Ryan Lassan Photography/For Club and Country
Yes, we’re out here delaying until news that will be unveiled at some point during this brief trade window finally reaches its inevitable announcement.
So let’s take stock of the 2019 Nashville SC roster. It’s no secret that the vast majority of these guys will not be moving along with the MLS franchise. However, over the course of the year, there was still plenty to learn about the individual performers. Here’s the preseason report. What’s the postseason view?
Goalkeeper Matt Pickens
I expected Pickens – while still talented – would have age catch up to him this year. Even if that did happen, it wasn’t enough to prevent him from holding off a very game competitor in Connor Sparrow. Pickens improved on his 2018 performance and won the USL Golden Glove award. Even if expectations had been sky-high, it’s easy to call that exceeding them.
Defender Forrest Lasso
Lasso wasn’t on the preseason list for obvious reasons: he wasn’t on the team. However, the FC Cincinnati loanee joined the team and immediately turned the defense from just OK to elite, along with fellow loanee Jimmy Ockford. Fans in the Queen City may say he’s not an MLS-caliber player. He always was, but proved it over the course of this USL season.
Defender Jimmy Ockford
Ockford’s trajectory was almost identical to Lasso’s: he joined the team midseason and helped with the defensive renaissance as a first-choice centerback. Also considered surplus to needs by his MLS team (the San Jose Earthquakes), he proved during his NSC tenure that he belongs in the league.
Defender Taylor Washington
I’ve always been high on Washington (lefties have to stick together even if he’s left-FOOTED not left-HANDED), and a lot of what he provides stayed the same: he contributed, as he did in 2018, at both fullback and left midfield, focusing on the former. However, his crossing service improved bigtime – to the degree that he was probably third-choice in set piece service (something you’d have never expected last year) late in the season. He also showed an improved nose for goal as he developed an offensive game.
Midfielder Bolu Akinyode
Akinyode’s strengths and weaknesses have been established for a long time: on the plus side, he’s big, strong, and extremely technical on the ball. On the downside, he’s only an OK athlete for his position, and doesn’t make up for a lack of quickness with a higher-level understanding of spacing or tracking back. He added a bit more vision in the passing game (and an occasional willingness to move the ball forward!) this season, and got even better at shielding off opponents in 50/50 duels or when they try to tackle it away from him. Rounding out his game makes him a high-level USL midfielder, though the weaknesses in his game may mean an MLS future is never really an option.
Midfielder Derrick Jones
Jones joined the team mid-season, and even from a pretty high stock value at that time, it’d be fair to say it’s risen, despite his missing much of the year with a broken ankle. When he returned from injury, he not only was the smooth-passing central midfielder we remembered, but he showed good technical skill going forward, and the desire to get involved in the offense as a creative attacker. He probably won’t get much time there at the next level (and a lack of pure speed may prevent him from being a true box-to-box guy with plenty of offensive involvement, though the jury’s still out with our limited sample size), but from a deeper-lying position, he can put them to use in MLS.
Midfielder Matt LaGrassa
In 2018, LaGrassa way a guy who you knew was good, but couldn’t always put a finger on why that was the case. “So, uh, versatility, right?” was the regular question for Gary Smith about his midfielder. This season, though, he wasn’t shoehorned into as many different positions (winger, wide midfielder, second striker, center forward, all three central midfield roles) as he had been in the previous season. That allowed him to blossom as a positionally-sound defensive central mid, and a pace-setting, attack-friendly player in possession.
Forward Ropapa Mensah
I literally wrote a film room column on this a few weeks ago. Mensah is extremely dedicated to improving his knowledge and preparation with film study, and has added more lateral quickness and occasional flashes of having a foot attached to the bottom of his left leg(!) toward the end of the season. Dedication on the practice field in conditioning and continuing to develop that left foot to complement the dedication he shows in other areas of the training facility can make him a special player.
Striker Daniel Ríos
Expectations were high for Ríos entering the season, but his extremely limited use in preseason friendlies meant we were still a little wary of his durability, and didn’t know a ton about how much goal-scoring he’d truly be able to provide. He’s not ever going to be a 34-game player (he requires a bit of rest here and there), but that’s fine with a deeper team like NSC will field next year. His goal-scoring ability than we’d even imagined – he was pretty easily the top goal-scoring striker – Phoenix’s Solomon Asante is a winger – in the USL. It’s the consistency that’s questionable, after a dry spell toward the end of the regular season and an inability to manufacture a tally against Indy in the playoffs.
