Randall Leal and Hany Mukhtar photo courtesy Major League Soccer
While Nashville SC’s 2020 season exceeded the reasonable expectations of most fans and observers – a trip to the Eastern Conference semifinal for a club that didn’t even start the season in the East is bound to have some surprises along the way – there’s work yet to be done for Nashville SC in preparation for the 2021 campaign in Major League Soccer. With offseason roster mechanisms in full swing, the club is looking to build upon the foundations established this season.
“We have a nucleus in place,” General Manager Mike Jacobs said.” There’s not a lot needed to get us into the 2021 season.”
A big part of the team’s offseason strategy so far – limited though the moves have been, aside from losing third-string goalkeeper Brady Scott in the Austin FC Expansion Draft – has involved moving international roster slots. NSC traded away a 2021 slot midway through the year as part of a package for midfielder Alex Muyl (acquired from New York Red Bulls). The only public piece of business since the conclusion of the season has been acquiring $175,000 in General Allocation Money from Atlanta United in exchange for another international slot.
According to Jacobs, though, those moves don’t imply a lack of ambition from his franchise when it comes to playing the global market. On the contrary, Nashville has six slots at this time, with four of them occupied (striker Jhonder Cádiz, midfielders Randall Leal and Hany Mukhtar, and defender Miguel Nazarit). That leaves two available – for now. NSC may be opening up room for other international signings by acquiring green cards for some of its talent soon. Leal, Mukhtar, and Nazarit have been in the United States long enough to be realistic options for green cards, with at least a couple likely coming soon.
“We’re selling international spots because we’re flipping green cards so quickly,” Jacobs said. “We’ll have a couple announcements to make there sometime soon.
“There were two moves we made down the stretch of the season that in any other year would have been Winter window moves,” he said, referencing an international transfer for Cádiz and a trade to acquire winger Handwalla Bwana from Seattle Sounders. “Both were able to play for us in ’20, but both moves were made looking into the 2021 winter window.
Those acquisitions worked out reasonably well in 2020 – Cádiz scored two goals and recorded a key pass in 489 minutes between the end of the regular season and Nashville’s playoff run, while Bwana found 95 minutes on the pitch, recording two key passes – but complacency certainly isn’t the name of the game.
New signings aren’t arriving just to fill in a roster (or take up international slots). They’re coming to enhance the overall product.
“We’ll have at least one other attacking player coming in who will push and challenge in that group,” Jacobs said.
With a defensive foundation established after the contract extensions for both starting centerbacks and keeper Joe Willis (along with the return of nearly every minute among fullbacks), adding more attacking punch should be the difference between another solid season that raises an eyebrow or two around the world of MLS, and a year that really gets serious attention, establishing Nashville SC as a contender for years to come.