Nashville SC

Nashville SC officially signs Ake Loba

Ake Loba photo by Greg Bartram/USA Today, artwork by Tim Sullivan

Our 18-month saga is over: Ivorian striker Ake Loba has signed with the Boys in Gold. He’s long been a Nashville target (on the team’s discovery list even before kicking a ball in MLS, according to Tom Bogert) and while a deal last year never came particularly close, it’s a “better late than never” situation.

From Club release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (July 7, 2021) – Nashville Soccer Club announced today that the club has acquired 23-year-old Aké Loba via a transfer from C.F. Monterrey of Liga MX. In addition, Nashville SC trades $230,000 in General Allocation Money with the Portland Timbers for an international roster spot.

Loba, who is set to join Nashville SC through the 2023 campaign with an option to be extended through 2024 as a Designated Player, will be available for selection upon receipt of his International Transfer Certificate (ITC) and P1 Visa.

“Aké is an exciting attacking prospect that offers the qualities that our team looks for in a striker, he is a constant goal threat and has the ability to create and finish in a number of different ways,” said Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs. “We are excited to be able to add him to this group, and about what he represents for our club.”

Loba arrived in Monterrey in January 2020 from Universidad San Martín de Porres in Peru after his loan with Querétaro FC expired. As a member of Rayados, Loba registered 795 minutes, while scoring seven goals in all competitions.

In the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinals on April 28, the versatile attacker proved his scoring instinct against the 2020 MLS Cup Champions Columbus Crew by netting the opening goal in a 2-2 draw in the first leg.

The native of the Ivory Coast made his professional debut in the Société Omnisports de l’Armée of his country’s First Division before joining Universidad San Martín de Porres. Following his Peruvian debut as a 19-year-old, Loba made 32 appearances across all competitions, scoring 18 goals and registering six assists in the 2018 season.

After a very successful campaign, Loba was loaned to Querétaro FC of Liga MX where he registered 41 appearances, 11 goals and two assists before moving to Monterrey.

At the international level, Loba has earned four caps for the Ivory Coast U-20 Men’s National Team as they earned a second-place finish in the Toulón Esperanzas Tournament in 2017. In that Final, Loba scored the game-tying goal against England in a contest that ended in a penalty shootout.

Be at Nissan Stadium to witness Loba’s debut with Nashville SC by buying your tickets for an upcoming match at NashvilleSC.com/Tickets, and follow the new Designated Player and the rest of the Boys in Gold by visiting http://www.NashvilleSC.com and the club’s social channels on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Transaction: Nashville Soccer Cub acquires Designated Player Aké Loba via a transfer from C.F. Monterrey; trades $230,000 with the Portland Timbers in exchange for an international roster spot

NSC release

UPDATE: You can watch or read the full introductory press conference with GM Mike Jacobs, CEO Ian Ayre, and Loba himself here.

Loba came up through the SOA academy in his home country, and from there Peruvian side San Martín scouted and signed him. He was loaned to Liga MX’s Quetétaro – an increase in competitive level – and power Monterrey scooped him up at the conclusion of the 2019 season.

It was then – the 2019/2020 MLS offseason – that Nashville SC first made a serious run at him (I was talking about it in December 2019), but the financial heft of Monterrey is… something that an MLS team isn’t going to compete with very often. Nashville’s offer was in the $6 million range, while Rayados eventually paid around $9 million for his services. It was also clear pretty early ion the process that, while Nashville was hypothetically an option for Loba, that lasted as long as it did more to provide negotiating leverage against Monterrey than because NSC was a serious option.

Ultimately, though, the role he had in a year and a half with Rayados was not what he’d dreamed – three appearances in the truncated 2020 Clausura, and 18 across the 2020/21 season, finishing with just six goals in his time in Nuevo Leon – and the player realized it was in his best interest to find a situation with more playing time (while Monterrey likely wants to get some return on a player they don’t plan to use). Slight shifts in MLS rules mean that, at age 23, he leaves Nashville with two open Under-22 initiative slots* because he classifies as a “Young DP” (and former DP Randall Leal, who turned 24 in January, does not). That gave Nashville an additional incentive to add a player like him – beyond anything he actually means on the field.

Per MLSSoccer.com’s Tom Bogert, the fee to land him was $6.8 million, around the range that Nashville bid last time around. Loba’s contract with Rayados ran through the end of 2024.

A quick look at the film shows a player who brings a nice blend of some of the skillsets we already see in Nashville SC’s striker pool in a different package. Loba is fairly one-footed (right) shooting and passing, but he has the technical ability to dribble around and through players with both feet. He doesn’t possess a huge shot, but he has a classic finisher’s mentality. He’s athletic enough to play out on the wing and should provide minutes there, but is primarily a solo striker or member of a striker pair for Nashville. At 5-11, he’s still got enough fox-in-box movement to be a solid aerial threat (particularly on the break). He has decent passing vision and range. Most of his passes in the attacking third are followed by an aggressive run: he’s moving the ball to get it back in hopes of being able to score. His pure goal-hungriness is reminiscent of Josef Martínez of Atlanta United.

Given his age and player profile, he may fit into Nashville’s long-term plans, or he could be one that NSC plans to build value with and then move along down the road. If he breaks out in MLS, he should have resale value in the medium term. He fits a few of the core building blocks for a Nashville SC player: beyond the nice fit in roster-building mechanisms, he’s a West African who has experience in leagues in this hemisphere, and speaks languages (French and Spanish) that should allow him to communicate well with his teammates.

* Players 22 or younger whose transfer fees don’t count against the budget charge – typically high-potential South Americans a la Rodrigo Piñeiro who may or may not be ready to contribute just yet.

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