You can’t describe the inaugural season in MLS for Nashville SC as anything other than a success on the field. Given the relatively meager roster spend finishing the season in 7th place in the Eastern Conference exceeded the pre season expectations of most everyone. Looking back now I’ve listed the best and worst moves the team made in year one. Given the success of the season it’s not surprising there were more good moves than bad, but lets get those out of the way.
Worst Moves of the Season
Signing David Accam Without a doubt this has been the worst move in Nashville SC history. Way back in May, 2019, Nashville SC traded $350,000 in General Allocation Money and $100,000 in Targeted Allocation Money to the Columbus Crew for Accam. Given the significant fee and fact he was signed so far in advanced you had to figure Mike Jacobs and Gary Smith saw him playing a significant role the first season. That appeared to be the case as Accam started the first two matches of the year. In the third match he came on as a sub and scored the winning goal. He was used as a late sub for the following three matches. Then surprisingly Accam didn’t make the 18 man roster for September 6 match versus Miami. Even more shocking was when asked about it Smith said it was due to “competition”. At this point Accam had played a total of 207 minutes. Suspiciously, Accam appeared on the injury report before the next match. I was told he “turned his ankle” in training by someone that covers the team.
I’m not sure what happened as Nashville SC for whatever reason isn’t very informative to reporters or fans. On his October 30th Plugged In podcast, Drake Hills said, “The club has not been forthcoming or transparent at all when it comes to David Accam.” I’ve never heard anyone try and press this issue with Gary or Mike or just go ask David himself what was the problem. This is one of my biggest complaints with the club. Just be honest and up front with fans. It’s just so odd given how desperately the team needed attacking players all season, but especially when injuries racked up the first week of October. When the season started Accam was by far the most proven goal scorer on the roster having scored 40 MLS goals over the previous five seasons. Even now his one gaol in 207 minutes ranks third only behind Cadiz and Rios in goals per minute played this season. So what happened?
We may never know, but the best guess is Gary didn’t like Accam’s direct attacking style. Probably the most important thing Gary rates in a player is that they play his system. Attackers need to track back and defend and staying in the right position is key so the team stays balanced. It’s the most important ingredient in what makes Nashville such a good defensive team. When signed, he must have thought Accam would fit, but clearly he did not. I suspect Accam wasn’t really injured. Whatever trade value he might have would be shot if they just admitted Gary doesn’t rate him and he doesn’t fit into the future plans. If he doesn’t play because he was “injured” you might be able to get a bit of value from him in a trade. I’d be very surprised if Accam is on the roster next year. Unfortunately, given his salary I can’t see Nashville getting much of anything for him in a trade.
Picking Eric Miller Nashville SC selected Eric Miller with the second overall pick in the 2019 MLS Re-Entry Draft. Prior to the draft, Nashville SC traded their 2022 MLS SuperDraft Second Round pick to Vancouver Whitecaps FC in exchange for the second overall pick. Not much, but Miller was a disaster on the field. Expected to fill the right back position, Miller started he first two matches there before getting hurt. Prior to the injury, Miller was mostly responsible for allowing goals in both the first two matches. Versus Atlanta United, Miller not only didn’t close down space, but actively tracked back to goal leaving Barco space and time to score in the 2-1 opening loss. Versus Portland, Miller didn’t hustle and stay in line with the other defenders keeping Diego Valeri onside for the match winning goal. One can argue Miller costs Nashville SC a point in both matches. When he returned to the lineup at the end of the year his play still wasn’t great. The 1-0 loss at home to Dallas to end the season really stood out. In the 3-5-2 formation, Nashville SC almost solely attacked down the left through Lovitz. Lovitz ended the match with 12 crosses compared to two for Miller. He just doesn’t offer a lot going forward either.
Signing Honduran International Brayan Beckeles The 34 year old had tons of experience including 65 appearances for Honduras’ National Team. He had been in Liga MX the previous season starting games at both right back and center back. It seemed like a good move as any player getting minutes in Liga MX should be able to play in MLS. Beckeles only played in one match. Starting at right back after Eric Miller’s two poor performances. Beckeles didn’t play well and Anibaba got the next chance at right back before Alistair Johnston locked down the spot. In addition, Beckeles was one on the players posting on social media from Nashville Underground before telling Diario Deportivo Diez in an interview he had tested positive for COVID-19. Nashville SC ended up missing the MLS is Back tournament due to a team wide COVID-19 outbreak. Again, not saying it was his fault, but it wasn’t a good look. I’d be surprised if Beckeles was on the squad next season.
