Nashville enjoyed a hugely successful expansion season, setting records for their defensive prowess and winning two rounds in the playoffs, including a rout of fellow-expansion side Inter Miami and upset of Toronto FC. The season couldn’t have gone much better.
They’re looking for more in 2021 and to prove they’re among the better teams in the Eastern Conference again. The attack should be much more dynamic in year two while the entire defensive unit, headlined by 2020 Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman, is back.
- MLS Reg. Season: 7th place in Eastern Conference (32 pts - 1.39 PPG - 8-7-8, +2 GD)
- Audi MLS Cup Playoffs: Eliminated in conference semifinals by Columbus Crew SC, 2-0
The reigning Defender of the Year was worth every penny (does GAM come in pennies?) in the blockbuster trade that sent him from LAFC to Nashville. He’ll be the anchor once again for Nashville in year two. A big-time aerial threat, too, don’t be surprised if he beats his career-best season mark of four goals.
Nashville’s 2020 DPs Mukhtar, Randall Leal and Jhonder Cadiz started exactly 0 regular season games together. All three will get a full preseason together, so one would expect Mukhtar’s numbers of 4g/4a in 15 appearances to go way up in 2021.
Rather than adding one of the other DPs, McCarty deserves recognition here because the team is known for their defensive prowess. McCarty, turning 34 in April, showed no signs of slowing down last season at the heart of Nashville’s midfield and will be integral once again this year.
Young Player to Watch
Nashville have a few options, but the 2020 SuperDraft No. 2 overall pick may be primed for a breakout on the club’s staunch backline. He was a standout at Indiana University for two seasons and made two starts for Nashville in his rookie campaign. Keep an eye on the center back.
- Rodrigo Pineiro: Pineiro is a Uruguayan youth international winger signed from Danubio this winter. The 21-year-old is a big talent who adds to Gary Smith’s options in attack.
- CJ Sapong: A well-traveled MLS veteran forward, Sapong joins after spending the last few seasons in Chicago. He has 71 goals and 25 assists in 276 career MLS appearances (210 starts). Though he can also play out wide, his signing suggests that perhaps we’ll see more two-striker formations for the club this season.
- Derrick Jones: Jones was traded to the Houston Dynamo this season after earning a rotational place in Nashville’s midfield, behind starters Dax McCarty and Anibal Godoy. The move opens more minutes for Brian Anunga.
- David Accam: Longtime MLSer Accam didn’t play a big role in Nashville's expansion campaign, with his only two starts coming prior to the league’s suspension of play due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was sent to Swedish side Hammarby on loan with an option to buy.
Projected Starting XI
- Goalkeepers (3): Bryan Meredith, Elliot Panicco, Joe Willis
- Defenders (9): Jalil Anibaba, Robert Castellanos, Nick Hinds, Alistair Johnston, Daniel Lovitz, Jack Maher, Eric Miller, Dave Romney, Walker Zimmerman
- Midfielders (10): Tah Brian Anunga, Handwalla Bwana, Anibal Godoy, Luke Haakenson, Matt LaGrassa, Randall Leal, Dax McCarty, Hany Mukhtar, Alex Muyl, Taylor Washington
- Forwards (6): Dominique Badji, Jhonder Cadiz, Abu Danladi, Rodrigo Pineda, Daniel Rios, CJ Sapong
Armchair Analyst's Breakdown
- Strength: It’s still the defense first and foremost. While Nashville played more attractive and expansive soccer as the season went on, everything they did was based upon having one of the best defensive corps in the entire league. That shouldn’t change this season.
- Weakness: The top-end talent just doesn’t seem to be there in attack. Mukhtar, Piniero, Randall Leal, Alex Muyl, the whole stable of forwards … they all seem to be nice players to one degree or another, but Nashville are basically never going to go out there against a playoff-caliber team knowing that they’ve got the most dynamic and prolific attacker on the field.
- Charles Boehm: 9th in East
- Tom Bogert: 4th in East
- Susannah Collins: 5th in East
- Charlie Davies: 6th in East
- Matthew Doyle: 7th in East
- Sam Jones: 8th in East
- Michael Lahoud: 6th in East
- Joe Lowery: 7th in East
- Jillian Sakovits: 9th in East
- Greg Seltzer: 8th in East
- Steve Zakuani: 8th in East