Goalkeeper Danny Vitiello
Vitiello wasn’t expected to play this year (barring a true blowout in the Open Cup, which NSC did not provide), and didn’t. He’s still a guy who’s going to contribute to a USL team in short order.
Defender Justin Davis
Davis was essentially the same player he was in 2018: a versatile left fullback/centerback who’s a bit of a risk-taker relying on athleticism and ability to fly in with slide tackles at the last moment. At his age, that may not translate to MLS, but if he wants to continue a pro soccer career, he should have options.
Defender Darnell King
King came in as an offensively-capable right back whose defensive acumen could also improve the team. Early in the year, he was a hard “stock down,” barely able to get onto the field. However, as the year played on, he became the first-choice RB, wans was essentially the player expected.
Forward Alan Winn
Expectations for Winn were pretty high coming into the year, and he lived up to them (though it might have been nice for him to exceed those expectations). He’s a one-on-one maven who can beat almost any defender – not Neveal Hackshaw – given space to operate. The final product remains a work in-progress, and if his product had included more than three goals and one(!) assist (he added two more assists in the Open Cup), he’d be firmly stock-up.
Striker Tucker Hume
With the additions Nashville made in the offseason, it stood to reason that Hume would only get a bit of playing time, and that came to fruition over the course of the year. A late-game threat on headed balls, he didn’t get a chance to show much more than that with Ríos, et al showing their stuff.
Goalkeeper Connor Sparrow
Coming into the year, I expected a goalkeeper rotation that eventually dwindled into Sparrow taking the starting gig. The opposite happened, with Matt Pickens getting the No. 1 nod by the midway point in the season. Sparrow still has an MLS future in my eyes, but was unable to prove it this season.
Defender Bradley Bourgeois
Bouregois will always be a fan favorite, and he was even drawn into a couple less-natural roles (right back and defensive midfield) by necessity this year, showing a versatility that hadn’t been necesasary earlier in his NSC career. However, he was also unable to get onto the field consistently enough.
Defender Liam Doyle
Doyle was an aerial threat (both offensively and clearing his own box) a little prone to getting turned by high-quality attackers. That remained the case even when Nashville SC brought in higher-caliber and better-rounded CBs, and he departed for Memphis 901 FC (where he was unable to improve a middling defense)
Defender Kosuke Kimura
Did age finally catch up with the ageless wonder? Probably not, but the player-coach more likely realized that his stronger contributions would come from the touchline than on the field.
Defender Malcolm Stewart
Dude made it like three games into the season and was never gonna sniff the field.
Defender Ken Tribbett
Though Tribbett showed off a more robust skillset than we’d expected (playing plenty in central midfield after a season-ending injury to Michael Reed), but late-season injuries caught up with him. The hope had been that his injury issues with Penn FC the previous year had been an outlier, but he was unable to prove that.
Midfielder Ramone Howell
Howell was dealt to Phoenix Rising early in the season, and Rising loaned him to their USL League One affiliate, FC Tuscon. He only managed to make 12 appearances at that lower level, as well.
Midfielder Lebo Moloto
Moloto remained essentially what he has been: a good facilitator as an attacking midfielder, perhaps not precise enough with his shooting touch, and a little too prone to being muscled off the ball in the final third. His highs are very high still, but the hope had been that he’d prove himself someone the team couldn’t help but bring to MLS, and that didn’t happen.
Midfielder Michael Reed
Reed was a better version of himself early in 2019. A little smoother touch on the ball, a little more physical and athletic than previously, he was solid. However, a horrific broken leg saw him land on the bench (in a walking boot) for the back half of the season, and a player coming off a major injury is naturally going to be stock down.
Midfielder Vinnie Vermeer
Vermeer seemed like a contributor, but after an ankle injury of his own, couldn’t work his way back into the lineup. He was loaned to Las Vegas Lights, and even for a lower-tier Western Conference team, was primarily a substitute rather than a starter.
Forward Kharlton Belmar
Belmar is my big disappointment of the season. Coming into the year, he and Tribbett were level as intra-USL signings that I felt would prove themselves to be MLS-caliber players. He was a one-v-one dribbler early in the year, but the final product was not only not good, too often it was simply bad. The take-ons dried up late in the year as his confidence waned, and Belmar never managed to put it all together for NSC.
Striker Cameron Lancaster
Lancaster has a long injury history: if he didn’t he’d possible be playing in the Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that his woes continued this year… but he was a 33-game player and Golden Boot winner for Louisville City the previous season. If he can get fully fit this offseason, the potential is (obviously) still there, but at 27, the time to shake an injury-prone reputation is dwindling.