This will count as Part 1 in a season preview package. Let’s set the stage for what the roster will look like.
The dawn of the 2021 season will see the Roster Compliance Deadline – the date at which Nashville SC’s roster must fit within the bounds of the league’s roster rules – hit on April 16. Let’s take a look at where the Boys in Gold stand in relation to those rules right now.
While MLS rules are always shifting slightly, you can get the general idea of what we’re workin’ with in some of my previous posts on the byzantine regulations. Also, thanks to Cincy Soccer Talk for a bit of the inspiration in how to break it down. Quite frankly, chart-style might make more sense as a standalone page, but I like to explain things a bit, as well, particularly with the proportion of Nashville SC fans who are new to the mechanisms of MLS roster rules.
These players are on the 20-man senior roster, but a large proportion of their salaries is “off budget.” Each team is limited to three designated players.
Jhonder Cádiz – Was a designated player in 2020. Joined mid-season and is expected to be a DP going forward, as well.
Randall Leal – Began 2020 as a player on a Targeted Allocation Money salary (i.e. can be a designated player, but his salary is in a range that means he doesn’t have to be a DP, depending on Nashville’s other options). Moved to DP status when it became clear Nashville wasn’t going to have the opportunity – or maybe need – to supplement Mukhtar with two fellow DPs in 2020. This obviously means he’s still in the range where he could be either.
Hany Mukhtar – The club’s first designated player, Mukhtar is a true DP making over the threshold for potential TAM status (as is Cádiz).
Rodrigo Piñeiro – The MLS roster website lists Piñeiro as a DP, though it’s worth noting that those public-facing pages are often riddled with mistakes (for example, listing players as non-homegrowns when they are HG and vice versa, mistakenly giving or not giving “loaned out” status to various players, etc.). He’s on the lower end of DP salary at the very least. Depending on how Nashville SC wants to amortize the acquisition costs*, he may not even be a guy who requires Targeted Allocation Money, or could fit under the “Young Money” initiative that the league has not revealed details on.
* NSC had to pay a nominal transfer fee to his Uruguayan parent club, Peñarol, even though his intra-national loan to Danubio was set to expire before he signed with Nashville.
By making Leal a Designated Player last year, Nashville accounted for his entire transfer fee on the 2020 salary budget (with the DP status), and will likely do so with Piñeiro this year. The alternative to that is by making him a “special discovery” player, a mechanism through which the transfer fee would be amortized over the life of the three guaranteed years on his contract. However, teams are only allowed one special discovery player at a given time, so that would limit Nashville’s options for future acquisitions, and is unnecessary when the DP slot is available, as long as Nashville uses it properly.
That said, I’ll reiterate again that Piñeiro’s budget hit (even with the transfer fee) is expected to be within the range that can be bought down with Targeted Allocation money, so there’s summer-window flexibility.
Homegrown players under age 26 are off-budget until they reach a certain compensation threshold (and even that is malleable depending on an HG subsidy from the league). More importantly, the final two active roster slots – 29 and 30 – can only be filled by players with HG status.
Handwalla Bwana – developed by the Seattle Sounders and acquired last season from that team, Bwana is a 21-year old HG filling either roster slot 29 or 30 (though the MLS website incorrectly lists him in 25-28).
Nick Hinds – Another former Sounder, Hinds was acquired in a trade this offseason. At 23, he’s also eligible to fill slot 29 or 30, and fills one of those slots.
Alex Muyl – Not listed as an HG on the MLS roster website (remember what I said about it being riddled with inaccuracies?), the 25-year old is eligible for some – not all – HG privileges in 2021. The former New York Red Bull will fully age out of HG status at the end of this season, though. For now, he could be on the Supplemental Roster in slots 21-24 with the HG subsidy, but he makes enough money that it doesn’t serve Nashville to put him there instead of the senior roster.
