Nashville SC

Nashville SC 2021 preview: Striker

Daniel Ríos photo courtesy Nashville SC/Major League Soccer

The final piece. Perhaps the most important piece. Certainly when it comes to improving on last year’s results, the most important piece. Probably. What will the goal-scorers do this year?

Previously: Schedule part 1Schedule Part 2Schedule Part 3
GoalkeeperCenterbackFullbackCentral midfieldCentral attacking midfieldWingerStriker

Depth chart

Player AgeExperienceHow acquired
Jhonder Cádiz 2511th pro (2nd MLS/Nashville)Signed as an international Designated Player
Daniel Ríos 266th pro (2nd MLS/Nashville)USL Discovery
CJ Sapong3211th pro/MLS (1st Nashville)Free agent signing
Dominique Badji287th pro/MLS (2nd Nashville)Trade with FC Dallas for $325k combined allocation money
Abu Danladi254th pro/MLS (2nd Nashville)2020 Expansion Draft pick
Leroy Enzugusi21NCAA2021 SuperDraft (with Drake University through Spring)

The starter

Nashville has added a ton here, but for the most part, you’re still looking at providing more options, rather than tacking on a surefire starter.

Obviously, the hope is that Jhonder Cádiz becomes that, and he showed pretty well in the final few games of 2020. But when you also sign CJ Sapong this offseason, it’s either an indication that you aren’t 100% sold on the guys that you have (or you want to add an incredible locker room presence without worrying if it’s going to destroy the confidence of one or two of the guys you have). I remain convinced that Daniel Ríos is the best player – not necessarily “striker” or “fit,” but damn good at each of those, as well – that Nashville has available. He’s also hurt way too frequently (including being listed as “out” for the opener) to give a front office confidence he lives up to the potential.

So given the improvement of Nashville SC’s offense once he became eligible to compete, Jhonder Cádiz is the headliner here. He may very well end up the best player! But on a per-96 basis, he was Nashville’s fourth best player at the striker position. Small sample sizes can be misleadingly negative, just like they can be misleadingly positive. But a panacea, he ain’t. (And while I expected – and continue to expect – him to be good, I have been skeptical of his bona fides as some game-changing attacker).

Quite frankly, I think Sapong was added not just as a high-floor depth piece, but rather because he’s a starter-quality player who will get many opportunities to start. His availability and longevity being primary traits could be an insult in a lot of contexts. Given what NSC hasn’t gotten from its other personnel to date, we may very well say it’s an undervalued asset:

Sapong years are blue dots.

That’s a dude who plays a lot of minutes, and while it may not be the most-ringing endorsement of him… see above.

Up next

In-depth discussion of three guys for a single spot while we still have three to discuss (OK: two, Leroy Enzugusi ain’t makin’ his Nashville MLS debut this year) means that there will be two guys here. Given Dom Badji and Abu Danladi both have starts at striker in this very same system within the past 12 months, and I’m still bordering on “afterthought” territory says a lot about this position for Nashville: some guys who could show out and be true elite strikers in this league, but more notably a ton of guys who have that potential and are yet to show it.

If Badji and Danladi are the fourth and fifth guys on your depth chart, you have great depth of talent. Given the above, I wouldn’t guarantee that either of them is all-too-far from, like, the top spot.

The outlook

Because of the number of potential starter-caliber guys on this roster, there’s a very high floor. Nashville SC’s system may mean “high floor” doesn’t even approach double-digit goals, but it’s far better than the alternative.

But the fact that the floor and the ceiling don’t feel that far apart right now is potentially problematic. If Cádiz lives up to potential in a way he didn’t last year (and I may come across as skeptical, but a dude coming off a six-month break during a global respiratory pandemic can get the benefit of the doubt once and once only, IMO), or Ríos can please stay healthy… the ceiling is a heck of a lot higher than it may seem at this point.

The truth, by the principles of statistics and probability, is almost certainly somewhere in-between. Where in that admittedly-large range it ends up… may be the defining characteristic of this Nashville SC team.

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