Nashville SC GM Mike Jacobs and coach Gary Smith discussed their new signing, Venezuelan striker Jhonder Cadiz.
How did you go about completing this signing?
Jacobs: “You know, Gary and I worked closely with our scouting department led by Chance Myers and our analytics department led by Oliver Miller-Farrell at trying to take position profiles that maybe Gary looks for as far as certain qualities in a striker: technically, tactically, physically and psychologically. And then try to have a targeted approach trying to find the best players that we think fit that profile. There’s a number of things that we look for as we start a process like that. It could be the leagues they play in, do they translate to our league? The languages they speak, would they be able to assimilate to our culture and our country, and in our city, and play with their teammates. The qualities they have as a person as well as a player. A number of different attributes.
“Over the last year, obviously the 9 position is as important as you have in any team. When you look at the role that player can have in the changing the fate or the future of that team, we were really excited to not only identify the player that we thought we could attain, that we could be able to attract coming to Nashville and sign, but to be able to do so, for someone that we thought could hit all the qualities of a player we looked for in that role. The fact that he came from a country that’s translated really well in our league – of players coming from Venezuela, but also he’s played in some very strong leagues, some of the best leagues and countries in the world: most recently in Ligue 1 in France, but as well as in Portugal and in Venezuela.
“We really felt really excited about the fact that we got someone that we felt fit all of our needs that we were looking in that role. The reality is, when you think about trying to mitigate risks, in any deal the idea to be able to acquire a player on a one-year loan first gives us the best opportunity to not only assess his talent, but to be able to explore the potential of having Gary and his staff work with him for a year before we have to commit to sign that player long-term, although we are able to sign that player at any point during the course of this loan period.
We’re really excited to be able to add Jhonder, we think he fits perfectly in what we were looking for. It does feel a little bit like Chrsitmas morning where you wake up and run down the steps to see what’s under the Christmas tree. I think to have our present be Jhonder, we’re really excited about that.”
How does this player fit with your philosophy?
Smith: “First and foremost, to echo a couple of the points that Mike has touched on there: this is a process that takes some time. It’s not a decision that’s made overnight and that we’ve jumped on quickly and not explored very deeply. We’ve seen an awful lot of footage of this player, we’ve had contact with this player, we’ve looked into the background of this player, and Jhonder ticks a lot of boxes.
“As far as fitting into the group, Jhonder’s an athletic player, he’s a technically-gifted player. To Mike’s point, he’s played at a very good level and he’s – I think we all believe – he’s at a point where he’s still got a tremendous amount to prove, and he’s I think coming at a point in his career where we have a wonderful opportunity here with a top-class player.
“At the moment, we’re playing with a lone striker, that he’s used to. Will that change in the future? Of course it can. He’s very capable of playing in the pair. But I think as tyou see our team evolve, Jhonder encapsulates an awful lot of what we’re about at the moment, and that’s a team that has a very positive approach, whether that’s with the ball or without it. We’re slowly-but-surely coping with some of the difficulties of MLS and managing the game in a much better technical fashion.
“He’s also a very, very genuine individual. When you look back at some of his footage, he shows a very good team ethic, that of course again ticks a box with the group that we have. Listen, I’m excited. I’m sure when we get him on the ground, it will be even more exciting to have him around the group. I have absolutely no doubt having spoken to the player that he’ll fit in with the group tremendously well.”
What gap does he fill that might currently exist on the roster?
Jacobs: “First, I would say rather than compare him to what we do or don’t have in the current team, l I would rather focus on what his qualities are. The reality is, you’ve seen this year first-hand you’ve had players who have come from Denmark, originally german-born, have come from Costa Rica having played in Belgium, players from different countries who’ve Come right into MLS. Obviously, there’s an adaptation period: It takes time to get used to not only a new league and new teammates, but even a new culture. Hany Mukhtar mentioned the other day that he’s never been asked to play in temperatures like this before. It’s just very different, and I think for us, we’re honest to this adaptation and acclimation that players will have when they arrive, and honestly it takes time.
“Obviously this 2020 season is kind of a truncated season as far as what it represents right now. For someone like Jhonder to be able to come in and have these months here leading up to the ’21 season that help him get settled in is really, really important. I think sometimes players that come in the Summer window, it takes a little bit of an adjustment.
“We just finished playing twice against Orlando City, and one of their key players Uri Rosell came from La Masía in Barcelona in Spain. He came to the city in 2012 in the Summer window. When he first came, he was a shadow of the player that he ended up being in 2013. It took him some time to settle in. After that adaptation period kind of wore off, he became this key guy for a really good team that won an MLS Cup, and he’s obviously doing well for Orlando City now.
