LaGrassa header photo from the USL days. Ryann Lassan Photography/For Club and Country
It’s two USL promotions in a row, as Alan Winn’s report card is followed by a guy who saw a bit more action (as I’m issuing said report cards in reverse order of minutes played). Matt LaGrassa was a useful backup for the inaugural MLS side.
Other editions: No minutes and gone • No minutes and back • Jimmy Medranda • Brayan Beckeles • Handwalla Bwana • Jack Maher • David Accam • Alan Winn • Matt LaGrassa • Eric Miller • Derrick Jones • Jhonder Cádiz • Taylor Washington • Abu Danladi • Jalil Anibaba • Dominique Badji • Daniel Ríos • Tah Brian Anunga
LaGrassa’s strong reputation with the technical staff of Nashville SC has been no secret, but even still, it was a bit of a pleasant surprise to see him as one of only four players on a USL contract subsequently signed to the MLS team. With that in mind, the expectations entering the year naturally had to be measured.
Some time as a backup at multiple positions (he played basically everywhere but defense and keeper for the USL side), and potentially some more-extended time in early US Open Cup rounds beckoned. If the time went exceptionally well, maybe he had the chance to play his way into a larger role.
9 appearances • 421 minutes
0 goals, 2 shots (0.21 xG), 1 on-target
0 assists, 3 key passes (0.16 xA)
159/191 passing (83.3% • 81.5% expected)
9.3% of touches on-field
+0.08 Goals added per 96 minutes versus average central midfielder
|Matt LaGrassa 2020|
|Dribbling G+||Fouling G+||Interrupting G+||Passing G+||Receiving G+||Shooting G+|
LaGrassa did basically exactly what was expected of him and then a little bit more. There were some surprises that ended up being boons (a tight game schedule meant resting and minor injury for CMs Aníbal Godoy and Dax McCarty) and curses (no US Open Cup meant just 23 regular-season games) to his opportunity to see the field.
While he did settle into a primary role as one member of a two-man central defensive midfield, his versatility also shone with some cameos as a wider or more advanced midfielder, and circumstances also forced NSC into some different implementations within the CDM vein (the left-sided member of a very defensive three-man midfield). That’s about what you think you’re getting when you sign LaGrassa off your USL team. He didn’t contribute a ton offensively, but neither did the starting players in those roles, and you’d expect a natural conservatism in activating the backup forward.
The lone knock is that a player in a similar circumstance – Tah Brian Anunga was signed from USL Championship’s Charleston Battery – got over twice as many minutes as LaGrassa, and seemed to win a bit of a head-to-head battle as the top CDM backup. That Anunga is also three years younger than the 27-year old LaGrassa means there’s a bit less upside for Matt, as well.
LaGrassa’s contract option was exercised, and he’ll be back for the 2021 edition of the Boys in Gold. Reprising the role he had last season is the new expectation. With the year he had to adjust to a higher level of play, plus what projects to be a more match-dense season (even if they’re a bit more spread out, adding 11 regular-season matches, plus US Open Cup, plus potential teammate absences for national team or all-star appearances… there’s a lot going on), an incremental step forward is plausible, as well.
There’s also potential to have a bit of a mentorship role: McCarty is 33, Godoy is 30, so it’s likely that NSC looks for a young, developmental player to step into these slots a couple years down the line. A guy like LaGrassa can help teach and instill a bit of the hard-nosed, hard-working mindset that GM Mike Jacobs and coach Gary Smith so appreciate from him. Whether LaGrassa or his hypothetical protégé ultimately ascends into the next available spot (likely after Anunga does so), the shaping of future years is key to establishing a baseline level for the franchise.