Training photo from file – Tim Sullivan/Club and Country
With Nashville SC eliminated from the MLS Cup Playoffs Sunday afternoon, the calendar unofficially flips to the 2022 season. Yes, we still need to find out which of the remaining sides – NYCFC and Philadelphia Union in the East, Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake in the West – will hoist MLS Cup. But from a Nashville SC perspective, it’s full steam ahead.
MLS clubs are required to submit their roster decisions to the league on the day after elimination from the playoffs (those that missed the postseason entirely had until Nov. 23 – and Gary Smith mentioned a 48-hour period, so it may not be a strict “the very next day!” rule). Soon enough, we should have an idea of who Nashville SC intends to move forward with. In 2020, NSC’s decisions were due to the league by Nov. 30, and the club announced them Dec. 2. There shouldn’t be much of a delay.
When the club moved from USL to Major League Soccer, the first indication that official roster moves would be announced soon came in the form of outgoing players bidding their goodbyes to the club, and we may very well be on the front-end of that:
Thanks to the MLS Players Association, we also have an idea on several guys (those who have been in the league long enough to be eligible for free agency):
- Jalil Anibaba and Abu Danladi are out of contract at the conclusion of the 2021 season.
- Aníbal Godoy, Dan Lovitz, Rodrigo Piñeiro, Daniel Ríos, Dave Romney, CJ Sapong, Joe Willis, and Walker Zimmerman are all on guaranteed contacts through at least the 2022 season.
- The free agency-eligible players who are subject to team options (which largely constitute the majority of the roster decisions) are David Accam, Dax McCarty, Bryan Meredith, Eric Miller, and Alex Muyl.
We also know based on previous releases that rookies Thomas Judge and Tor Saunders were guaranteed through 2021 with three one-year club options through 2024, as was classmate Koze Donasiyano. (Their fellow draftees, Leroy Enzugusi and Sondre Norheim, did not sign with Nashville SC with the former appearing to be out of soccer while the latter plays in the second division in his native Norway with hometown club Bryne FK).
2020 draftee Jack Maher’s Generation Adidas contract means he’s off-budget for one more year, and that NSC General Manager Mike Jacobs loves to take advantage of the MLS rules as much as possible.
Defender Dylan Nealis was guaranteed through 2021 with two one-year team options, while Aké Loba is guaranteed through 2023 with a team option for 2024.
That still leaves plenty of unknown:
- Tah Brian Anunga
- Handwalla Bwana
- Jhonder Cádiz – on loan from Benfica, Nashville has a purchase option
- Robert Castellanos (signed in preseason, shortly before MLS house style changed to indicate lengths of contracts when signed)
- Luke Haakenson
- Nick Hinds
- Alistair Johnston
- Matt LaGrassa – as you can see in the embedded tweet above, he’s already indicated that he will not be renewed
- Randall Leal
- Hanny Mukhtar
- Miguel Nazarit
- Elliot Panicco
- Taylor Washington
So with that, we have to make some guesses. I’m going to err on the side of Jacobs leaving himself more roster flexibility to build in Year Three, so it would not surprise if my predictions end up being more conservative than who actually ends up sticking another year.
- Option exercised (free agent pool): Dax McCarty, Eric Miller, Alex Muyl
- New contract negotiated (free agent pool): Jalil Anibaba
- Returning (either on guaranteed contract, loan option purchased, contract option exercised, or new contract negotiated): Brian Anunga, Jhonder Cádiz, Robert Castellanos, Koze Donasiyano, Aníbal Godoy, Luke Haakenson, Alistair Johnson, Thomas Judge, Randall Leal, Ake Loba, Dan Lovitz, Jack Maher, Hany Mukhtar, Dylan Nealis, Elliot Panicco, Rodrigo Piñeiro, Daniel Ríos, Dave Romney, CJ Sapong, Tor Saunders, Joe Willis, Walker Zimmerman
- Outgoing (options declined or out of contact): David Accam, Handwalla Bwana, Abu Danladi, Nick Hinds, Matt LaGrassa, Bryan Meredith, Miguel Nazarit, Taylor Washington
These are obviously guesses! I could very easily see a way, say, Eric Miller moves along despite playing his way into Gary Smith’s good graces in the latter portion of the season (particularly since I expect fellow RB Dylan Nealis to stick around). I could – perhaps even more easily – see Taylor Washington continue to provide pace that basically nobody else on the team can.