“Everyone is kind of different as far as how long it take to acclimate and adapt. I think for us, someone like Jhonder – because he comes from a South American country that might have a similar climate and similar culture to our country – the fact that he’s played in leagues in Portugal and France where you’ve also seen players come in here and do well in transitioning to the league, we think it’ll help as far as aiding in his adaptation.
“As far at the things that he provides as a player, if you asked Gary I think that physically, if he wanted somebody who was tall and good in the air, or really fast, he’d probably respond, ‘yes.’ He wants all of those things. To have someone like Jhonder who has these unique athletic attributes that is strong and physically good in the air, but he also has this breakneck pace that makes him dangerous as threatening to get in behind. He really is the best of both worlds as far as a target player. I think for us, very rarely to you find players like that who are attainable, that you can go out and get. Even more so, players in their prime. You look at players that have come into our league: In MLS 3.0, the league’s constantly evolving. The idea of bringing in 35-plus year-old players based on things that they have done in the past. For us, we try to pride ourselves on finding players in their prime, and identifying players and trying to bring them here based on what they’re going to do. We really kind of thought that he represented a lot of things that we’re looking for in our team, and really fit what Gary wants to do on the field.”
Jacobs: “Obviously, the 2020 season is changing a whole lot. You think, obviously we’ve been through as much as any in the team in the league when you think of what we’ve had to endure between the hurricanes, and what happened in Orlando, rain delays, we’ve kind of seen and done everything at this point. I joked with Gary , when somethiong comes up like this, it’s just snother day for Nashville SC in 2020; we’re just going to expewct this now.
“Where conventional thinking as you move along in 2020 might think maybe you kind of punt to the winter window in 21, I think for us, when the opportunity to go after a player that clearly became our top choice became available for us now in the Summer window, we could only have gotten Jhonder if we did this deal now. That’s why we agreed to do it in this window. As a loan for this first year, because it gave us an opportunity to add him now, take a look at him. The reality is, if we had waited until December or January, a player of Jhonder’s abilities wasn’t going to be available. He was in such high demand, they wewrn’t going to wait around for us three months to do a deal like this.”
How do you envision helping him lift the performances of other players?
Smith: “As you find in most positions on the field when you’ve got massive competition – or very good competition – then you get the best out of players. It’s certainly no different in the front line: it’s easy for everyone to see that we’ve fallen short in front of goal. We’ve created chances, but we’ve found life difficult to convert. Bringing in a player of Jhonder’s ability certainly adds to hopefully the expectation of scoring goals.
“It doesn’t automatically come along that an individual from abroad, who’s played at a very good level scores 15-20 goals. To Mike’s point, it takes some time to adapt. But what we do know is, it’s an area of the field that is vitally important to every team, and we’re no different. We’ve now added an individual who, I firmly believe, is going to be very effective in this league. I’m very, very pleased.
“As soon as Jhonder’s here and he’s able to get work in and to get moving again, we find ourselves with a body that I’m sure will lift not only the expectations of the front line, but there’ll be a nice shot in the arm for everyone in the group.”
How important is it to evaluate him early next year, rather than this weird year?
Jacobs: “We talked a lot when this season first started about getting a chance to see the current group of guys we had and evaluate them. The reality is that whatever season that Jhonder joins when he gets here, it’s going to be like no other season our league has seen.
I joked about this: it’s ironman football that Gary and his guys have been asked to do. It resembles an awful lot of what those who were here in the USL days remember seeing: two games in a week. We just finished 5 games in 15 days – that doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. It doesn’t happen in these kind of weather conditions that you see in our country. We arrived in Dallas for our first match and got off the plane and the temperature was 102 degrees. To manage having to play in those kind of demands, and flying down and back in a day, it’s pretty adverse.
“I think we’re going to learn about Jhonder in the same way that we learned about the other guys we have here. To your point, I think it will be important to see him in a proper preseason. Gary is first and foremost a tactician, but he’s also a really good coach on the field. I think having Jhonder here for matches will be important, but having him get the chance to integrate with our group this season, then being here for a full preseason in January will be really important.
Just as you’ve seen from Hany and Randall in the first year, you’re going to see flashes of what Jhonder’s capable of when he arrives. But I think it’s a good question, because you’re probably going to learn a lot more from him as we head into ’21.
What are you expecting of his adaptation and fitness when he arrives in terms of getting him onto the field?
