“I am one with the ball, the ball is one with me.”
Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country
Nashville’s top choice in the Expansion Draft went not to the player who would go on to man the net for every second of the season (that would be Joe Willis, who was actually traded for Nashville’s second Expansion Draft pick, Zarek Valentin), but rather a young winger with plenty of potential who may have needed a fresh start after his first club seemed to have moved on from him.
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
Given the value Nashville placed in acquiring him – rarely will you find stars in the Expansion Draft, but certainly regular starters are out there – you’d have expected Danladi to be a key member of the squad. The front office left a Designated Player spot available for a reason (to get mid-season reinforcements up front), but getting a guy domestically who could play on the wing or as a striker was a nice pull nonetheless.
At the same time, it’s worth noting that he was available in the Expansion Draft because another young domestic player (Mason Toye) seemed to pass him on the depth chart in St. Paul. Danladi also had a slight injury history with Minnesota United, so tempering expectations going into the year was smart. A complementary guy who would play a lot when healthy, get in-behind defenses a bit, and help his high-dollar teammates turn technical skill into goals was the objective.
17 appearances • 644 minutes
2 goals, 17 shots (2.20 xG), 4 on-target
1 assists, 7 key passes (0.78 xA)
101/141 passing (71.6% • 79.2% expected)
6.8% of touches on-field
+0.11 Goals added per 96 minutes versus average striker
|Abu Danladi 2020|
|Dribbling G+||Fouling G+||Interrupting G+||Passing G+||Receiving G+||Shooting G+|
Alas, Danladi’s on-and-off injury issues in Minnesota became more of an issue with the nature of the 2020 season. Some of that obviously wasn’t his fault – nobody signed up for a shortened ramp-up period after a respiratory pandemic (uh, during a respiratory pandemic) and then two games a week for three and a half months when the season began. That said, there’s value in availability, and whether it was Danladi’s fault or not, he was too-frequently unavailable.
Given that the main narrative of his year feels like the fact that he was injured a lot, it’s a little surprising in hindsight to see that he played in 17 of the team’s 26 total games. Of course, part of that was that he always seemed to be coming back from injury juuuuust enough to make a substitute appearance, but rarely fully-fit enough to be trusted as a starter and potential 90-minute contributor (his longest run-out all year was just 65 minutes, despite starting seven different games).
When he was on the field, he performed pretty well: the advanced stats (namely ASA‘s G+) are lukewarm on him, but he got into pretty dangerous positions to receive passes, and was decent-enough in a bunch of other ways. Among strikers who played more than 500 minutes last season, he was actually top-30 in combined expected goals and expected assists. That’s despite playing mostly winger, too, and in a system that wasn’t racking up buckets of chances for anyone.
The complexion of Nashville SC’s front four is going to be very different in 2021 than it was in 2020. Strikers Jhonder Cádiz and Daniel Ríos will likely rotate up front (with Dominique Badji third on the depth chart), allowing Danladi to play his more natural position on the wing. Some hypothetical playing time is freed up there with the departures of David Accam and Derrick Jones – though the arrival of Rodrigo Piñeiro obviously eats into that.
As it was last year, the biggest question for Danladi is actually a two-parter: what role does he play on the team? And how does his health status impact that? If he can be fully healthy all year, being a super-sub on either wing and a change-of-pace option as a striker off the bench could see him put up some nice numbers and demand more playing time. If he struggles to be fully fit, it may begin to spell the end of his time in Nashville.