Welcome to Pitch Points, your semi-regular roundup and analysis of some links of interest around the worlds of Nashville SC and US Soccer. As always, make sure you’re following the site on all social media, and if you have a friend who may be interested, don’t hesitate to share.
Nashville SC is gettin’ no respect from the oddsmakers in preseason. The team comes in firmly bottom-half in the odds for MLS Cup. With some other relevant squads included here:
1 LAFC +500BetMGM
2 Seattle Sounders +800
3 Columbus Crew SC +900
T-9 Atlanta United +2000
T-11 New York Red Bulls +2200
T-18 CF Montréal +5000
T-18 Colorado Rapids +5000
T-18 Nashville SC +5000
T-25 FC Cincinnati +10000
T-25 D.C. United +10000
T-25 Houston Dynamo FC +10000
It should come as no surprise that I think those odds are extremely conservative. Consider that Nashville SC finished in a multi-way tie for 13th-best in the regular season last year, and was obviously among the final eight teams standing in the playoffs. Also consider that the finish in the table was accomplished despite playing zero games against perhaps the worst team in league history – meanwhile Columbus got four games, and Red Bulls and Atlanta United each got three against FC Cincinnati – and zero games against five of the worst six teams in the Western Conference. An unbalanced schedule arguably made the team look worse than it was.
Obviously there’s year-over-year change for everyone, but I’ll be surprised if Nashville is the 18th-best team in the league this year. Yes, Vegas odds aren’t quite a “here are the teams ranked in order from 1 to Cincy” endeavor. Nonetheless, NSC looks a bit like a value pick.
Grown at Home
Once a Metro considers the top five Homegrown players in Red Bulls history. there’s a familiar name on there!
3. Alex Muyl (2016–20)
Muyl surprised many by becoming a first-choice starter for Marsch in 2016 and carved out a distinctive role as a type of defensive winger. Muyl’s powerful, direct running was a key part of the high octane Red Bulls system on both sides of the ball. But these attributes often covered up a frequently savvy technique, displayed in such moments as this delightful assist to Bradley Wright-Phillips in 2018.Once a Metro
With an understanding that his offensive contributions are always going to be limited, Muyl is pretty close to culture figure in Music City, as well.
More broadly, MLSSoccer’s Charles Boehm on the intra-MLS market for Homegrowns, revolving specifically around Nick Hinds‘s move to Nashville:
He’s primarily a left back, but the Sounders have been stacked with international-caliber options at that spot for years with the likes of Nouhou Tolo, Brad Smith, Joevin Jones and more recently Jimmy Medranda keeping Hinds stuck well down the depth chart. His contract option was declined this winter, Seattle seemingly content to move on – but Nashville are living in a different reality at the moment.
Nashville’s academy is in its infancy. It will probably take several years to groom their first batches of homegrowns. So they’re keeping a keen lookout for undervalued talent elsewhere to freshen up their squad in the meantimeMLSSoccer.com
On ExtraTime a few weeks ago (find it at about 32:50), Sounders GM Garth Lagerway touched on how the same idea was behind Seattle’s selling (and Nashville’s acquisition) of Handwalla Bwana last Fall.
Obviously Nashville’s long-term future won’t revolve around other people’s Homegrowns – NSC Academy will be producing them eventually – but as a stopgap measure, it’s a good way to get some undervalued players from teams flush with them. Of course, it’s also a way to fill roster slots that wouldn’t otherwise exist until Nashville starts producing its own Homegrowns, as well.
I can’t speak for anyone but myself, of course, but I would imagine the general feeling among the soccer-oriented in Music City is that bringing Nascar back to the Fairgrounds is neutral at-worst, and more likely a positive for Nashville SC. Local businesses bringing strong por que no los dos energy. Of note:
“I think one of the things that was a concern to us was that with the growth, there would be a priority for affordable housing,” Mason explained, “I feel like when the soccer stadium came in, they made that a priority, also making a living wage commitment to people that work at the stadium. I hope if NASCAR does come, that those same sort of appropriations are made, because we really want this to be an area that will welcome everyone.”WKRN
In fairness, Mason is better known in the soccer world as “Soccer Moses,” so that may not be spoken from a purely neutral viewpoint. With the Community Benefits Agreement in place, you’d be hard-pressed to poke a hole in that statement or say it comes from a place of bias.
The club RUDELY waited until I was out of town for its stadium preview event for the media.
Other Boys in Gold
Dax on Dream Together. Meanwhile, McCarty is not considered one of the league’s best five defensive midfielders according to ExtraTime (nor is Aníbal Godoy, who I think most NSC fans would agree is superior as a pure defensive mid, while McCarty is the more well-rounded).
MLS Soccer’s Andrew Wiebe names Hany Mukhtar as Nashville SC’s most-likely MVP candidate, but puts him in the “Team is the star” tier (i.e. not gonna happen):
Nashville say they’re going to produce goals at their Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs level and not their 2020 regular season level! If they do, Mukhtar will play the role of protagonist. If they do, maybe he can sneak in on the periphery of the MVP conversation.MLSSoccer.com
I think there’s a ton of upside for Mukhtar’s 2021 season, but honestly he might not even be my top choice for Nashville’s candidate (which… means “team is the star” certainly has some validity, at least until we have proof otherwise).
Nashville’s three best players entering Year Two.
A Nashville (Brentwood) native is slated for the High School Girls All-American Game. Congrats to Tennessee SC’s LJ Knox.
WondoVision … FC Tulsa’s front office puts in the legwork to learn about the Tulsa Race Massacre … Covid, to me, still sucks. Also to many others … Nashville’s own Desmond Armstrong with a Black History Month feature from US Soccer.
Gary Smith’s unimpressed face. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country