Part two of an indefinite series that I’m calling “Project 2019” in which I attempt to flesh out a roster for next year’s Nashville SC team.
This post is going to be quite a bit more on the speculative side, in large part just because it’s fun to come up with ideas during the offseason. There are four teams leaving the USL this offseason: FC Cincinnati is movin’ on up to Major League Soccer. Richmond Kickers and Toronto FC II are dropping to USL D-3 (now known as League One). Penn FC is taking a one-year hiatus, then dropping to League One itself.
Are there players on those teams that Nashville should at least give a look in building its 2019 roster? Cincinnati will have guys who are really good USL players, but probably not quite to the level where they can make the transition to MLS. On the other side of the coin, the teams dropping have players who still have USL Championship years in ’em.
This is the toughest line to walk, because you want the best players available… without knowing who FCC will be leaving off the roster when they move to MLS. Certainly mid-season signings Fanendo Adi and Fatai Alashe are going to make the transition. Emmanuel Ledesma is a lock, as well.
But are midfielders Corben Bone and Nazmi Albadawi? Defender Forrest Lasso? There’s a really good chance that they get a chance in Major League Soccer – and that especially a guy like Bone, who has been with FCC since it launched, would want to take that chance. However, a bigger role remaining in USL is certainly something NSC could try to sell to them.
Dekel Keinan and Paddy Barrett are two other guys who would certainly be fits for NSC defensively. However, Keinan’s 34 and this Nashville team probably isn’t looking to get older, and Barrett’s played just one season outside of Ireland now and may want to return.
This is an easier one: everybody on the team is available, because the squad won’t exist for a year. There are also a few obvious candidates to land in the USL Championship (with the caveat that plenty of teams will be pursuing them).
- D Ken Tribbett – The 26-year old was almost certainly Penn’s best player as a defender this year, and made two USL Team of the Week lists. He’s a Colorado native whose high-level soccer career has been entirely on the East Coast (Drexel University, then sticking in Philly with the Union organization between iterations of the Harrisburg USL franchise). He’s going to be in high demand, and a Nashville team whose defensive depth was exposed when Bradley Bourgeois was injured could use a player like that – as could basically any USL team.
- F Tommy Heinemann – At 31 and coming off a major knee injury (the one that saw FC Cincinnati illegally terminate his contract before he found a landing spot with Penn FC), there may be some left in the tank for Heinemann. I’m just not sure Nashville SC is the type of team that needs to take on that risk.
- F Lucky Mkosana – Mkosana is also 31 (and yes “lol this guy is too old” about guys who are younger than me is a deeply uncomfortable feeling), but without the injury question mark there’s a little less risk. He also converted at a pretty great clip: 21% of shots (Nashville as a team notched just a 12.2% conversion rate). He’s at least worth a look.
The Kickers aren’t going on hiatus, but they are dropping down to League One immediately, and they have some players who probably could kick it in the Championship for another year. Despite being far and away the worst team in USL last year, they had a bit of talent.
- F Brian Shriver – He’s 31, but played in every game for the Kickers last year (and led them in minutes). His 15% conversion rate on the year may not be the most impressive, but considering the talent around the pitch for Richmond… probably isn’t as bad as it seems.
- F Heviel Cordoves – The other member of Richmond’s competency caucus, Cordoves scored the same number of goals (seven) on far fewer shots than Shriver (and fewer than half the minutes – they were splitting a lone striker role for much of the year for reasons that remain unclear). His conversion rate of 21% was very solid, he’s a more youthful 28 years old – though turning 29 in a week, still no spring chicken – and at 6-2 is a more physically intimidating player, as well. He’s a lefty, which may be redundant with some of NSC’s attacking talent if they retain most of it.
Toronto FC II
This one is complicated in a very different way than Cincinnati: plenty of TFC II’s best players were on MLS contracts, and the club’s goals for dropping to League One (to develop talent more than worrying about how the competition on the field goes) make for a different question as to who is a fit. They stunk last year obviously – with a worse record but better performances than Richmond – but have some talent.
Of course, Toronto can also send players out on loan (whether on MLS or USL3 contracts) if the level of competition they want for that given personnel is at the USL Championship level.
- GK Caleb Patterson-Sewell – Given that I don’t think Nashville is in particular need of a starting-type keeper (either CJ Cochran is ready for a major role, or splits time with Matt Pickens), and Patterson-Sewell was on an MLS contract last year, it may not seem like a great fit. HOWEVER, I suspect Toronto probably doesn’t want to retain him to play in the USL on an MLS salary, and Patterson-Sewell is a Hendersonville native (albeit one who mostly grew up in Australia), and runs a soccer camp in his hometown. A Middle Tennessee solidarity play – who happens to be a great keeper, as NSC fans frustratingly learned in the penultimate game of the regular season – could bring it full-circle.
- F Tsubasa Endoh – Endoh was one of the few high-level players on the team not signed to an MLS contract: he actually declined to sign one, and took a USL deal instead. That’s a weird choice in some ways, but could also indicate that he wanted to play for the organization without being tied to it long-term under MLS rules. A 25-year old righty winger with a 29%(!!) conversion rate on shots and better than 25% completion rate on crosses, there’s a lot to like about his game.
- F Ayo Akinola – Akinola is on an MLS contract, but got 45 minutes with the big club all season… and only about 10 worth of minutes for TFCII. Maybe League One is a better fit for developing his talent, but he’d be a kid – just 18, he’s a US Youth international – who I would love to see NSC try be involved in developing (also: one who could help the squad). He scored five goals in just 16 shots last year.
Of course, all of this is just a dude spitballin’ on the internet, but there are certainly going to be some players available this offseason thanks in large part to their current teams changing leagues.