Daniel Ríos photo courtesy Nashville SC/MLS
The first player signed to Nashville SC’s Major League Soccer franchise – early enough that he played a year on loan for the USL team – was striker Daniel Ríos. After a long wait, he had his chance to show whether the investment was warranted.
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 • Alex Muyl • Hany Mukhtar • Aníbal Godoy • Alistair Johnston • Randall Leal • Dax McCarty • Dan Lovitz • Walker Zimmerman • Dave Romney • Joe Willis
The fact that the Nashville SC front office showed faith in Ríos as early as it did is an indication of what the expectations should be: high. NSC wanted to ensure that he’d join the MLS franchise and snagged him from North Carolina FC, paid him as an MLS player during the final go-round in USL, and hoped to develop the former Mexico Youth International into an MLS star.
However, bringing in a few guys proven (I guess you can determine the level of sincerity placed into that word) in the league already – Dom Badji, Abu Danladi, even David Accam – with the ability to play up top indicated that he’d have to fight for playing time. The fact that the club left a Designated Player slot open, with not-so-subtle hints that a striker would be the ultimate use for it, provided further indication that Ríos had fans in the administration, but that they weren’t willing to put all their eggs in his basket.
Certainly he was going to be given the opportunity to earn the starting spot, and if he did, star potential beckoned.
21 appearances • 902 minutes
5 goals, 32 shots (5.67 xG), 12 on-target
0 assists, 8 key passes (1.19 xA)
160/199 passing (80.4% • 83.3% expected)
5.4% of touches on-field
+0.23 Goals added per 96 minutes versus average striker
|Daniel Ríos 2020|||||||||||
|Dribbling G+||Fouling G+||Interrupting G+||Passing G+||Receiving G+||Shooting G+|
When Ríos was on the field, he was a borderline elite striker: he was second-best in MLS in expected goals and expected assists per 96 minutes played among guys who played at least 500 minutes (0.73 – only Dallas’s Ricardo Pepi, another guy who played frustratingly few minutes, was better at 0.76, i.e. barely better). He was the top Goals Added player on the roster in terms of both receiving and shooting – two good attributes when you’re a striker, and not the one who played even the plurality of the minutes.
The primary problem, of course, was availability. This dates back to his time in USL, and he has a bit of a reputation as being injury-prone. Some of that is not Ríos’s fault – he originally arrived in Nashville with an acute injury that had gone undiagnosed by the medical staff at North Carolina FC, and probably played a role in his hamstring issues in 2019 – but the fact remains that availability is important, and he’s been unavailable all-too often.
Ríos’s injury (the one that was significant enough to keep him out of the lineup entirely) coincided with the time period that Nashville badly needed help up top, and then when he was healthy again, Nashville needed to prioritize the ramp-up of Jhonder Cádiz after the Designated Player’s arrival and work toward fitness. Had he been healthy all year, it’s not out of the question that Nashville wouldn’t have even felt the need to bring in a DP striker – transfer targets in the Spring were more concentrated on left-footed wingers than finishers.
I’m a believer in Ríos’s ability, so if he’s healthy, he can be part of an extremely impressive CF rotation with Cádiz – and then there’s also the ability to bring CJ Sapong off the bench (while he can get occasional starts to spell the other guys, or in situations where a two-striker formation is preferred). The question is whether he’s going to be able to remain healthy. He’s another year removed from the hip issues in North Carolina, and hopefully more able – with an MLS-caliber medical and training staff – to keep the hamstrings and groin from being impacted by it.
He played around 25% of striker minutes (23.1% based on positional designations on ASA, but Dom Badji, Abu Danladi, and Derrick Jones also contributed significantly in other positions) last season, and if he can be healthy enough, I think he has the opportunity to improve that, despite a depth chart that looks more-stacked than it was a year ago.
If he is healthy enough, a breakout year feels likely. If not, the “what could have been” questions will be premature… but start lurking back-of-mind.