Ahmed Longmire photo courtesy UCLA Athletics
Nashville SC traded up to the No. 10 pick in last week’s MLS SuperDraft with one thought in mind: picking UCLA centerback Ahmed Longmire. When General Manager Mike Jacobs announced his pick, he officially got his man. The 6-3, 190-pounder will become a Boy in Gold.
But what sort of game will be bring? In a modern era of soccer – where players at all positions are expected to be precise technicians on the ball – there may be a lack of appreciation for the old-school art of defending. Nashville SC fans know that their club has built its brand around the opposite: starting with an organized and dedicated defensive unit, and complementing that with talented attacking players. In that regard, Longmire will fit right in.
“He’s a defender,” said UCLA head coach Ryan Jorden. “More and more, there’s not a lot of guys out there, in my opinion, that really embrace defending. And so, he’s a rangy player, he’s got a good athletic skillset, he’s brave, he’s good in the air, and he likes doing the defending side of the game: stuff like blocking shots, stuff that isn’t glamorous, but requires guys who are committed to solve problems. He’s got those qualities.”
At the centerback position, Longmire won’t often be beaten for pace, and you wouldn’t bet against his desire to get stuck in at every opportunity. But there’s still room for his game to grow. The Las Vegas native spent his first two years at Utah Valley University before opting to enter the NCAA Transfer Portal. In search of the highest level of preparation he could get for the professional level (and the highest level of exposure to draw attention to reach the eyeballs of general managers around MLS).
It’s a gamble he took for the best opportunity to make it to the professional level, and one that’s paid off for him – even if there’s still room for growth in his game.
“At UCLA we’ve got a track record and history over the course of time of producing more college and pro players and national team guys than anybody else,” Jorden said. “He saw this as a really great opportunity. And obviously when he went into the Transfer Portal, he probably didn’t know who was going to be looking. I do think when he was an all-region guy as a sophomore, he took a bet on himself, and it’s worked out.
“When he transferred, we knew he had an incredible athletic set. We knew that the defending side was his strength. We knew that he had a huge upside and potential. He wasn’t asked to pass the ball on the floor into midfield, playing interior passes, manipulate the opposing pressing, understanding how to get out of trouble by using the passing angles of it. So it was one of the aspects of it that we knew with his upside and the trajectory of making the step to the professional level that we wanted to really try to enhance for him.”
UCLA’s history speaks for itself: Nashville SC head scout Chance Myers (who had a 10-year MLS career) is an alum. So are luminaries of the game like former US Men’s National Team captain Carlos Bocanegra, three-time US World Cup winger Cobi Jones, and all-time MLS minutes leader Nick Rimando – to name just a few in the program’s storied history. For the Bruins, Longmire put together an Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 campaign as a senior to go along with his pair of All-WAC selections at UVU.
In fact, he may have even had higher honors if not for an injury-limited senior season. And Nashville may have had to trade up to a much higher position in the SuperDraft to grab him if he hadn’t picked up the “injury prone” label this season. It’s not often that a player with Longmire’s talent level comes out of a high-visibility program like UCLA and slides to the middle of the first round. “Injury prone” is something that stuck in the minds of many GMs.
But is the label even fair?
“My belief was that he was going to be a top-5 pick if you’d have asked me in the Summertime,” Jorden said. “But he picked up an ankle injury, and ankle sprains happen in the game of football. Probably every soccer player’s had an ankle injury. So I don’t think that that’s a big deal. The second one was he had a player go through the outside of him trying to get to the ball. So he was planted and they went through the outside of his knee and that opened up the inside of his knee, so he had a mild MCL strain.
“You’re talking about two injuries that are kind of normal soccer injuries. I don’t think injury-prone is gonna be his thing. He’s a really good athlete, and he’s still slender: his body frame is going to take another 15-20 pounds. He has a chance of being athletically a monster, and I think that’s the exciting upside.”
Jacobs hasn’t been one to shy away from a high-potential player with an injury tag – and if Longmire’s college coach turns out to be correct, that tag may not even be deserved in this situation. If Longmire can live up to his potential under the tutelage of not only the Nashville coaching staff, but the experienced centerbacks on the roster with him, the sky may be the limit for him in MLS.