This category includes players – who must be in roster slots 21-24 – who were selected in the SuperDraft before completing their college eligibility. Essentially it’s a group that Adidas subsidizes to convince them to leave college early.
Jack Maher – Nashville’s top SuperDraft pick in 2020 fits into this category.
There were only three GA players in the 2021 SuperDraft (Calvin Harris, Philip Mayaka, and Danny Pereira), and Nashville didn’t have the opportunity to take one. Those three players ended up with FC Cincinnati, Colorado Rapids (loaned to USL affiliate Colorado Springs Switchbacks), and Austin FC, respectively.
Teams begin each season with eight international slots. Unlike DP slots, these are tradable. Nashville SC has very much taken advantage of that privilege:
- To New York Red Bulls (until summer window) in deal for Alex Muyl
- To Atlanta United for $175k GAM
- To Vancouver Whitecaps for $175k GAM
- To FC Cincinnati for $175k GAM
- To Vancouver Whitecaps in a multi-part deal involving the swap of SuperDraft positions
That leaves the club at three available roster slots until the summer window. The following players are internationals:
- Jhonder Cádiz
- Randall Leal
- Hany Mukhtar
- Miguel Nazarit
- Rodrigo Piñeiro
It’s no coincidence that a lot of guys filling DP slots are also guys filling international slots. The exception, Miguel Nazarit, does not count against international slots because he’s loaned out to Independiente Santa Fe in his home country of Colombia. Even with that in mind, there are still four international players and only three international slots to go around. How shall this problem be solved?
The expectation is that Randall Leal and/or Hany Mukhtar will receive their green cards by Friday (or more likely, have received them already and the club is waiting for a rainy day to announce them). That would take them out of international roster designation, just like fellow non-American/Canadians David Accam (like Nazarit, off-roster anyway on loan to Sweden’s Hammarby IF), Tah Brian Anunga, Dominique Badji, Abu Danladi, Aníbal Godoy, and Daniel Ríos. Green cards are massively important, amnd presumably we’re close to hearing about one or two.
NSC will also add five college players when their seasons end (in the case of Sondre Norheim, the end of the season has already arrived), though NSC General Manager Mike Jacobs has previously said that there are three off-roster spots available to those guys, plus Nashville will almost certainly loan at least a couple of them out to get USL experience, rather than trying to bring them in immediately. (Norheim, a citizen of Norway, is not a green-card holder yet – at least not that Syracuse has publicized – so he’d take an international slot, too. USL beckons in his future).
I would anticipate that all begin their professional careers on-loan – remember, Jack Maher was the second overall pick last year, and still started with Charlotte Independence – though NSC has those three flexible spots to bring them back to Music City for training sessions, presumably after pandemic restrictions are eased for travel an the like.
Seeing guys return from USL loans as the club needs them (and as they adapt to the professional game) later in the Summer seems the most likely outcome for them. I wouldn’t guarantee we’ll see much in the way of MLS debuts.
So: pending the specific accounting mechanisms Nashville SC uses to deal with one Designated Player and one International Player too many – which, assuming the green card situation, should be no sweat – we have a fairly solid picture of what the roster looks like right now.
There are currently 28 on-roster players (Accam and Nazarit, out on loan, do not count – though depending on how much their loan homes are paying them, their salaries may still affect NSC’s overall budget spend), and with two HG players in slots 29 and 30, there are two openings to sign an additional player.
Indeed, if both Leal and Mukhtar end up with green cards by Friday, Nashville could actually have one open International Slot, and could sign a player from abroad. Given that Leal and Piñeiro are both in the DP gray area (based on last year’s numbers, since the full details of the updated CBA and roster rules have not been publicly released yet: making over the maximum budget hit of $612,500, but under the “you absolutely must be a DP” mark of $1,612,500), NSC could reconfigure some designations for the summer window and even sign an additional Designated Player (and will get back another International Slot from New York Red Bulls, opening a whole world of possibilities).