Now that Nashville SC has lost third-string keeper Brady Scott to Austin FC in the Expansion Draft, we have a better picture of where the roster stands as the 2021 roster build gets ready to kick into gear. Mike Jacobs passed on taking anyone in Round One of the re-entry draft, though Round Two is coming up next week, and that could change the picture. Free agency is ongoing around the league – as is a trade window that remains open for the timebeing.
But where does the roster currently stand? With 25 players under contract (and a 26th, defender Eric Miller, in negotiations to remain in Nashville), there are only a few slots to play with before any wheeling and dealing on the market. Fortunately, Nashville can fill those with senior-roster-eligible players – and could even sign another Designate Player, pending some accounting tricks.
Where is help needed? Let’s take a look at a rough depth chart.
There are a lot of players who are backups at multiple spots (though if they’re comparable spots – the central midfielders or the left and right wings – I tried to only list them in one or the other, with some exceptions). Jalil Anibaba, for example, is a backup at all four positions along the backline. He could even contribute elsewhere, too!
NSC’s starting lineup from last season was pretty settled. There are enough players for a two-deep at every position without any repeats, too. There are a few areas of the field that could perhaps use an upgrade, whether that’s for the starter (honestly – there are few of those) or within the top couple backups. There’s really only a few spots that truly need to be filled.
No. 3 keeper. With Scott’s exit, Nashville doesn’t have a No. 3 keeper. Assuming Elliot Panicco is seen as the keeper of the future (a very safe assumption), an added player would push him for the second spot, and keep competition up in training. Even if Joe Willis can be an ironman again, the club can’t rely on just two goalkeepers for an entire season.
Central midfield depth. Aníbal Godoy and Dax McCarty are both crucial players, but neither is exactly a spring chicken. Tah Brian Anunga is obviously the heir apparent to one of those spots. Matt LaGrassa is a capable fill-in, but even he’s turning 28 before next season begins. Another guy to be brought along to step in for the future (or simply an understanding that a TAM-caliber player is needed down the road) would be nice. Derrick Jones can slot in here, too, but he’s on the depth chart at multiple positions a level higher in the midfield, so moving him to this spot would mean more urgency for players in the midfield attacking three.
Left-footed attacker. Taylor Washington, a converted fullback, is the only left-footed attacking midfielder on the roster. Certainly NSC can get some lefty production from him, and in other ways (such as from fullback Dan Lovitz), but having a winger or central attacking midfielder who provides a left-footed threat gives more balance and adds flexibility. A TAM-level central attacker (to back up Mukhtar and allow Jones to move back a level) would work here, too.
Fullback depth. Even if Miller is able to come to terms on a new contract, Jalil Anibaba is doing a lot of depth char work here. He was the first CB off the bench for much of the year, while he’s a top option at either fullback spot, too. Making life a little less difficult on him in terms of the number of hats he must wear – while also finding pieces to develop for the future behind established starters – would be wise.
The only obvious and specific need is for a third-string (or second-string if Panicco is still early in his development) goalkeeper. Whether that’s acquired within the league – I actually like a few of the re-entry and free agent options – or a repeat of pulling a familiar USL guy, or even going out to find a top-notch goalie to compete for the No. 1 spot, we know another keeper has to come before the season. It’s not a position where you can shoehorn a guy from a similar role into it. Except Jalil Anibaba.
Mike Jacobs has made no secret that an attacking signing is on the way, with the implication that it could be an international (i.e. typically higher-level) player. That could go a long way toward addressing a couple different needs. The depth chart obviously features some positional fluidity, so a specific player doesn’t necessarily need to fill a role.
With the understanding that not every player currently on the roster will be on it come the 2021 season, whether through trades, loans to another level, or some other mechanism, the situation can continue to shift just a bit, too. NSC will probably enter the 2021 season with more than 30 players under contract (with drafted rookies going on loan when the rubber hits the road, for example).
There’s plenty to like about how the NSC roster looks now. There still work to be done before jumping into 2021.