Yesterday, Nashville SC announced that it was official: the previously-reported trade for New York Red Bulls winger Alex Muyl is a done deal. Here’s the club’s release:
NASHVILLE (Aug. 13, 2020) –Nashville Soccer Club announced today the acquisition of winger Alex Muyl from the New York Red Bulls in exchange for Nashville’s 2020 and 2021 international picks and an additional $50,000 in GAM in 2021, if Muyl meets certain performance-based metrics. The winger is set to join Nashville as the club resumes its inaugural season in Major League Soccer on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at FC Dallas.
“Alex displays all the qualities we look for in a player as we continue to build the foundation of our club,” commented Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs. “He is a proven winner, industrious, and is an absolute nightmare to play against. His ability to create and finish scoring chances makes him a constant threat.”
The NYRB Homegrown Player joins Nashville after four full seasons with the Red Bulls’ senior squad. During his time there, Muyl appeared in 113 Regular Season matches, playing a vital role in New York’s success which saw the Red Bulls win the MLS Supporter’s Shield with a record of 22-7-5 and 71 points in 2018.
A proven reliability for the Red Bulls, Muyl appeared in a minimum of 24 MLS Regular Season matches in every season he was in New York. In 2019 Muyl began the year with three Champions League starts and became the 24th player in Red Bull franchise history to tally at least 10 goals and 10 assists.
In the 2018 Supporters Shield winning campaign, Muyl tied his career high with 30 appearances. The winger started all five Champions League matches and scored the eventual game-winning goal in Leg 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. Columbus Crew SC.
Let us begin, as we often do, with a breeze through the financials, the roster-building, etc.:
The club traded for Muyl’s Homegrown rights, which is significant in a couple ways:
- Teams can have 28 non-Homegrown players on their rosters. However, there are two slots (29 and 30) that must be 1) left unfilled, or 2) filled by Homegrown players. Nashville now has two Homegrown players – they snagged Derrick Jones’s rights from the Philadelphia Union last Spring – and signing Muyl doesn’t take up an existing roster slot as much as it effectively creates one.
- If Muyl is transferred out of the league, Nashville would get 100% of the transfer fee (or negotiate otherwise with NYRB), rather than sharing a cut with the league. This is less significant now that the MLS cut is down to 5% for non-Homegrown transfers. (But it is worth noting that, while he’s an American, Muyl’s parents are French, which would make it easier for him to land in an EU-based league).
Trading away international slots, while not necessarily the preferred long-term strategy, is basically insignificant to Nashville SC: from their starting point of eight international slots, they’ve now traded away four (as part of packages for Dan Lovitz, Adrian Zendejas, and Walker Zimmerman, in addition to Muyl) and used three of them (Randall Leal, Hany Mukhtar, and Miguel Nazarit). There’s one left for this season – when it looks like Nashville will largely be building with domestic-eligible players – and only Muyl’s trade involved giving away a 2021 slot. Nashville will be back to eight next year, with one traded away, and three occupied assuming those players all return. That’s four slots available to work with, in a season that is less likely than 2020 to carry an asterisk for pandemic-related reasons.
Muyl was in the $125k range salary-wise last season, so not super-expensive. The $50,000 General Allocation Money that Nashville may have to pay as part of the transaction… probably will be worth it if the (undisclosed) performance metrics are met. From Nashville’s perspective, it can essentially be viewed as a $50,000 escalator (though NYRB, not Muyl, will be the recipient of it) if his on-field value is greater than expected. That’s fair.
On to the player himself.
Muyl’s 24 – turning 25 in September – and in his fifth professional season with three years of college soccer in the books, as well. He’s pretty danged experienced for a US-raised player his age.
As I mentioned a number of times earlier, his successes and failures are a little harder to discern statistically because NYRB’s system – an incessant high press and fairly direct play to get into the offensive third – is unlike what basically any other MLS team tries to do. So I caught up with a couple of people who have watched a ton of him. Justin Sousa writes about young Americans in Scouted Football and elsewhere, and happens to also be a Red Bulls fan.
“Definitely getting a work horse and good professional,” Sousa said. “Definitely seems like he’ll be more of an impact sub.
“His end product is still rough around the edges – He hasn’t passed three goals or five assists in his entire career – but it’s a solid pick-up. Maybe he’ll be used to free up another player from some defensive responsibilities.”
David Gass is a hummus aficionado with no soccer knowledge to speak of.
“Muyl’s a super hard worker and is pretty athletic can run for days,” Gass said. “He will work hard in a low block though and his speed will show in transition. But I would say he is a solid MLS piece for low cost.”
I did a little scouting of my own. For example, you can watch Muyl play for Red Bull II against your very own Nashville Soccer Club in a previous incarnation just a couple years ago. You will also hear Mr. Gass’s voice (in case you did not realize I was joking about his soccer chops, he’s an ExtraTime regular and the PBP voice for NYRBII. But he does freakin’ love hummus):
Muyl played 68 minutes in that game, so unless you are, like me, an insane person, you may not want to watch. Fortunately, I did the work for you.
Muyl is a high-motor winger who fits the Red Bull system well: he’s very active in the press, has pretty good tackling technique, and fairly extraordinary (in league-wide terms – maybe not within the Red Bull cohort) spatial awareness.
That manifests itself on – and leads to – offense, too. This clip from one of his two appearances for NYRB in the MLS is Back tournament shows his ability to get into a good position to win the ball back when the ball-carrier is pressured, and the vision to fire an exceptionally heady pass into a scoring position.
The other two things that jumped out to me were just OK ball skills – especially receiving, he’s not clean with his technique, and he makes up for the same on the way out by having that vision he demonstrated in the clip above (and with some regularity: this is just an exemplar, not the full resume) – and sprint speed that’s not inspiring.
Obviously pure speed isn’t everything in soccer. Going from a system where his spatial awareness and lateral movement are the keys, and into one where a goal is to get wingers in behind… I will say the idea that he’s a defensive specialist as expressed by both experts above seems fair.
Mo Adams, is a fine player. He’s also a central midfielder who isn’t necessarily known as an outlier at the position for his speed. You would like your winger to be able to run by that guy. Nah:
Of course, that’s not damning, but you do see where a bit of a ceiling lies. A defensive specialist who can strike on the counter a bit, and a players whose great vision can make up for a lack of ball skills at times.
He’s played everywhere across the front line in his time with Red Bull, but I almost wonder if he could be shifted inside, where his athleticism and motor would both be very good, and his vision could help him progress the ball nicely. He’d have to be cleaner with it at his feet to avoid putting his team into scary situations after turnovers, however.
In all, he’s a guy who’s still developing, and whose skillset can be honed in a different way in Nashville than maybe the Red Bull system emphasized. For a reasonably cheap price (the asking rate for international slots is around $50k in GAM), and with the benefits that Homegrown status can provide, that’s a more-than-worthwhile deal.