Nashville SC Roster Disappointing to Start Preseason
MLS preseason starts for Nashville SC tomorrow with a game versus IF Elfsborg from Sweden at IMG Academy in Florida. Ian Ayre and Mike Jacobs have said the club could add another DP at any time. That’s good because after missing out on who appeared to be their main target, Ake Loba, they might also wait until the summer to see what they have. While I’m super excited about the MLS opener versus Atlanta United, it’s impossible to describe the current roster as anything other than disappointing. This isn’t a knock against any player. They all belong in MLS and I’m sure some will perform well. The frustration lies solely with ownership and the front office for not following through on their commitment to spend. I have a lot of faith in Mike Jacobs and hope the season turns out fine, but that task is daunting given the lack of investment in the roster so far.
Team Far From Spending Where Ian Ayre Said
Ian Ayre went on Extra Time Radio February 22, 2019 and when asked by Andrew Wiebe where Nashville SC would fall on the spending spectrum said, “We would expect to be in the upper quarter of MLS in terms of investment in the squad … [Owner John Ingram] wants to build a team to compete, not just to take part.” That’s a phrase that Ingram has used many times since buying the franchise. Uttered less than a year ago.
Move forward to Ian’s December 12, 2019 Planet Futbol interview with Grant Wahl when asked the same question (12 minutes in) he replied,”I’d say we are in the mid range. I think we’ll evaluate that as we go forward year on year. I think we feel comfortable with the budget we have.” What happened? Did the budget change or did Ian misspeak when he talked to Wiebe? I’d even be fine with mid range, but the club isn’t even living up to that.
Nashville SC Will Be One of Lowest Scoring Teams in MLS
I hope it’s not under 40 goals for the season bad, but there are scenarios where that happens. It’s not just the lack of depth and proven goal scorers on the roster but the style of play as well. This quote from Dax McCarty in a Scott French article a few weeks ago sums up how I anticipate Nashville SC playing.
“That might not be the sexy answer, it might not be the answer that people want to hear, but if you’re good defensively and you can keep the ball out of the back of the net, you always give yourself a chance to win games.”
Head coach Gary Smith had to be proud reading this given his reputation as a defensive manager. I’ve argued that with a new club in a new market style of play is important. Playing attractive attacking soccer is one way to grab new fans. The club clearly made a strategic decision a long time ago to focus on defense. Nothing puts butts in seats more than winning and Gary Smith gave them the best chance at that. That’s one of the reasons why he was hired as the MLS manager before last year’s USL season even started. With Minnesota United setting an MLS record for most goals allowed only to have it broken by Cincinnati last season you can understand the concern. The horrible defensive record of the past two expansion teams likely played a big part in this.
The plan needs to work. There isn’t a single player on the roster that looks likely to score double digit goals. That’s a huge problem. While they can address the problem in the summer window, it might be too late to save the inaugural season. The lack of attacking depth could also be a major issue as their only DP, Hany Mukhtar, missed numerous matches last season with a foot injury. When Mukhtar doesn’t start I have no idea who will play the 10 role. Whether Medranda, Jones or someone else, it just isn’t good enough.
MLS Spending Rising Quickly
It’s not just Ian Ayre that said Nashville SC would spend. Mike Jacobs has said several times over the past year that the team would not spend like LA or Atlanta, but in the mid range of MLS. He used Sporting Kansas City as a club Nashville would be comparable to in spending. That’s clearly not the case right now. Even after they bring in a second DP they’ll need at least another TAM player to get towards mid range.
For comparison, Sporting Kansas City recently signed Liga MX Golden Boot winner Alan Pulido for a reported transfer fee just under $10 million. That is 3x Hany Mukhtar. It’s not just Sporting Kansas City that is spending more than Nashville. The Columbus Crew spent $7.5 million on Zelarayan, the Vancouver Whitecaps dropped $6 million to Puebla for Cavallini and Portland spent $6 million to acquire Chara. Columbus, Portland and Vancouver are small market teams in MLS. Yet they have spent more on transfer fees this off season to acquire players than Nashville. DC United just paid about $1,000,000 in allocation money to trade for Julian Gressel. It’s not just transfer fees where Nashville isn’t spending. When the MLS player salaries come out this year, Nashville SC will have one of the lowest payrolls in MLS. I compared their projected senior roster payroll to Cincinnati and Kansas City a couple of months ago. While the players names have changed a bit, the overall projected roster spend has not.
Why Isn’t John Ingram Spending More on Players?
After winning Sports Person of the Year in December, 2017, Joe Rexrode quoted John Ingram,
“No. 1, I’ve always been very passionate about sports,” Ingram said. “No. 2, I was interested in trying to create maybe a new legacy for our family. And then on top of that, a legacy for the city. And with all three of those pieces together, it just seemed like something that I just had to try. So I did.”
We didn’t just come to participate, we came to compete. It’s hard for an objective person to say this phrase has come true. Perhaps, if Ingram had said we’ll compete by the time we move into our new stadium? I tend to agree with what @MLS_Buzz tweeted yesterday. I’ll add the Wilf brothers and Turner family are also billionaires that are part of the ownership group.
I’m not sure when Nashville SC is ever going to be able to truly compete in MLS towards the top of the table. It’s not easy. The team could spend on the roster, they are just choosing not to. The unwillingness to invest in the squad is a bad look especially given the value of the franchise has likely increased over $100 million before the team even plays its first match.
Nashville SC Has Little Chance to Make Playoffs
In his can’t miss MLS matches for 2020, Jeff Carlisle said, “One can only hope that Nashville’s modestly assembled roster (at least so far) can compete with the talent-laden outfit that is the Five Stripes.” This was on December 19 so if you were wondering, no Nashville hasn’t signed anyone to upgrade from modest. Carlisle isn’t alone in this assessment. Matt Doyle on the Speedway Soccer podcast on January 22 said, “I can’t imagine this team giving up 70 goals, now they might give up 55 and only score 30. So if the bottom falls out that’s the way it would happen. But I still think this is a team likelier to hit somewhere around 40 points than the 20 to 30 range.” I posted last years standings to show where 40 points would put Nashville SC.
I’ve heard and read more than a few “we won’t be Cincinnati bad,” comments. Sorry, I took that as a given and expected more. Congratulations, you aren’t going to be the worst team in MLS history. That’s the bar year 1? Even with a second DP signing 40 points and 40 goals might not happen. I suspect those spinning the roster as good will say it’s a marathon not a sprint or that it usually takes time for an expansion team. Sure, but when they spend like they claimed the team will have a much better chance on the field.