Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs and CEO Ian Ayre. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country
With the 2019 MLS season officially in the books – congrats, Seattle Sounders, Nashville is coming for your crown! – it’s time to hone our focus on NSC’s build for the inaugural MLS season. This is a crucial week when it comes to the final look of the 2020 roster.
What’s coming up
Today at noon (1 p.m. EST), an MLS Trade Window opens. MLS teams’ rosters have been locked since Sept. 15, during the run-in to the playoffs. The window last until Wednesday at 7 p.m. (8 p.m. at MLS HQ), at which point a blackout period begins.
What what does the trade window entail? Teams are able to trade players within the league, or sign new players from outside the league. Player-for-player swaps, player-for-cash (or allocation money) sales, and even allocation-for-allocation reconfiguring is possible between MLS franchises.
It’s worth noting that last year’s version of this trade window was not two-plus days: it was just four hours(!). There were still 17 transactions involving players in that tiny window: with a much longer period this year (and a different order of offseason operations in 2019), expect even more action between this afternoon and Wednesday evening. Any team-to-team transactions (fear not – NSC has other mechanisms available) not submitted for league approval by the close of the window Wednesday evening will have to wait until the transfer window opens in early February – though some may be submitted by that deadline and not announced until later in the week when they get league and federation approval, and the terms are agreed to by the players.
After the window closes, the next piece of news we’ll be waiting for comes Friday: the list of players who are eligible for selection in the Expansion Draft will be released no later than 7 p.m. CST (8 p.m. EST) UPDATE: this was listed at two different times in different places – the correct one is Saturday morning by 9 a.m CST. Then, it’s another big one: the Expansion Draft itself takes place Tuesday beginning at 4:30 – with the club hosting a Draft Party downtown at Ole Red starting half an hour earlier.
So we know Nashville will be adding to its roster soon (and suspect it will be doing so very soon, about which more in a moment). Who’s already in the fold for the 2020 season?
There are seven signings already announced (in order of 2019/expected 2020 salary):
- Attacking/holding central midfielder Hany Mukhtar (currently playing for Brøndby IF in Denmark) – a Designated Player
- Left wing/right wing David Accam (played for Philadelphia Union and Columbus Crew in MLS this season)
- Left wing/central attacking midfielder/striker Randall Leal (currently playing for Deportivo Saprissa in Costa Rica) – Young Designated Player
- Holding central midfielder Aníbal Godoy (played for San Jose Earthquakes in MLS this season)
- Striker Daniel Ríos (played for Nashville SC in USL this year)
- Holding/attacking midfielder Derrick Jones (played for Philadelphia Union in MLS and Nashville SC in USL this season)
- Striker Cameron Lancaster (played for Nashville SC in USL this year)
As you can see, those signings are concentrated in a couple key areas: left wingers, central midfielders from back to front, and strikers. The Boys in Gold will need to fill out their roster with defenders of varying positions (centerback, left fullback, right fullback), goalkeepers, and right wingers. With only seven of 28 roster slots filled, obviously much more depth – in addition to those starting roles – can be added everywhere.
What to watch for
So what should NSC fans focus on this week?
Announcing rumored signings
Nashville SC doesn’t need many more holding midfielders. To date, they’ve signed only only Godoy (their top intra-MLS option at that position) and a USL holdover in Derrick Jones. They also boast players who can be shoehorned into that position but are best used as attackers in Hany Mukhtar (who occasionally plays there for his club) and Randall Leal (who has served in that role for the Costa Rica national team).
Why is that?
Last week, The Athletic reported that there are two major signings on the way for Nashville SC. One of those is veteran holding midfielder (and national-teamer emeritus) Dax McCarty, currently of the Chicago Fire. A less-mobile but better-passing complement to Godoy is exactly what is needed for the starting lineup. The pieces around them begin to look a whole lot more adequate with McCarty involved. More depth will eventually be added, but it’s not the immediate priority.
The other is the Los Angeles Galaxy’s Dave Romney: NSC’s first centerback signing when his transfer becomes official. Though the Galácticos have been basura on defense for some time, the 26-year old Romney is considered one of their better centerbacks, and he’s reasonably young at a position that has more individual longevity.
