Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs met with the media after his club’s two picks in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft. Watch or read his full comments here.
“It was an exciting offseason for us. We’ve had a couple of goals and aims that we were hoping to try to accomplish, and we kind of feel like ‘mission accomplished’ from a standpoint of: most teams that have the asset war chest that we have right now tend to be usually teams that are really poor from the standpoint of either maybe in American sports leagues teams that draft very high, have a lot of picks, usually haven’t done very well the year prior. Teams with allocation money tend to be usually teams like expansion teams. So one of our goals was to get into a situation where we could kind of weaponize our roster, and have the assets to do the things we want to do, but also have a roster that we believe is as competitive as any third-year club in MLS in recent history.
“So we’re encouraged about where we are right now, and we think today’s additions in the SuperDraft helped us move forward in that process, as well.
What did you like about Ahmed Longmire in a CB-heavy draft?
“For us, I think we went to bed last night thinking about ‘what do we have to do to move up to get the guy that we identified as our top choice?,’ which was Longmire. When you look at the other players that we identified, our feeling was the guys we wanted – and specifically our top choice – would not be around at [pick No.] 26.
“So for us, our hope was trying to identify other teams that maybe would offer us the opportunity to move up. Maybe looking at the fact that we were doubling down on our ability to identify talent, and maybe try to grab someone in a spot where – as we’ve done most of our last two years – try to identify potentially undervalued players externally that we valued highly, and maybe try to acquire them without giving up as much as possible.
“Someone like Longmire for us, I had a chance to watch him extensively. Our staff – and I would say when you look at the job that Chance Myers, our Director of Player Personnel, a group of guys that worked closely with him, Luke Sassano, Ike Opara – I think very quickly for us, we kind of felt like the best centerback on the board for what we were looking at was him. For us, whether we played with three centerbacks or two centerbacks, knowing in a World Cup year that Walker [Zimmerman] would be away quite a bit, for us to be able to strengthen our depth with not only a person that was the best player on the board, but we thought fit our group the best. That was really important. You’ve heard me talk a lot over the last couple of years about cohesion and fit, and for us, it wasn’t just ‘who is the best player on the board’ as far as the best centerback, but for us it was who we thought fit our group the best. We think the combination of tools that he has: his athletic ability, his ability to close players down, his ability in the air, speed in the turn – we just thought he fit really, really well with the guys that we have.”
How did the deal to move up to draft Longmire come about?
“Tim, truth be told, the last 48-72 hours, you start trying to kind of feel out other contemporaries and get an idea of who’s potentially looking to move their pick, who’s going to use their pick. I would say we did start with teams slightly higher than Colorado. From our standpoint, Ii would tell you like, we were committed to kind of do what we had to to acquire him. The lower you go, the more you start to kind of hold your breath and hope that your guy’s still going to be on the board. We got a point when we got to 10 and we just didn’t think he’d be around that much longer, and you start looking at the potential return, how much you’re willing to spend to get your guy. I think for us, working with Colorado, being able to exchange our pick – I think they wanted to stay in the Draft and to trade down – we just though we weren’t going to be able to get the player that we wanted at our spot. So for us, the opportunity to go to 10, we jumped at it.”
What role do you see Longmire playing for your team with an entire CB corps returning?
“It’s a great question, and what I would tell you is that each of those guys are a little different. We mentioned about cohesion, I think initially when we first talked about the idea of pairing Dave [Romney] and Walker together, it’s that they both have unique athletic attributes: Dave’s speed and turn is outstanding, I could probably count – for sure count – on one hand in the last two seasons guys who got behind him. It doesn’t happen very often. And then look with Walker, I think it’s safe to say that he’s the best player in the league in the air, defensively and offensively. Look at what those two present, and when we first looked at Jack Maher – we used to look at Jack before we had Walker, and the guy we compared him to when he was 19, 20 years old was Walker at that stage. We saw some similar attributes for them: literally their height and weight were similar, the things that they do well. What I can tell you that I mention a lot to Jack is Jack played a lot more games and more minutes in his second year than Walker had in his second year. In Dallas, in a very good Dallas team, he had a three-man rotation at centerback between George John, Matt Hedges, and Walker Zimmerman. And eventually Walker went from being the young GA as a 19-, 20-year old rotating in to kind of a linchpin there. We kind of see Jack having a similar ascension in our group.
“For us, I would say Ahmed’s a little – he’s different than those guys, but I would say he’s most comparable athletically, probably, to Romney. From a standpoint in his pace on the turn, I think our thought when we looked at who we would kind of put together, we thought that having another guy with the pace he had and his ability to win balls in the air would be a good fit with that group. I think he’s a good player passing – certainly can improve on breaking lines and connecting passes. Jack Maher was one of the top centerbacks in the league as far as completion percentage in passing, and also in forward passing last year, so I kind of think that whoever we pay Ahmed with – whether it’s one of the three incumbents that played a lot last year, whether it’s someone like Robert Castellanos we think a lot of also – we kind of think that this move helps gives us the right kind of depth whether we’re playing with two centerbacks or three centerbacks.”
