The pick is in: Nashville SC has selected Indiana centerback Jack Maher with the second overall pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft. The 6-3, 175-pounder is a sophomore and member of the Generation Adidas class, meaning his salary will not count against Nashville SC’s cap for at least two years.
A native of Caseyville, Ill., Maher played his high school soccer at Althoff Catholic. He has also appeared twice for USL club Saint Louis FC (once in 2017 and again in 2018), though he totaled only 51 minutes in those appearances. Maher has worn his country’s colors at the U-18 level and participated in U-23 training camps.
Maher started all 46 of his games at Indiana, with all four of his goals in Crimson and Cream – and both assists – coming this season.
Here are some Maher clips, and my in-depth evaluation (having watched him in more than just this game, but it’s the only one on my DVR).
A tall, lean centerback who can make an impact on set pieces, he’s a talented stay-at-home defender who reads the game very well. These clips show that intelligence and activity in different ways. He does a good job tracking an active striker in the box on the first, and on the second he angles his run to cut off the angle for the runner, knowing that if he tries to stay tighter, he’s likely being beaten with athleticism, and he doesn’t get pulled out of his defensive shape.
It should come as no surprise given his dimensions that getting stronger and tougher will be the first course of action as a professional player. He’s not particularly explosive as an athlete, though the hope will be that some of that is a product of lacking the leg strength that he will add. He does play a pretty impressively physical brand of ball despite his current lack of strength, so getting stronger will amplify what he’s already good at, rather than change his style.
He’s primarily left-footed, but is quite ambidextrous – comfortable playing both short and long with either foot. He has a pretty powerful left foot that allows him to push the ball up the wings quickly, which is likely to be an important facet of Nashville SC’s offensive production for at least the first couple years of the franchise (given the roster build has focused on speed along those wings).
He’s going to have to improve his tackling and tracking, though. Some of it comes down to that lack of athleticism, but he does tend to take stabs at the ball while remaining stationary. When it works out, it’s a good way to make an attacker look silly. When it doesn’t, he has little margin for making a recovery run – and isn’t going to go stride-for-stride with attacking players, much less run them down.
His height and heading prowess come into play defensively as well, and he likes to get up for headed clearances on crosses and long balls into the box (and on opposing goal kicks at midfield). He does give the appearance of sort of just throwing his head in the direction of it, and will have to improve his ability to control where it goes.
Maher is an old-ish sophomore, turning 21 in October, so the development upside of a true youth prospect is less important than the fact that he doesn’t have far to go to be prepared to play at this level. Depending on the pace of that physical development, he should be able to serve as a depth player at centerback as early as this season – and if it happens very quickly, he could try to fight his way into the starting rotation (particularly given that CB is a position at which Nashville has signed some previously-injured players).
Nashville has the No. 2 pick in the second round later this afternoon, and will likely use that pick on an older college player.
Maher photo courtesy Indiana University Athletics.