Best Moves of Nashville SC 2020 Season
Stealing Dax McCarty From Chicago Fire On the first Monday after their USL season ended, Nashville SC paid $50,000 in GAM, $50,000 in TAM and a 2nd round draft pick to the Chicago Fire for 32 year old defensive midfielder Dax McCarty. At the time of the trade, I said, “He likely will make an ideal captain for Nashville’s first season in MLS.” That is exactly what happened. Dax is dependable and experienced and formed an outstanding partnership with Anibal Godoy. As good as he was on the field for Nashville, he may have added even more value for what he brought to the club off it. Always saying and doing the right thing, there was no better person for Tah Brian Anunga to develop under. The fees paid for McCarty were incredibly low compared to other moves Nashville SC made and make this an easy call for one of the best pieces of business the first year.
Trading for Dan Lovitz from Montreal Impact Almost immediately following the end of the 2019 MLS Expansion Draft, Nashville SC acquired U.S. Men’s National Team left back Daniel Lovitz in a trade with the Montreal Impact. The Impact received $50,000 in 2020 General Allocation Money, $50,000 in 2020 Targeted Allocation Money, and a 2020 international roster spot. Again, the price was minimal for a player that locked down that left back sport from day one. Lovitz defended well and would push forward whenever possible to cross in the ball. Lovitz actually shared a large portion of corner kicks over the course of the season with Mukhtar and Leal.
Trading for Joe Willis Another piece of business done during the 2019 MLS expansion draft. Nashville SC traded with the Houston Dynamo, sending Zarek Valentin (their 2nd pick in the draft) and $75,000 in 2021 Targeted Allocation Money to Houston. A veteran goalkeeper, Joe Willis had his best season in MLS ever. Due in part to Gary Smith’s defensive style, the defensive midfield partnership between Godoy and McCarty and a solid backline anchored by Romney and Zimmerman. That said, Willis deserves a ton of credit posting nine shutouts during the shortened season.
Taking Alistair Johnston in MLS SuperDraft Nashville SC selected Wake Forest’s Alistair Johnson was the 11th overall pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft. Not many SuperDraft picks end up contributing much in MLS their first year. That was not the case with Alistair who ended up winning the right back position playing 666 minutes during the season. While I felt he faded a bit as the year progressed is contributions this season make this another easy call.
Hiring Gary Smith I was not a fan of the hire given his defensive style. That said, given the plan Mike Jacobs had in mind for construction the roster he may have been the perfect hire. It’s hard to argue anything other than Nashville SC over achieved this season given the rosters payroll relative to other MLS sides. Nashville invested in the defense and Gary’s tactics made the team very difficult to break down. I figured the defense would be good, not excellent. Gary knows how to get a team to buy in and play his system. That said, I know the team and some that cover it try to deny the defensive label. One pre season prediction I did get right was the team would struggle to score more than one goal per match. That was true. Given that record you can’t say this was an attacking or offensive team and if you aren’t that then what are you? Sure the team would press at times and didn’t park the bus too often. That’s encouraging, but they still were a defensive side especially when they played the top MLS teams.
It will be interesting to see how Gary does in year two when he has more attacking talent. Not just Cadiz and Bwana added to the mix, but I fully expect their biggest DP signing in history at some point in 2021. I think there is a decent chance the teams results won’t improve as expected when the club spends more money. Big DP signings are very hit and miss. Clearly the defense can’t get much better.
Honorable MentionI could have listed Walker Zimmerman. In my opinion the team MVP. While he played great, it was expected and the team did pay a lot for him – $600,000 in 2020 GAM, $350,000 in 2021 GAM as well as a 2020 international roster spot. LAFC will receive an additional $150,000 in GAM in both 2020 and 2021, if Walker meets certain performance-based metrics. Godoy also played well, but again Nashville SC paid a substantial fee to acquire his services ($650,000 in GAM). Dave Romney was rock solid playing almost every minute this season for Nashville. His price of $225,000 in GAM was certainly worth it.