What does Sean Davis bring to your team after signing as a free agent, and what do you still have on your agenda for roster-building?
“Sean is someone obviously who’s really well thought-of around the league. When you think what he offers both side of the ball – on and off the field. He clearly is somebody who displays what we talk an awful lot about here: NSC DNA. I think he has that in spades. So for us to add someone who I think can be a linchpin in our group, not only in our midfield, to not only pair him with the likes of guys like Aníbal [Godoy] and Dax [McCarty] and [Brian] Anunga, but to continue to kind of build in this spine that defensively has had the best goals-against average and most shutouts over the first two seasons.
“What I would say about Sean is maybe similar to guys like Aníbal or Dax, I think sometimes in our sport we get too caught up in looking at traditional [position] numbers: players whether they’re a 10 or an eight or a six. I think one thing we talk about a lot is universality, and having guys who are midfielders, as opposed to an attacking midfielder, a defensive midfielder, a box-to-box midfielder. I would tell you: I think Sean fits in really, really well. If I was going to look at the guys we have right now, when you look at someone who maybe has similar attributes to Dax on the field, but with Anibal’s athletic attributes, that’s frightening. So to offer somebody like that and to pair him with these other guys we’re talking about, it’s really exciting to think about what someone like Sean possesses, and what he can add to this already really established midfield and group in general.
“As far as the rest of the offseason, I mentioned about the opportunity to acquire allocation money. We’ve talked in the past about where we just finished the SuperDraft, unlike sports like basketball or football in our country where collecting draft picks tends to be the biggest asset, in our league it’s all about allocation money. So when you look at our plan about trying to run it back from the standpoint of this last Summer we talked about a successful window in trying to tie up our guys long-term, to now have this time of allocation money without losing one of the key guys in our core – and that’s not to take anything away from Alistair [Johnston] because I certainly think a lot of him personally, and I wish him well in his endeavors, for us to be able to add that kind of allocation money, to increase our war chest with the group of players we already have I think sets up for a really encouraging spot for our third season.
“We’re excited about that, and at this stage, I think for Gary and his staff, we head to Bradenton really trying to take inventory. Look at the group of guys that we have right now to make sure that we have everything we need, feel really good about the group of guys that we’re bringing back, and also feel even better about the fact that, at some point, whether to freshen an area up or upgrade something, we have roster spots, international spots, and a war chest of GAM.”
Are there specific areas of the team that you’ll want to evaluate in Bradenton to make sure you’ve met your needs before the season begins? From an outside perspective, replacing your starting right back is one that fans are curious about.
“Look, Alistair was a super-popular player also. He’s someone that we wish the best of luck not only in Montreal, but going forward internationally also. For us, we actually we hoping to upgrade at right back. I think we felt this last year – whether it’s quality of crosses, whether it’s more execution on that flank, I think it’s something that we want to try to improve in. When you look at the players we return, we think that some of those guys can fill in that spot, and we also have some other candidates potentially that we’re going to continue to kind of explore.
“For us, a big thing heading into this season is being able to demonstrate the kind of consistency we displayed our first two years. At home, we were one of seven teams in MLS history to finish a whole season undefeated. On the road, we were fifth in MLS in road points, and had one of the lowest goals-against averages on the road in MLS history. Saying all that, to now have to go to the Western Conference, when you look at not only the idea of shifting conferences, but when you think about one of the farthest Southeast teams in our league having to now have to play that expansive a schedule, when it’s all said and done, we would’ve traveled more miles this season than any team in MLS history. There are very few teams that got into the playoffs each of their first three seasons. Absolutely, we continue to aspire to be one of the very few teams to join that group. To do that, I think the continued ascension of some of our guys: you saw what players like Hany Mukhtar or Randall Leal did from year one to year two, I think you’ll see some similar growth from some other players here on our team. And again, if there are areas that we think we need to freshen up – I have to say very candidly that I don’t know if there’s any spot that I would say I’m worried about going into the preseason; I feel kind of good with the group that we have – knowing that if we do feel we have to, we’re primed and ready to do so.”
What did you see in your second-round pick, Will Meyer, and is there an update to negotiations with backup keeper Bryan Meredith?
“We’ll comment in the coming days about Bryan Meredith’s status.
“In regards to goalkeepers, what I would tell you also is – and you guys known kind of our thoughtful approach about not only using data, but also looking at odds and trends – you see how many centerbacks came off the board in this draft. Certainly it was one where our expectation and our board was we thought we got the top centerback in the draft. When you also look at players who have transitioned from the amateur/college ranks in MLS, it’s not uncommon to see players in the backline do that. For us also, when you see how important the goalkeeper position is, you look at players like Matt Turner, who was a relatively unknown – or Tim Melia, someone like our own Joe Willis – for us, we just kind of joked that we’re just going to keep drafting goalkeepers until we find the heir apparent to Joe at some point.
“We are very happy with Elliot [Panicco], he had a great season in USL this last year on loan. He gained some important experience that he needed to have, but our hope is by drafting someone else today, along with our returning players, that we’ve got a good corps, and they’re kind of ready to go.”