Miguel Nazarit photo by Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country
Nashville SC’s inaugural MLS season was a success. How did the individuals grade out according to the subjective whims of Club Country USA dot com?
Players who actually saw field time will get their own dedicated posts. However, in the name of eliminating redundancy, those who didn’t play for Nashville SC this season have been grouped into two cohorts and discussed together. After those who won’t be back, we take a look at those who will have a second year in Gold.
Midfielder Luke Haakenson
The expectations: Haakenson was always destined to be loaned out in his rookie year. That’s a fairly typical path for draft picks outside of the top 10-15 or so – even in a normal year, when there are many more minutes to go around. Indeed, it wouldn’t have surprised to see fourth-rounder Haakenson not even sign with the MLS side, but rather head directly to USL Championship.
What happened: Charlotte Independence was Haakenson’s loan destination. In 1077 minutes (ninth on the team) he scored three goals and recorded two assists – standalone second and a tie for third on the team, respectively. While he contributed in multiple midfield and attacking roles, he settled in as an offense-minded wide midfielder or pure winger, and was crucial to the Independence’s 8-4-4 record. Charlotte fell to Charleston Battery in the first round of the playoffs.
The grade: B-plus
The future: Given the expectations, Haakenson probably did everything he could this year; he was never really going to be a Nashville SC contributor as a rookie. Indeed, he played well enough to force the Independence to play him over guys that they had internal incentive to develop (because unlike him, those guys will be back with the Independence in the future). He may never be a top-shelf MLS player, but he’s certainly done enough to give himself a chance to stick with the senior team to begin 2021.
Defender Miguel Nazarit
The expectations: Signed on a TAM deal out of his native Colombia, the expectations were fairly high for the 23-year old. Certainly being an every-match contributor in a backline that had Dave Romney and Walker Zimmerman in the starting lineup was not realistic. But given the budget hit and international slot use, at least seeing some time on the pitch was a fair goal.
What happened: Nazarit was caught in a bit of a no-man’s land, too good (and too international-slot-use-y) to go on loan in USL, but not good enough to beat out Jalil Anibaba and Jack Maher – among a couple others – for backup minutes in central defense. He didn’t see the pitch, and only made the matchday squad once (the draw with Minnesota United).
The grade: D-plus
The future: The calendar was certainly compressed this year, with games from mid-August through the end of the regular season (and then again, inexplicably, in the playoffs) coming two-a-week. On the flipside, there were simply far fewer games than there are in a typical year: Nashville SC played 23 times in the regular season and thrice in the playoffs, whereas they’d take part in 34 regular-season games and a two-plus US Open Cup games before the postseason in a typical year. Minutes were both easier and more difficult to come by than usual. He’ll have to beat out Anibaba or Maher to show that he has a future in Nashville, though.
Goalkeeper Elliot Panicco
The expectations: Panicco entered the year as Nashville’s No. 3 keeper behind Joe Willis and Adrian Zendejas, but was considered the player of the future whenever the veteran Willis was ready to move on a few years down the road. Panicco was perhaps looking forward to some early-round US Open Cup minutes and a regular-season outing or two (if he even managed that much action).
What happened: The playing-time situation that struck down Nazarit was even worse for Panicco, given only one goalkeeper sees the field at a time – and Joe Willis didn’t miss a minute. Panicco was good enough in training that the front office was confident to deal Zendejas mid-season, adding a USL keeper on loan while specifically pointing out that he was third on the depth chart. Forcing out a guy with extensive USL and MLS experience wasn’t half-bad for a rookie fresh out of college, and if Joe Willis had been anything less than 1) an ironman and 2) a fantastic performer, Panicco may have had his professional debut.
The grade: C-plus
The future: The grade may be harsh given the circumstances, but the reality is that there was a level of performance that would have been enough to give him a match or two. Nonetheless, NSC signed Brady Scott seemingly exclusively to provide Expansion Draft cover for Panicco, and his grip on the No. 2 spot is ironclad at this point (pending the addition of a third keeper). With a more typical season, he should get Open Cup and rest-Willis minutes in 2021.
If I said upcoming players in this series actually saw the field, is that something you might be interested in? Hope so!