Smith: “I think we have to assess that when he gets here. We have a plan of action for the player to work out exactly physically where he’s at. From my standpoint, yes I want him involved and putting pressure on that front line and competing for a spot as quickly as possible. I think we also have to be sensible and make sure that he’s in the right physical place. We’ve seen multiple players around the league – the most recent one of course is Matuidi down in Miami – they’re coming from a different schedule and a different rhythm in Europe. It’ll be no different.
“We’ll make sure that he’s in the right place. We’ll get him in the [matchday] 18 or 20 as quickly as we possibly can. But I want to make sure of course he’s in the right place. In terms of how that will affect the group, I genuinely hope that he hits the ground running, he mixes and creates a good relationship immediately with the players that we’ve got in the group. I do think one of the real upsides – whilst there’s many to our group – is we have a fabulous group of players. You couldn’t meet a more genuine bunch.
“That in itself makes transition and the acclimation that much easier. Beautiful city, can’t go wrong. I’m sure he’s going to love it.”
Was your plan a loan – regardless of who the player was – or was it specific to making this deal work out?
Jacobs: “I mentioned before the idea about mitigating risks. The reality is in a perfect world, any club doing business like this prefers the loan with the option to purchase, with a pre-arranged purchase price. There are some deals you do as a loan where there is not a pre-arranged purchase price. So the player come and he kills it, and now the club asks for more than they would have asked a year ago.
“So the reality is not every deal works that way. I think we’re very fortunate that.. we couldn’t have drawn it up in the sand and said this is what we were hoping was going to happen. But the reality is, gun to my head, you’d always want a deal like what we got. Benfica has been a really good partner for us as far as being willing to work with us in this capacity.”
How does he specifically help in the goal-scoring or finishing to ramp up your team’s performance?
Smith: “His style of play, and some of the qualities that Jhonder has – I think for all of us – represent not just a good focal point, but somebody that certainly has the ability in MLS and in the team he’s coming into to make a difference. It goes without saying, otherwise we wouldn’t have been so keen to sign the player. Confidence is a huge issue, you need a player coming in who’s in the right place, and we believe he is.
“You can look at all the aspects of, whether it’s his world as a person or a player, that really put him in a good place. He’s in the peak, in the prime of his career or coming into it. He’s had a terrific move to a top club in Europe, he’s a sought-after individual. And then of course, you can look at the practicalities of the player.
“I can’t tell you that he’ll score 20 goals for us – I can tell you I hope he does – and with the opportunities I believe that the group are making, of course I believe he’ll make a difference. Just as importantly, I think he’ll bring more out of the individuals in the team. I think he’ll raise the bar, and really the expectation of our group internally. At the moment, yes it has been a problem, and I believe that one or two of the guys that we have are going to break out of this funk that they’re in. You see it multiple times where forwards out of the blue will score a brace, one will lit him up the backside and ricochet in without them really knowing, and before you know it, they’re on a different track. That’s how forwards work.
“They have to work hard at getting it right – which they are doing daily – but at the moment it’s not going for them. We’ve looked back at some of the opportunities in Miami. For the large part, you’d have to say that guys like Dominique Badji and Hany Mukhtar should be converting opportunities and chances that are presented to them. I do believe as I’ve said, that that will come good. The addition of a player like this, I think helps everyone. It helps the team, it certainly helps that front line, and I’m hoping it will give the fans and everyone that’s cheering for us a bit of a boost as well.”
How much urgency was there to address this position group right now?
Jacobs: “Honestly, the reality is that I think for Gary and I to do our jobs really well, we can’t live in a world where it gets panicky on a game-to-game basis. For us, I’m really proud that we’ve stuck to our guns as far as our plans, maintaining the integrity of what we wanted to do with our roster build. Felt good about the fact that, obviously this signing of Jhonder comes at the right time, but it also kind of comes not just what our team maybe needs on the field today, but in kind of where we saw this all building out.
“I’ve talked a lot about the fact that how most expansion teams struggle so badly defensively. The reality is in the history of our league, only Seattle has conceded less goals in their first season through nine games. We’ve done kind of what we need to do defensively.
“As Gary mentioned before about creating the chances, look you know, a lot of times I thought that it’s harder to create chances than it is to finish them. The more chances you create, the law of averages the more goals you’re going to score. While it hasn’t happened for us yet, we’re 11th i the league in chances created, look at things like xG-xGA: in some ways, we’re the second most unlucky team in MLS. Looking at the chances we’ve created they’re good chances and we haven’t finished.
“To Gary’s point, at some point some of those are going to be turned around for some of these guys: the chances we create, we’re going to finish. And I think adding someone like Jhonder only increases our odds of being able to do that. When you see what’s happening defensively in our first season, getting those pieces right and being so close to doing that, I think we’re on the verge of having some big things ahead here for this group.”