While we wait on NSC’s high-profile signings in advance of the 2020 MLS season, they continue to build the roster’s depth with players who will likely draw less ink, but could be important in the long run.
The latest is former Charleston Battery central midfielder Brian Tah Anunga (or Tah Brian Anunga… or Brian Anunga Tah – it’s listed in any of the three ways with some regularity). The 23-year old Cameroonian has played his entire professional career to date in USL. He joined the Wilmington Hammerheads as a 17-year old out of Cameroon’s Rainbow Bamenda, soent his second year in the States with the PDL Carolina Dynamo, and played the past three years with the Charleston Battery.
A defensive midfielder with box-to-box capabilities, he strikes me as a guy who should challenge for a role behind presumed starters Aníbal Godoy and Dax McCarty – with Jimmy Medranda, Matt LaGrassa, Derrick Jones, and possibly some positionally flexible guys (CB Ken Tribbett or winger/AM Randall Leal) for situational use – and the opportunity for Nashville SC to develop a bit more.
He made 85 total appearances in his three years with the Battery, and despite a relatively ambitious passing style (more on that below), he completed 81.6% of his attempts in 2019, and 60.3% of his long passes – which comprised over 11% of his passing attempts. As a deeper-lying defensive midfielder, he had only 16 key passes this year (if I recall correctly, he even occasionally slotted in as a fullback in 4-4-2 formations and an outside centerback in 3-4-3 sets), 18 the previous year, and just nine in 2017.
He’s a heavy-usage guy, but discipline this season (two suspensions for yellow card accumulation, one for a straight-red offense) and a minor injury saw him play fewer minutes than he had the previous year. Still: for a guy who plays a tough brand of game – and probably gets some return treatment therefor – he’s pretty durable.
I’ve seen a lot of him in the past couple years (I watched every USL East game since Nashville SC entered the league, and the games with solid teams I watched much more closely), and the highlights tell a pretty story of the player he is.
He’s a sideline-to-sideline style high-motor defensive midfielder, with a strong attitude for wanting to be involved in (and to win) tackles, and he uses his athleticism to close down space in front of his backline. He has good burst and solid tackling technique, allowing him to get involved with a lot of action and to come out on top in those duels.
Offensively, he’s not a guy who wants the ball at his feet a ton. He can certainly handle it a little bit, but he’s not going to dribble his way out of trouble in tight spaces (or really even try to do so). Instead, he’s going to try to move it to a teammate, and make himself available for a return pass to reset the action. He does like to use his athleticism to get up and press opposing backlines, which can obviously be fruitful at this level of play.
His primary offensive action is trying to push the ball forward quickly, whether spraying it up to the wingers to initiate offense, or trying to thread balls to a hold-up striker – or even pop it over the top to that guy. He has a style of offensive play that’s going to be conducive to a counter-attacking system (which it seems Nashville is intending to build, based on the other pieces in the fold so far).
I’ll be honest: this is the type of signing that I’m a little bit wary of. I like Anunga a lot as a USL player (I’ve got the receipts!), but when Nashville SC was mocked by opposing MLS fans for bringing up a lot of guys from the Championship, this is the sort of guy they were talking about: a very good USL player, but not one who’s a sure thing at the next level. An established MLS club would have been lauded for signing him, an expansion club could do well to have few lottery tickets (and to be fair: Nashville SC’s projected starters are mostly going to be MLS vets or big-money international signings: depth is depth).
On the other hand… I would have guessed he was 26 or 27 – not a guy who turned 23 late last season – so there’s upside, and he could even occupy a Reserve Roster position. I’m assuming he – having moved to the United States as a minor and lived here for nearly five years – holds a green card and will not occupy an international roster slot, so there’s little downside and plenty of upside