Assuming – as we should be – that The Athletic‘s reporting is accurate, these should be the first two moves involving Nashville when the window opens this afternoon.
Will NSC sign its loanees?
We shall see if Romney has a couple position-mates in short order. Nashville brought two MLS defenders on loan during the course of the 2019 USL season, and both are likely considered surplus to needs for their parent clubs at this point.
The San Jose Earthquakes hired Argentine manager Matías Almeyda in the offseason, and he immediately set to rework the defensive scheme run in the South Bay. A true man-marking philosophy saw CB Jimmy Ockford’s lack of mobility become a poor fit, and he was loaned to Nashville’s USL outfit in mid-Summer. He has the potential to reclaim the form he had as a 10-game starter for the Quakes in 2018 if he continues with the Boys in Gold.
Forrest Lasso’s 2019 trajectory was similar: FC Cincinnati axed head coach Alan Koch early in the year, and interim manager Yoann Damet (and new full-time manager Ron Jans) prefer a different style of centerback. A loan to Nashville could become permanent if the Boys in Gold believe Lasso’s up to the MLS muster.
Even if these players end up in Music City, it may not happen during this brief window: If NSC were to select them in the Expansion Draft, their former clubs would receive $50,000 in allocation money (possibly more than a market-rate transfer fee from Nashville).
Do we hear about Expansion Draft protections?
There’s a chance that handshake deals are in place for Nashville to leave specific teams alone in next week’s Expansion Draft. Nashville has conducted business with several MLS clubs already.
With multiple transactions with the San Jose Earthquakes (purchasing Godoy’s rights and taking Ockford on loan), do we hear that Nashville has agreed not to take anyone in the Expansion Draft the following week? Similarly, Nashville made a couple deals with the Philadelphia Union, buying the rights of both Derrick Jones and David Accam.
For that matter, does the Columbus Crew, which facilitated the Accam trade by taking him on for half the season, get rewarded for its assistance to those clubs with some sort of handshake deal?
No-pick agreements could be in place for Chicago Fire and LA Galaxy, assuming the McCarty and Romney deals become official this afternoon.
That said, I’d be a little surprised if we hear – at least through any official channel – that such deals are in place. There’s no competitive reason to reveal those until after the Expansion Draft (as it would unnecessarily give Inter Miami FC an advantage in their Draft strategy), if at all.
Though seven players are in the fold – and two more likely to join early in the window – that may not be Nashville’s only action during this Trade Window. They can add other players, or (less likely) deal some of those with whom they have current agreements.
Similarly, trades around MLS will also have an effect on the way Nashville plans its strategy for next week’s Expansion Draft. They may have some players in their sights who suddenly become off-limits (traded to a team that has the ability to use one of its 12 protected slots on that player, or even worse, traded to one of the five teams who are fully-protected after losing players to FC Cincinnati last offseason), or vice versa with a player available in an unexpected twist.
While we’re most interested in the direct effects the Trade Window will have on Nashville SC, there can be some pretty significant indirect ones, as well.
Down the line
After the expansion draft, the offseason will continue with more roster-building opportunities for Nashville: the waiver process (the ability to claim players whose contract options were not exercised by their 2019 teams) and free agency both begin on Nov. 25.
In addition, the MLS re-entry process takes place in two rounds, Nov. 26 and Dec. 3. In this process, those players out-of-contract not eligible for free agency or subject to waivers can be drafted.
Nashville will have late picks in these two mechanisms (they picked the penultimate slot in the Expansion Priority Draft in New York last month), but generally teams pass on a lot of picks: there were only three Stage One picks and two Stage Two picks (and nearly 50 passes) in last year’s re-entry draft. If there’s a player Jacobs likes, the opportunity may exist to select him at No. 25.
The next big one, though, is the MLS SuperDraft, the traditional college draft. NSC can add one or two depth players from the college ranks, in addition to a possible contributor with the second overall pick. (It’s also possible NSC flips picks for allocation money or veteran MLS players instead of using them).
It should be a fun Winter, not just as we wait for kit reveals and the schedule release, but watching the inaugural MLS roster continue to fill out.