A year after the Philadelphia Union traded away all of its SuperDraft picks for a pittance ($150,000 in General Allocation Money), seeing Nashville SC swap some of its monetary assets to acquire an extra pair of first-round picks may have come as a surprise to some.
However, NSC General Manager Mike Jacobs was adamant that the price was worth it to add each of the four players that the front office wanted. In addition to centerback Jack Maher and defensive midfielder Tanner Dieterich with the natural No. 2 picks in the first and second rounds, respectively, Nashville had to give up just $125,000 in General Allocation Money to also land goalkeeper Elliot Panicco and midfielder/defender Alistair Johnston.
Best of all, that wheeling and dealing didn’t require the amount of investment that Jacobs was expecting.
“The one thing we were steadfast with with our staff as far as looking at this group was not getting too hung up on whether we were going to select a player too early or too late,” Jacobs explained. “We had a fixed budget we were going to spend as far allocation money – which we came in under on, which I was really happy about – to acquire the picks.”
Nashville also managed to bring a soccer story into the mainstream with the way in which Maher was selected. Jacobs, along with members of the Nashville technical staff and dozens of supporters, headed on a charter bus to suburban St. Louis. Selecting Maher in-person outside of the Indiana University All-American’s home was a nice touch.
It was a continuation of what Jacobs – and club Chief Executive Ian Ayre – have tried to emphasize in the early days for the MLS franchise: being “uniquely Nashville.”
“For us, we wanted to be recognized for doing things differently, for being willing to extend ourselves in a way that demonstrates us being kind of uniquely Nashville, as we talk about a lot,” Jacobs said. “I think for us to have all that happen while populating our roster with four players that we went into the Draft looking for, it was really exciting.
“A lot of credit has to go to Ian Ayre. I think that the vision that he has when it comes to his own experiences in media and marketing, I think about trying to do things that are uniquely Nashville. In his mind, he didn’t want to get in a situation where we were competing with other clubs to see who could have the largest celebrities, or who can create a higher Madison Avenue rating, it was more ‘how can we separate ourselves in the marketplace?’ The idea of ushering in our first draft pick with a busload of supporters was amazing.
“I think the execution of Cristina [Maillo Belda, the Club’s VP of Communications] and the rest of our comms and marketing group was outstanding. It was definitely different – that phrase we use a lot, ‘uniquely Nashville.’ What I think was great was if you script out what’s special about our city and our club, I think that encapsulated the whole thing. I think the idea of hospitality, the idea of engaging the fanbase, and I think as you might associate with Music City, doing things a little flashy. It really encompassed everything that our club’s leadership wanted to do.”
The pomp and circumstance is always exciting. When the rubber meets the road, it’s the talent of the players that will be most important to the club.
“I think Jack’s got like as high a soccer IQ as you’ll find for a kid his age, which is definitely going to serve him well as he assimilates among professionals,” Jacobs said of Maher. “I mentioned a couple times before, his character and leadership skills are off the charts. That’s going to serve him well also, but he’s going to have to find his footing.
“I think what’s interesting about Alistair [Johnston] is – maybe a key component you’re seeing to all four of the guys we drafted – we talk about these things like the DNA, the NSC DNA Alistair is also somebody who’s been an outstanding leader on his team. I think he’s somebody who’s gotten like a hundred character attributes. I think his versatility as far as he’s someone who’s played as a central midfielder, he’s played as a wide player, probably helped him to adjust to being a right back.
We felt strongly that we got the best goalkeeper in the Draft, that was important to us,” he continued, of Panicco. “It was important from a standpoint where – while we’re very happy with Joe Willis’s body of work, we’re very happy with the potential that Adrian Zendejas brings – I think when you look at the age of guys like Adrian, and look at the age of Elliot, I think as Joe approaches the twilight of his career, we’ve got two goalkeepers who really can kind of evolve into our future for the next 10 years.
“Tanner [Dieterich]’s not a Homegrown even though he grew up in our territory, but he’s the closest we have to a homegown in the game right now,” he said of the former Nashville SC U-23 player. “Tanner was a youth international, Tanner was the captain at Clemson which was arguably the best team in college soccer this year. I think again, like the guys we’ve mentioned, his leadership skills and his character are off the charts…. I think his versatility, maybe similar to Alistair, he can play as a midfielder, he can play as a centerback, he can play as a right back, but I think having one of our own from Nashville, adding a figurative homegrown to our roster is really exciting I think for him, for his family, and I think for our community.”
Nashville SC plans to enter preseason with the roster constructed as it currently is, and pending how early friendlies go, there’s the opportunity to sign additional talent from outside the league.
“A big reason we’ve been so thoughtful about not spending all our allocation money, and for keeping our roster spots open, we’re saving international spots is, we’ve been waiting this time for the preseason to watch guys, put these guys on the field, and be able to assess them against other MLS teams in preseason,” Jacobs explained. “I think at that point, we’ve got our first glimpse of ‘what do we need do to kind of freshen this group up?’ I do feel like this group, as assembled right now including these four players, is ready to go into preseason and be competitive with other MLS teams.”
With just three roster slots open, the Boys in Gold will spend the next 50 days determining just how – or if – they need to use them.