Nashville SC's debut campaign in MLS was a rousing success.
With low expectations set externally (though quite a different story within the club), Nashville were among the surprises of the season. The club set a new league record for fewest goals conceded per game for an expansion side, made the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs with plenty of points to spare and then upset Toronto FC on the road to win their first-ever playoff game.
With Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman anchoring what general manager Mike Jacobs called "arguably the best back four in the league", they established quite a foundation to build upon for 2021.
“While we’re really pleased with how we did in our first year, there’s no complacency in thinking we’ve made it," Jacobs told media on a virtual press conference. "We’re not there yet. We’ve not reached the point where we have demonstrated that we’ll have sustained success and compete for MLS Cup. But we’ve created an opportunity for ourselves to show our foundation is something to build off of.”
Nashville turn their focus to cementing that progress with an important offseason that is well underway now that MLS Cup is over. Jacobs teased an announcement of an international signing "very soon".
“We certainly had a successful season this year, but we’re not going to sit on our laurels," Jacobs said.
MLS Cup Playoffs highlights: Nashville SC 1, Toronto FC 0
Nashville announced their roster decisions a few weeks ago and retained a vast majority of their core, but also left themselves with plenty of room to maneuver, particularly with international roster spots.
The club used four of their eight in 2020 and traded the others, including in deals for Alex Muyl and Zimmerman. They had a number of international players who had already received green cards, such as Anibal Godoy and others.
Next season, they could open up a further three international spots as they expect green cards for a number of players.
“We’re selling international spots because we’re flipping green cards so quickly," Jacobs said. "In our league, the biggest asset you can have is GAM. If people want to penalize us for flipping international slots for the most valuable asset in our league, that’s fine. We know how many international spots we need, which players we have getting green cards."
Cadiz debuted on October 14 and didn't start a regular season game as he worked towards fitness after not playing a game since March. Bwana didn't make a start in the regular season after he was acquired via trade from the Seattle Sounders on October 21, either.
“I’d like to think the additions of Jhonder and Handwalla settling in, being able to team up with the likes of Randall (Leal), Hany (Mukhtar) and Alex (Muyl), you’ll see what our group of players are capable of," Jacobs said.
Nashville were one of the five MLS clubs who had a player selected in the Expansion Draft on Tuesday, losing highly-rated goalkeeper Brady Scott to Austin FC. They weren't pleased to lose him, but have plenty of confidence in starter Joe Willis and backup Elliot Panicco.
“You see the ascension of Joe Willis over the course of the year… when you look at what Joe’s done, there’s no reason to think that our goalkeeper of the future isn’t our goalkeeper of the present," Jacobs said. "We thought enough of Eliott Panicco to make him the first goalkeeper selected in the SuperDraft… tells you the confidence we have in Elliot. We feel pretty good about our goalkeeping situation.”