Nashville SC managed to land the top player on its draft board with the No. 2 overall pick last Thursday. Centerback Jack Maher is a 6-3, 175-pounder out of Indiana University, a sophomore who decided to sign a Generation Adidas deal with MLS and forgo his final two years of college eligibility.
He was also the Big Ten Defender of the year, a first-team United Soccer Coaches All-North Region selection, and a second-team All-American. According to Hoosiers coach Todd Yeagley, none of that came as a surprise given Maher’s natural talent and work ethic. He’ll be bringing both of those to Music City.
“He’s got it all. He’s a very cerebral, very intelligent player – that’s one thing you’ll notice,” Yeagley said. “He’s got great composure, great positional sense, wonderful focus: he’s got a lot of the key trademarks that help those get some of the work done before he gets to Nashville. The level’s going to be higher. Obviously everything’s going to be done a bit faster, with a little bit more disguise. That’s where I think his IQ will allow him to adjust as quick as anyone could – it’s still a hard adjustment.
“Ultimately, his biggest adjustment will be just the physicality. He’s still getting bigger and stronger, he’s not a finished product, which is what I love about his potential. He’s not a man in the sense that he’s not fully grown in all areas. As he puts more size on, continues to develop his physical part of his game, that’s going to continue to really take him to new heights.”
Maher’s leadership on and off the field helped him lead the team – even as an underclassman – to back-to-back strong seasons, with IU
“He’s had two very different teams,” Yeagley explained. “He was part of a very experienced team in 2018 where we were national semifinalists and a team that had a lot of really good quality and a lot of personalities, a lot of mature 22-year olds. He had to go in and run the show on the backline and fit in properly.
“And then this year, he was our only returning starter, and he had to deal with all new people all around him. He knew, he adjusted: that’s his emotional intelligence and soft skills with that are really special. That allowed him to help lead us to a team again that was on the cusp of making another Final Four run. He’s got a lot of special tools.”
Playing soccer – certainly at a level that Maher did in earning all his accolades – is about more than just intelligence and work ethic, and even more than just athletic ability comes into play. It’s a skill-oriented sport that requires years and years to build the base level of technique to succeed at the Major League Soccer level – and potentially beyond.
Maher starts from a good point, capable of playing the ball cleanly with either foot. He’ll continue to hone that skill as he moves to a higher level of play.
“He has a very good technical base, but as he jumps levels, to still continue fine-tune that component,” Yeagley explained. “But he’s as good a two-footed centerback as I’ve worked with. That’s the part that’s great, he is right-side dominant, but his left foot is very efficient and very good.”
It’s understandable that many current and prospective fans of Nashville SC haven’t had a chance to see much of Maher (though they can get a glimpse in the initial draft post here at FCAC). Fortunately, there’s a broad base of former Hoosiers playing in MLS, and there’s a specific one to whom Yeagley compares very closely.
“We’ve always said he has a lot of – those that are MLS followers – he’s got a lot of Drew Moor in him. He was another of our other past great centerbacks that has had a great career in MLS, still playing. A lot of similarities in the way that they play.”
Moor began his college career at Furman University, but transferred to IU for his sophomore and junior years, before heading to MLS. Moor is set to begin his 16th MLS season this Summer, returning to Colorado Rapids, with whom he was a member of the 2010 MLS Cup-winning side that also featured all four members of Nashville SC’s coaching staff, helmed by Gary Smith. With stints in Dallas and most recently Toronto, Moor is a veteran whose career longevity is a model for the centerback position.
If Maher can live up to that comparison – or come anything close to it – fans in Nashville will be very happy with the club’s first-ever SuperDraft pick.
Jack Maher photo courtesy Indiana University