Dax McCarty photo courtesy Chicago Fire.
Nashville SC added a pair of big pieces to its inaugural roster this week. In separate trades with the Chicago Fire and Los Angeles Galaxy, the front office signed midfielder Dax McCarty and centerback Dave Romney for the 2020 season.
A true holding midfielder and a versatile defender, respectively, they could be considered the first purely defensive signings for the team. Each will serve a crucial role when Nashville SC finally takes the field this Winter.
“They’re both important in different ways,” said Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs. “They both are special and offer unique things for our team.”
“To have the leadership of someone like Dax, as far as what he offers to his teammates, he’s a really key piece of the puzzle for us in a variety of ways. We’ve talked a lot internally about valuing the undervalued: it’s easy to see the potential that Dave has as a player as a left back and left centerback. It was very apparent doing out research, he’s very valued in what he does.”
Each player had reasons for moving on from his previous club. Chicago is due for a reboot, with a new home stadium and new coaching staff incoming. McCarty – who has served as the Fire’s captain for the past three years – saw the writing on the wall that his role was due for a major reduction. Heading to a club that would value him both on the pitch and as a locker room leader was an important find for the 14-year veteran.
Romney, on the other hand, was undervalued by the Galaxy, an assessment Jacobs clearly agrees with. Despite contributing to a higher level of team achievement each time he was on the pitch – an assessment Romney, a devotee of advanced statistics, could back up with numbers – there always seemed to be a different high-profile signing given a chance to usurp him in the starting lineup.
For each player, Nashville was the perfect destination for a fresh start.
“For me, the first thing I looked at was the success that they’ve had in USL – it’s a very stable club,” McCarty said of NSC. “I also look at the body of work that they’re putting together off the field. I have a familiarity with Gary Smith. I’ve always had a high level of respect for how his teams played in MLS. His Colorado teams didn’t have a tremendous amount of individual talent, but they were well organized: you have to have that base and build out from there.
“Gary was a big draw for me, as well as knowing that Mike Jacobs was putting a roster and a team together – look at his history with Sporting Kansas City. I looked at the totality of everything I wanted, and Nashville presented all of those to me. Add in an expansion team and you get to be involved form the beginning, that’s extremely appealing to me.”
Romney echoes the sentiments of his soon-to-be-teammate, and a change in scenery could be just what the doctor ordered for the lifelong Californian.
“A lot of the stuff is – to piggyback on Dax – a couple other teams were interested, and I found myself aligning with Mike and Gary’s values: how they think the game,” Romney explained. “I have 25- or 30-plus friends who have visited Nashville and they have all raved about it, and say they see me fitting in there. My longtime girlfriend was rooting for Nashville as well. I’ve been in California my entire life; I’ve always kind of wanted to set up a new journey somewhere else, and Nashville literally checked all the boxes. I couldn’t be happier about how this all ended up.”
Each player finding his fit in Nashville would mean little if they weren’t important pieces to the on-field build, as well. Fortunately, the man in charge of leading them onto the pitch sees each playing a crucial role in the first MLS season.
“We spent a bundle of time looking at many many different players,” said head coach Gary Smith. “It’s difficult to put yourself inside this space, but my angle certainly comes from a more technical one.
“Dax, this isn’t just about an individual that can perform in a center midfield role. It’s more about an individual that completes those midfield actions but also possesses the type of mentality and hopefully the type of individual that sets in stone a foundation and culture that we’re after.
“I’ve watched bundles of footage of Dave, and what struck me is for somebody who’s played what is close to 100 league games – probably coming toward the prime of his career – his level of performance, his appreciation of the game as a centerback, a lot of these natural characteristics. In being calm and collected in intense situations, but also the fortitude and sense of danger when things start to get a little bit tricky.”
With nine players officially in the fold, Nashville is less than halfway there when it comes to constructing the full group for year one. With two more players in the fold – each of whom badly wanted to be in Nashville specifically – the building blocks are in place to make the inaugural squad a good one.