Nashville SC

2020 report card: Jalil Anibaba

Jalil Anibaba photo by Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Back-to-back Expansion Draft picks on the report card docket. Today, a veteran MLS defender who the Boys in Gold took in the third round of that event, pulling him away from New England Revolution.

Other editions: No minutes and goneNo minutes and backJimmy MedrandaBrayan BeckelesHandwalla Bwana • Jack MaherDavid AccamAlan WinnMatt LaGrassaEric MillerDerrick JonesJhonder CádizTaylor WashingtonAbu DanladiJalil AnibabaDominique BadjiDaniel RíosTah Brian AnungaAlex Muyl • Hany Mukhtar

The expectations

Anibaba entered the year as a 31-year old player (he turned 32 late in the season) with some mild injuries in his past during something of a journeyman career – six clubs in nine years. However, he’s also a guy who had a pre-existing relationship with Mike Jacobs, having overlapped for a half-season at Sporting Kansas City, and those relationships and knowledge have been an important piece in evaluating who’d be a good fit for the club.

Since Anibaba could play multiple positions (anywhere along the backline, to say nothing of a cameo in goal with Houston Dynamo in 2016), his contributions as a sub in any of them, with spot starts here and there at CB or RB, were the expectation. Even if he made minimal contributions on the field, his personality as an outstanding locker room guy would be a benefit to the club.

The Statistical

13 appearances • 653 minutes

0 goals, 5 shots (0.32 xG), 2 on-target
0 assists, 0 key passes
191/261 passing (73.2% • 72.6% expected)
8.1% of touches on-field

+0.06 Goals added per 96 minutes versus average fullback

Jalil Anibaba 2020
Dribbling G+Fouling G+Interrupting G+Passing G+Receiving G+Shooting G+
-0.07+0.03+0.05-0.09-0.11+0.04
All data per American Soccer Analysis.

The grade

A-minus.

It’s certainly not Anibaba’s fault that Dave Romney played every minutes for the team at CB, while his partner Walker Zimmerman and left back Dan Lovitz weren’t far off. In an unfortunate twist, the coronavirus pandemic – which allowed Alistair Johnston to develop into a starter-caliber player right back before eating up game minutes, and caused Nashville SC to recall Jack Maher from his loan to USL Championship side Charlotte Independence – also helped fill some of the minutes that Anibaba would otherwise have contributed.

Of course, he was still crucial in his time on the pitch. His dribbling, passing, and receiving numbers are fine for a fullback, and certainly so for a centerback (he played both RCB in a four-man backline and in multiple spots in a three/five-man defensive setup). But a guiding principle of this series is that there’s always a level of play at which a guy commands more time on the field with his performance.

All that said, you’d be hard-pressed to find any fault with Anibaba’s role as a leader. Through the unfortunate circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, he helped keep the locker room together. When the murder of George Floyd brought the nation’s racial unrest to the surface, he not only helped shepherd his team through difficult times, he was a founding member of Black Players for Change, and took the opportunity to stand for what was right, even at times when it would have been easier to talk about soccer. That’s exactly the sort of character that Nashville SC’s management consistently talks about prioritizing when building a squad.

The future

Anibaba’s beginning to get up there in years, and while defensive players tend to have longer careers, it’s not gonna go forever for him. A minutes-limited as he was last year, though, most of that was about available time, not about his needing an additional rest due to fatigue or injury. Anibaba was – and should continue to be – available for as many minutes as called upon.

With more games in league play (the typical 34, rather than last year’s COVID-enforced 23), plus the return of US Open Cup, and an international Summer that could see Lovitz, Zimmerman, and Johnston miss time playing for their countries, there will be a lot more time to go around, and more need for a deep bench to fill it (even though the games won’t be coming twice-a-week like they were for most of the return-to-play). Anibaba should be able to step in for any of those spots, and do so well.

Of course, however much – or little – time Anibaba spends kicking a soccer ball in an official match, the intangibles he brings to the locker room and bench are still massive. As a leader, he can be a huge benefit to the team once more, even if much of that production doesn’t come in measurable ways.

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