skillset could make him an MLS0-caliber center back) – there’s a role for a guy with this potential.
32) Brandon Allen (F). Goes – I was torn on this one. Allen was brought in to be a pure poacher/goal-getter/finisher, and ran way too hot and cold to be counted upon as the guy who’s always going to finish. He’s also pretty open about his career goals: he wants to be in MLS, and as quickly as possible. If he’s willing to be patient, knowing that Nashville SC could be an MLS opportunity in a year’s time, he could stay. Otherwise, finding a USL team that will allow him to be “the guy” and pile up goals in an audition for a move up earlier than that could be on his mind.
Up next: What are the areas that the Boys in Gold will need to shore up this offseason (and who might be some candidates to fill those roles)?