We are less than a week away form the start of the 2021 MLS season. Being honest, I’m not as excited for the start of Nashville SC’s 2nd season in MLS as I would have thought. The limited capacity and spaced out seating is going to lessen the in stadium atmosphere. Even worse is no tailgating at Nissan Stadium. Hanging with fellow soccer fans before matches is one of the best parts. Sadly, it looks like it might not be until the new stadium at the Fairgrounds opens in 2022 before fans get to experience what MLS opener versus Atlanta United was like again. That said, the show must go on and at least on the field things are looking up. Nashville SC’s roster to start the 2021 season should have fans excited. There is way more attacking talent across the broad. Given neither stated a match for Nashville last year I basically consider Jhonder Cadiz and Handwalla Bwana new players. Throw in Pineiro, Sapong and realize that Muyl wasn’t on the roster to start last year and club has added a lot of attacking depth. The big question is will any of it be quality?
Who are the guys next to Hany?
Assuming Gary still plays a lot of 4-2-3-1 how are the MLS minutes going to look? Mukhtar will play as many minutes as he possibly can and the same can be said for Leal. Muyl will surely get minutes, but what about Pineiro and Bwana? Will there be any MLS minutes for Danladi or Badji? Barring injury, probably not many. That said, I suspect Gary might go to a 4-4-2 more often this season, but predicting minutes in this formation is just as tricky. This formation would allow for more minute for Rios and Sapong, but come at the expense of the group of wingers just mentioned. It really is hard to say what will happen, but whomever has the most chemistry with Hany will likely end up getting the most minutes by year’s end.
Not Worried About Midfield
I keep reading that Nashville’s biggest need is depth at midfield. Sure, Dax and Godoy are on the backend of their careers, but I’m not too concerned. Anunga looked the part as the air apparent at one spot and is the main backup to both. He basically had that role last year and logged 780 minutes played. That was basically half of Godoy and Dax. I’d like to see that number jump a lot this year. While we think he’s going to be a long term solution at the 6 for years to come this is the year he proves it. Of course, if there is an injury Nashville will need another body to play a decent amount of minutes. Gary seems to rate LaGrassa who could fill that role or perhaps Muyl could fill in if needed. If Derrick Jones is good enough to fill in as a 10, I’m sure Muyl’s skill set could translate to the 6 in a pinch.
Concerned About Backup 10
For me, this was Nashville SC’s biggest need going into the off season and they did not address it. I’ve mentioned before my concern about Hany picking up injuries given his small frame. Sure enough he missed numerous matches at the end of last season. While I thought Leal could serve as his backup (and he still might) the fact that Derrick Jones played as his backup last year doesn’t instill confidence. Jones wasn’t comfortable in the role and the fact that Gary decided he was the best option shows how confident he was in others on the roster last year playing as the attacking midfielder. I still think Leal is the guy if the situation arises as there is plenty of attacking depth of the wings.
Major Player Decisions Coming in 2021
Jhonder Cadiz clearly wasn’t in shape when he joined Nashville last year. Now that he’s had a full offseason, he has ten games to convince the club whether to buy him or extend his loan when it expires June 30, 2021. I have no idea how he’s going to play. He looks the part, but he has to show he can run more and stay onside. There has been very little written or said about Cadiz since the season ended, but he more than any player will determine how the club does during the first few months of the season.
All that GAM Man! Nashville SC acquired just over a million in general allocation money (GAM). Where does that money go? They basically spent $200,000 to trade for Nealis in a deal that was too good to pass up. That will benefit the club down the road, but not sure how much better than makes them in 2021. Nashville SC is going to make the biggest signing in club history before they go into the new stadium next year. That signing could happen anytime, but very unlikely before they decide on Cadiz. If he’s not the guy this big signing has to be a forward. While they have plenty of depth now, they don’t have any attacking players capable of MLS best 11. Not unless someone takes a major step forward. Perhaps Hany could be that guy, but he needs help.
Predictions for 2021
Nashville SC Makes a U.S. Open Cup Run! No MLS side benefits more from this year’s U.S. Open Cup rules that Nashville SC. Only the first 3 games count to qualify and NSC plays all three at home versus Cincinnati, Montreal and Miami. These sides finished 9th, 10th and 14th (last) in the Eastern Conference last year. You can’t get an easier schedule. Not qualifying for the U.S. Open Cup would be a big failure. Not only should they qualify, but I think they’ll prioritize making a run given the tournament has been reduced to 16 teams. In addition, the added depth Nashville has this year that I keep mentioning means they can prioritize going for the club’s first MLS trophy. I think Nashville will at least make the semifinals.
Jhonder Cadiz loan will not be extended As much as I want him to be the guy, I don’t think it’s going to happen. If he was balling out this off season, I’m not certain they would have signed Sapong. In addition, I keep reading that who starts at 9 versus Cincinnati isn’t a given. That’s crazy. Nashville SC only has 10 games to decide whether to buy Cadiz or let him go back to Benfica when his loan expires. That’s just 10 games to show he’s the guy. If he’s not starting and scoring immediately this year, then it isn’t happening.
Nashville SC signs a big time number 9 With Cadiz gone, all that GAM and still in desperate need of a big time goal scorer, Nashville SC will splash the cash before moving into the Fairground Stadium. The exact timing and where this player comes from is hard to say, but I’m predicting a transfer fee of at least $7 million (that’s more than double what they paid for Hany).
Nashville SC defense remains dominate. Why wouldn’t it. They are returning Willis, the entire backline, Dax, Godoy and Anunga. In addition they’ve added Nealis for when Alistair goes away for the Gold Cup and World Cup Qualifying duty.
Nashville SC makes the MLS playoffs Like last year, I think Nashville will make the playoffs. Who knows how they’ll do as a lot will depend on if they have replaced Cadiz at that point. Or even better, perhaps Jhonder turns into a 15 goal scorer. I don’t think so, but predicting what happens that far down the road is near impossible. Nashville SC will start hot given their schedule is far easier the beginning. Enjoy the view as I suspect they’ll drop a few spots by year’s end.