Nashville SC

Nashville SC preview: 2022 MLS SuperDraft

I do not suspect we’ll see a bus trip – or a Jack Maher-level player – from NSC today.

It doesn’t carry quite the same cachet as it does in other American sports (such is the nature of being a global game), but the MLS SuperDraft is always an exciting time of year nonetheless. It’s unlikely any team unearths the next Lionel Messi – heck, it’s unlikely in this day and age that a team unearths the next Dax McCarty – but contributors can come from the college ranks.

Let’s take a quick look at where Nashville SC stands. A reminder from my post the other day as it relates to draft positions:

First round, No. 26 overall (acquired from Philly Union along with two 2021 picks for $50k in GAM last year)

Second round, No. 38 overall (acquired from LAFC along with $350k GAM in an Allocation Order swap in preseason 2020)

Third round, No. 77 overall (natural third-round pick)

Jan. 6

Now let’s talk through what NSC may do this afternoon.

Where’s the value?

Not just for Nashville SC, but for all clubs, there’s diminishing value the lower you get in the SuperDraft. This has big “duh” energy (that’s why there are drafts in the first place), but the difference between “first year contributor” and “literally never contributes in MLS” can be as narrow as the first dozen picks of the draft in this league, and nobody will bat an eyelash.

So to get top talent, you generally need either a pick in the Generation Adidas spots (because these are underclassmen that the league convinces to turn pro early because they’re so good), or one of the top several graduating seniors. The size of the GA class – and the number of worthy seniors – fluctuates year to year, but generally that’s where you find potential contributors.

There’s additional value in Generation Adidas players, because they’re off-budget as it relates to the salary cap. Jack Maher made $134,000 and $149,000 in the past two years, but not a dime of that hit Nashville’s salary cap. That’s additional value not just because GA players tend to be the best prospects in the SuperDraft, but they’re very good and very free!

If you have a willing trade partner, moving up into the GA spots rather than waiting until, say, No. 26 overall is probably worth the money. Spending $100,000 or more in GAM to move up to No. 5 or 6 is a no-brainer if you’re a team (like Nashville, though unlike Philly or others with strong academies) that can use players that you find in the Draft. If you use that pick to draft a player who then makes $150k – but who costs you nothing on the salary budget – you’re better off than not trading up, picking a lesser player and having his $64,000 salary hit your budget. You’ve saved 14k in cap space and most likely ended up with a better player.

Positionally, you’re unlikely to find elite attacking players in the SuperDraft. There are exceptions, like Daryl Dike, but for the most part, the guys who are coming out of the Draft are going to be older (attacking players can be identified at a younger age, and peak at a younger age), and more domestic (the US produces fewer top technicians than countries where the game has been played longer), and physical (thanks to the nature of the college game, this is advantage defenders). Exceptions as simple as NSC midfielder Luke Haakenson exist. That’s a late value pick, though – and fortunately one that seems to be working out.

It’s wasteful to pick international players in the Draft. I was surprised when Nashville SC picked Syracuse’s Sondre Norheim last year. With a limited number of international slots available, committing one to a younger player and less-likely contributor is not the best use. That’s particularly true for a club like Nashville, that sees International Slots as an asset to trade away (and probably helps explain, in part, why Norheim never signed with NSC). Eyeballing the list of eligible players, I estimated 57 of them would require international slots (65 if Canadians count, since it’s been left ambiguous why Alistair Johnston didn’tj require an international slot).

The best players come from the best leagues. The ACC, Pac-12, and Big Ten are going to be safer bets than players from smaller conferences. That doesn’t mean you should write them off entirely – 2020 GK pick Elliot Panicco came from UNC-Charlotte, Haakenson from Creighton, and a couple of last year’s picks from mid-majors, as well. But it’s inherently a riskier pick, since the competition level is farther below MLS.

What should Nashville SC do?

If GM Mike Jacobs doesn’t have a trade partner to climb into the top 10 picks or so, it’s unlikely that Nashville has draft positions that will yield serious contributors (though you’d trust his staff’s knowledge of the college game to do as good a job finding them with late picks as anyone else in the league). NSC is unlikely to find players who fit the club’s specific needs – a player to compete for the starting right back position, and meaningful depth in attacking positions.

I’ve long felt – though it’s clear Jacobs doesn’t necessarily agree, believing there’s late-round value – that Nashville should use later picks to support soccer in the state. Players from Tennessee (or with NSC connections) returning to Nashville, beginning a pro career in town, and either proving to be good enough – or being able to raise the level of the game in the region, helping improve NSC’s returns from the academy in the long run if they stick around and become coaches – seems a good fit. Dudes with a connection beyond “this team drafted me” are more likely to put down roots and raise the level for all.

A couple intriguing options:

  • Nashville native Nick Dauchot from Loyola Marymount is a 6-5 defender who led his solid West Coast squad in minutes. He didn’t attend high school in Music City (he was a boarding student at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota, which participated in the Development Academy).
  • Wake Forest fullback Holland Rula trained with Nashville SC’s USL team early in his college career. If he’s not picked, he’s planning on a grad-transfer year at High Point.
  • Roberto Molina/Frank Daroma are both pros who played at Las Vegas Lights this season (and were among the most-used players for that team), and guys with pro experience are not easy to come by in the SuperDraft. Both played high school ball with Barca Academy in Arizona, but one or both might be international slot-requiring (El Salvador/Sierra Leone, respectively).
  • Wisconsin-Parkside forward Rade Novakovich may not play a value position or come from a power program, but he’s the younger brother of a USMNT striker (Andrija), and if a late-round draftee is not likely to be a contributor, might as well be someone whose name is going to bring a bit of buzz – and of course, family history may indicate that there’s upside.
  • Nyk Sessock checks a couple boxes, a defender who played at Indiana and comes out of the Philadelphia Union Academy that Nashville SC seems to admire bigtime (Penn State midfielder Seth Kuhn is not only a fellow Big Ten/Union combo, but also started his college career in the ACC at Jacobs’s beloved Duke program).

All told, though, if Nashville doesn’t move up into a higher-value slot, it’s likely that Jacobs and his staff are unearthing gems that we may know nothing about.

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