Can Nashville SC's veteran defenders still carry a tune?
When the European winter transfer window shuts, it can only mean one thing – a new MLS season is just about a month away. This season's debutantes are the quasi-promoted Nashville SC, led by former Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre, and the brand-new Inter Miami FC, which is somehow led, at least in spirit, by David Beckham. We're going to take a look at how both of their squads are shaping up, and we'll begin with Nashville. The Music City club apparently have 28 players on their roster so far, so we'll look at a few positions starting from the back.
Goalkeepers are fundamental in MLS, in large part because a little bit of shot-stopping skill can go a long way in a league with strikers and especially defenders of variable quality. Nashville have brought in Joe Willis, formerly of the Houston Dynamo, and Adrian Zendejas, who used to go in net for Sporting Kansas City. Willis had good ball retention last season, but his aggressiveness as a defender went way down. He used to command his box, but not so much anymore. Despite staying close to his line, he's been a subpar shot-stopper in every category except headers in open play.
Zendejas is a complete contrast, except in terms of ball retention. He's an extremely active defender who's spent most of the past several seasons at Sporting's USL club, Swope Park Rangers. But he's been an outstanding shot-stopper for non-headers in open play, and weak in the other categories. He helps his side keep possession even better than Willis, but his passing doesnt contribute much to the attack. So it'll be an interesting competition for number one:
At central defender, Nashville have brought in a mix of experience and youth. Jalil Anibaba is still pretty good in the air, but the quality of his defending has dropped while his ball retention has pretty much hit rock bottom. Ken Tribbett is a holdover from the USL squad who has good numbers apart from ball retention that's quite weak by MLS standards. Still, he and Anibaba do offer a lot of ball recoveries. Miguel Nazarit, from Once Caldas in Colombia, is the most aggressive at breaking up plays, and probably the most fun to watch as well:
It's a similar potpourri at fullback. Brayan Beckeles had decent numbers in Liga MX last season for Necaxa, but at age 34 he might have trouble maintaining that level for much longer. Jimmy Medranda and Eric Miller haven't been regular starters at the position for quite a while, and Taylor Washington falls short of average ratings by an MLS standard in most categories. So Daniel Lovitz may be odds-on to start despite coming off a so-so season for Montreal. In fact, Beckeles and Lovitz have had similar playing styles, with lots of crossing, so that may be part of coach Gary Smith's thinking:
Any team with a healthy and fit Dax McCarty probably starts Dax McCarty, and we expect Nashville to be no different. He may be 32, but McCarty still ticks all the boxes for the kind of DM who can steady the ship. Matt LaGrassa is a another USL holdover, and it's not clear that his ball retention and skill in duels will be at the right level for MLS. But we're really not sure what Nashville thought they were getting with Anibal Godoy, whose numbers have been in freefall over the past few seasons, though he's still great in the air:
So overall, it's a mixed bag in the back half for Nashville. The club hasn't exactly splashed out on exciting imports, with the possible exception of Nazarit. Of course, MLS sides have been investing far more in attacking than defending over the past few seasons. Still, given the spotty quality and low ball retention among the defenders, the club's midfielders and attackers will need to keep the pressure on the opposition – and keep the ball as well. Otherwise, Nashville fans may be in for some hairy moments... or, shall we say, sour notes?
[Photo: Web Summit]