We’re 74 days out from Nashville SC’s inaugural game as an MLS squad. The Boys in Gold have 22 players in the fold, through a combination of free transfer, various intra-MLS acquisition mechanisms, and through international transfer.
But how does that compare to what previous expansion teams have done? Specifically, is Nashville SC’s roster build going quickly? Slowly? Let us take a look.
In the name of brevity, I’ll limit to the four expansion teams immediately preceding NSC’s entry to the league. Those teams are Atlanta United, Minnesota United, Los Angeles FC, and FC Cincinnati. Along the horizontal axis, we have the days until debut. The vertical axis is number of players who had been signed or announced – and made it onto the roster come opening day. A player like Brandon Vazquez (who was a Nashville SC player for all of 35 minutes or so) would not count here.
Hey, look at that! Fillin’ up faster than any of the recent expansion teams has. That’s for a number of different reasons (a long run-up and the ability to acquire players in anticipation of the jump, simple difference in philosophy, etc. etc.), but there’s still work to be done. With 22 players Nashville SC still has fewer than the opening-day total of the next-lowest team, LAFC.
It’s worth noting that there’s not necessarily a right or wrong way to fill the roster – in terms of sheer numbers on the Roster Compliance Deadline – from these four examples. Two teams left themselves plenty of roster flexibility, while two others were close to or at the maximum. One team from each of those two different philosophies was very good, the other very bad.
What can we expect going forward?
Nashville SC’s management has made noise about adding more signings – including potentially a designated player – before the season begins. The SuperDraft also comes Jan. 9, and while I wouldn’t expect NSC to use all four draft picks and keep all four players until the beginning of the season, certainly there’ll be an opportunity to build the group out further.
Let’s take a different look at the above chart, and instead of number of players on the roster, convert it into the total salary spend*, to see how significant the pieces were for those other teams. Worth noting that LAFC spent much more money than anyone else… but over half of their total budget was spent on one player.
As you can see, Nashville is ahead of everyone but LAFC, whose build method was “sign Carlos Vela.” That has has worked out beautifully, but is not really applicable to teams who can’t go out and get him. Worth noting that the rest of LAFC’s roster was extremely cheap in MLS terms, which carries some lessons about smart ways to spend money (“do it on Carlos Vela”). Other lessons can be learned from FCC (“don’t spend big money on Fanendo Adi”), Atlanta (“fill all three DP spots, and with high-upside players that you’re either lucky to hit on or have scouted extremely well”), and Minnesota (“don’t not spend”).
My guesses on Nashville SC’s roster here are on the conservative end: a number of players will be getting a bump in salary to move to Music City, and the assumptions I’ve made on some others are conservative.
Let’s assume NSC adds another designated player ($1-1.5 million or so) before the season, per the hints Mike Jacobs has publicly dropped since the Expansion Draft. In the SuperDraft, NSC will likely add a Generation Adidas-type player ($125k average in the past three years) and three reserve minimum (around $58k a pop) players. Before factoring in potential others – whether through MLS trades or foreign signings – that’s a $7.6 million-ish roster budget.
It’s below Atlanta and Cincinnati’s numbers, but well ahead of Minnesota – NSC is already well ahead of Minnesota, in fact – and ahead of LAFC’s non-Vela spend, as well. Is it good enough to put a winner on the pitch in 2020? That may be a different question. But in a world where roster spend often relates to success (less so in a salary-cap league like MLS, but that’s an analysis for a different day), NSC is on-pace to be right where you’d hope.
* Of course, we don’t know how much NSC’s signings will be taking home in 2020. For the sake of simplicity, I’m using the 2019 budget numbers when available. I’m assuming Hany Mukhtar is making the amount that locks him into being a DP ($1.53 million) and Randall Leal the amount that is the minimum for being a DP ($530k). All four USL signings are assumed to be on senior-minimum budgets.
UPDATE: Added Inter Miami CF to charts, updated Nashville with addition of Miguel Nazarit: