Nashville SC

Aké Loba signs with Mazatlán FC

Aké Loba photo by Mike Meredith/Club and Country

The answer has finally availed itself. While Nashville SC has not announced any departure for Designated Player No. 3, the club that Aké Loba is joining has announced his arrival. The Ivorian will return to Liga MX to play for Mazatlán FC:

Mazatlán F.C. informa que el delantero marfileño, Aké Arnaud Loba, se integra a las filas del equipo Morado para disputar el torneo Clausura 2023 de la Liga MX.

La Pantera, como es apodado, inició su formación futbolística en el Club Association Sportive des Enseignants d’Abobo de su natal Costa de Marfil, después fue cedido al equipo Société Omnisports de l’Armée de la Primera División de Costa de Marfil, en donde debutó en la temporada 2016/2017.

Posteriormente emigró al futbol peruano, al equipo, Universidad de San Martín y en 2018 llegó a la Liga MX, integrándose a las filas de los Gallos Blancos de Querétaro y tras dos años en la institución salió́ para incorporarse a los Rayados de Monterrey, en donde ganó el campeonato de la Copa MX en 2020.

También cuenta con experiencia en la MLS, pues tras su salida de la Pandilla, llegó al Nashville Soccer Club.

Con su selección nacional, Ake Loba, ha cumplido con procesos Sub-20, siendo parte del subcampeonato del torneo Esperanzas de Toulon de 2017, Sub-23 en el Preolímpico Africano 2020; y con la selección mayor fue llamado en 2017 para un compromiso de Clasificación al Campeonato Africano de Naciones.

La Pantera, llega a los Cañoneros para aportar su experiencia y rapidez a la delantera morada, confiamos en que juntos lograremos los objetivos trazados en la institución.

¡Bienvenido, Aké Loba, a La Banda Cañonera!.

Comunicado oficiál de Mazatlán FC

That’s in Spanish! For my non-speakers (and Liga MX unfamiliar), there’s some key info in there: Loba will join for the 2023 Clausura tournament. The structure of Liga MX is such that this is the second half of the 2022-23 season (the first half being the 2022 Apertura).

With no announcement on signing details, we’re left with a lot of wonder: is it a loan or a sale (the crickets from Nashville SC would seem to indicate the former), and the ambiguous language of “to play in the 2023 Torneo Clausura” half-implies that it’s just a loan for the remainder of the 2022-23 campaign – though that language could also mean that he’s joining as a permanent player, it’s a little vague. My guess: it’s a loan through the end of the Clausura with some sort of multi-party option to extend (or from NSC’s perspective, sell) during the Summer window.

Loba is currently under contract with Nashville SC through the 2023 season with a team option for 2024. There are a few different implications here: if it’s an international transfer, NSC gets some cash back, minimizing their losses on a stint in Music City that didn’t work out (they cannot convert any of that transfer fee to GAM unless it’s a greater number than they bought him for, which seems extremely unlikely after he spent 16 months reducing his value). If it’s a loan, Nashville SC gets its international slot back and its Designated Player slot back for the duration of the loan – which would likely be until the Summer window or possibly for the entire 2023 season (at which time he would no longer be under contract with Nashville). NSC would also get some budget relief equal to the amount that Mazatlán agrees to pay him – which would almost certainly not be his entire salary of $1.5 million, but John Ingram would save a bit of coin.

As for his time in Nashville. It did not go well! He trained with the team before he was officially signed July 7, 2021, but arrived in poor game shape (this will be a theme!) and didn’t make his debut until July 22. He started just two matches all year, and had a long appearance of 62 minutes. Over his year and a half in Nashville, Loba played 899 league minutes (plus a handful more in the 2022 US Open Cup and the Leagues Cup friendly), and the advanced numbers were not kind (-0.38 dribbling Goals Added, -0.60 passing G+, and -0.31 shooting G+, with only his receiving mark of +0.22 notably good). He scored two MLS goals on 1.50 xG, and contributed one assist on 1.39 xA. That’s 0.31 xG+xA per 96 minutes played, good for 12th among all players who appeared for Nashville SC in that timeframe. Not great for a DP striker!

He was not particularly productive during his previous stints in Liga MX either – 15 goals in over 3013 minutes – though he was better than he has been for Nashville SC, while being pretty young for a lot of it (aged 19-23) and it was easy to see his potential. 0.54 G+A per 96 minutes played is solid fora youngster.

So what happened? There were a coupe conflicts that were difficult to resolve: the layoff between the end of the 2021 Clausura and his signing with Nashville SC was not good for the conditioning of a player who had never been known for his fitness, and it took him a while to get into game shape, and he never truly embraced that side of it in a way that would earn the embrace of the staff (or his teammates, for that matter). In his limited appearances, he provided some moments of danger, but was painfully insecure with the ball – second-worst on the team in passing G+ per 96, seventh-worst in fouling G+ per 96, and worst in passing G+ per 96 – and it was easy to see why he was considered high-risk, limited-reward by the staff. The “why doesn’t Aké Loba play more!” shouts from the fanbase were easily answered by anyone with eyeballs: because he wasn’t good enough. It’s a shame, and it’s a scouting miss if his NSC career has indeed come to an end, but that’s the nature of making international signings in this game.

With the departure, Nashville has one total international slot of an original eight, with recent signing Laurence Wyke‘s status unknown: he’s an Englishman, but spent two years playing in the same system as Atlanta United’s green-card factory, and another two in USL in the time since, so it’s totally possible he has gained domestic eligibility. One international draftee, Estonian winger Alex Meinhard is unlikely to sign, and NSC did also draft another foreign college player, Swiss forward Lyam McKinnon (who is perhaps also unlikely to sign as a late third-rounder). Selling/loaning Loba opens a DP slot for the time being, but I would anticipate it is not filled until the Summer window, as has been typical ini NSC’s brief history to date.

#HotTimWinter continues apace.

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