Pitch points has ambition

Welcome to Pitch Points, wherein I round up some links of interest to Nashville SC and US Soccer. If you’re not already, follow the site on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and if you find any stories you’d like me to share, those channels and e-mail are always open.

Transfer rumorz

Nashville SC apparently reached out to (outgoing) Stoke City and USMNT defender Geoff Cameron, who is out of contract. British press being what it is (reporting thinly-sourced rumors with little corroboration, etc.), there’s reason to be skeptical generally. In specific, I’m even more so.

  1. Nashville SC would have to use its spot in the allocation order to pick up the former MNTer. In fact, there’s a chance they wouldn’t even have the top spot in said order, with a coin flip determining whether they or Inter Miami CF will have it (the top spot goes to each expansion club, and when two join in the same year they flip for it).
  2. Cameron made nearly $2 million in each of his three years with Stoke. While he’d certainly be due for a wage cut moving over to MLS, Nashville would likely have to either us a DP slot on him, or spend boatloads of Targeted Allocation Money to fit him under the cap.
  3. Nashville SC has been fighting a perception problem in the Latinx communities (and more generally in immigrant communities) in its hometown. Bringing in this guy not only makes that more difficult, but essentially guarantees that you don’t make a whole lot of progress at the very least until he retires – and probably longer than that with the scars such a signing would leave.

All that, and he’s going to turn 35 midway through next season. Seems like a lot of throwing good money after bad for an aging player, which we’ve seen to be pretty diametrically opposed to the stated intentions of both club President Ian Ayre and General Manager Mike Jacobs.

In less controversial news, Nashville SC will have Northern Kentucky University forward Alex Willis in for a trial this Summer. Don’t read too much into that: college guys come trial and fill out the practice roster all year, and the vast majority have no hopes of signing any time soon. Willis would have to blow the doors off (i.e. look MLS-ready) to have a shot to earn a contract, and his intention has been to return to NKU next year.

As a side note, the columnist there is either hyping up a local prospect to sell newspapers, or seriously misguided about how scoring at the NCAA and PDL levels translates to MLS. Willis could not “solve FCC’s scoring woes” just because other guys who scored a lot of goals got drafted… other than Shinyashiki, they’ve played basically zero competitive minutes (much less been game-changers) at the MLS level.

Cincy is bad, but probably not that bad.

Also, I know there’s a Twitter account out there pushing Nico Olsak-to-NSC rumors. At this point, I wouldn’t put stock in that.

Soccer in Alabama

Speaking of college soccer (what a great unintentional segue that was crafted for me by that Willis article arriving this morning), guys are forgoing it to pursue pro careers overseas. This is not news. What is interesting is that guys from non-traditional soccer areas – and Tennessee is one – are getting those opportunities, too.

This U.S. U-20 team represents a necessary shift in focus for U.S. Soccer, which missed the 2018 World Cup two years ago after that embarrassing loss to Trinidad and Tobago, and has struggled for generations now to compete with the world’s best national teams. The message is clear: not only is college now an unnecessary step in player development for the USMNT, it is considered a detriment by U.S. Soccer.

That may or may not be true (we’re improperly conflating correlation and causality in a pretty epic way, especially with a minuscule sample size), especially when you look at the Gold Cup roster: lock starters Zack Steffen and Aaron Long/Omar Gonzalez (one or the other earns that status) played college soccer, as did a number of their teammates (including frustratingly-close-to-lock-starter Wil Trapp). Is college soccer preferred by USSF? Maybe not, but the makeup of the senior team doesn’t indicate that it’s necessarily a detriment.

All that said, these “let’s bury college soccer” articles frustrate me not because I disagree with the premise itself – college soccer is not as good a developmental tool as professional experience, news at 11 – but closing off a potential developmental pathway (whether verbally by a newspaper columnist or literally by a YNT staffer) is silly. The best players probably don’t come through the college ranks, but that’s not because college prepares players worse – don’t get me wrong, it does – but because the cohort of players ending up in college soccer is going to be those who weren’t good enough for a professional contract at 16-18.

The solution (one I’ve harped on many times, though obviously this site has become more Nashville SC-focused rather than big picture-focused in the past two years) is for college soccer to improve as a developmental pathway. Culturally, there are always going to be guys who want to go to college even if it’s not the best developmental pathway – and guys who skipped college who may have been better off having gone – and altering the soccer culture to turn that into an advantage, rather than saying “we have to copy the way everyone else in the world does it OR FAIL” is the way to go.

As it relates to Nashville SC specifically, it’s worth noting that Chris Richards and Brandon Servania both moved from Alabama to join the FC Dallas Academy (as have some Tennesseans over the years), and you can bet a strong NSC academy draws that talent in the future.

Ambition rankings

Grant Wahl’s MLS ambition rankings in Sports Illustrated always draw mixed reviews, and certainly there’s a lot going on with a weak blend of objective analysis and feelingsball. They’re still interesting as we try to hazard guesses as to where Nashville SC will fit in. Certainly they won’t be Atlanta United…

Atlanta now owns all of the top 10 attended games in MLS history at $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It built a $60 million training facility, invested in a USL team and a promising academy, got a league-record $27 million transfer fee for Miguel Almirón and spent $14 million on South American Player of the Year Pity Martínez (after spending $15 million last year on Ezequiel Barco).

…but nor will they be Colorado Rapids.

You don’t have to work too hard speaking to people around MLS to hear a fairly common refrain that they wish Colorado owner Stan Kroenke would get out of the league. That’s … a problem.

The goal, as stated by both Ian Ayre and Mike Jacobs (and annoyingly framed as evidence that Nashville won’t spend?) is to make sure the money – however much it is – is spent wisely. That is to say, if NSC is upper-middle of the pack in spend, as is expected, just don’t be stupid with how you spend it. FC Cincinnati is No. 12 in the ambition rankings because they’re trying to pump money into the operation, but the way they’ve spent some of it (inexperienced and/or incompetent front office/technical hires, many of whom have already gotten the ax) is bad.

With a Premier League-experienced president, MLS and USL-experienced GM and head coach, presumably Nashville will be able to be a bit wiser about it.

Etc.

Nice feature on Freddy Adu, former US wunderkind. … I only came across this because of the Nashville MLS mention, but to me, it is cool. … Vegas trying to position itself for MLS. … We all know Marcus Whitney as a Nashville SC owner (and most probably know about his healthcare startup work). Also an author. … World Refugee Day activities.

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