What a year it has been. It was always going to be memorable by virtue of it was being the first year in the league; however, the 2020 MLS season was notable for so many other reasons. To begin, the first match set a state attendance record with nearly 60,000 fans. Then COVID-19 shut down the league and the nation. When the league tried to restart with the MLS is Back tournament, Nashville SC was forced to pull out due to positive
Coronavirus cases. Despite that setback, the Boys in Gold fought hard and defended harder, finishing seventh in the Eastern conference. The play-in game saw an offensive explosion as Inter Miami CF went down 3-0 to the home team. The quarterfinal took the Six Strings north to face powerhouse Toronto FC, and after 120 minutes, the visitors emerged victorious 1-0. The semifinal took us back to Columbus, Ohio where, again, after 120 minutes, the dream ended by a score of 0-2. It was disappointing, but the team and the supporters hold their heads high.
Now that the postseason has ended and the mourning period has passed, it is time to look forward. Wednesday saw the team release its roster moves for the offseason and in preparation for the expansion draft on December 15. Austin FC will be able to select five players from 16 teams (all except NYCFC, FC Cincinnati, LAFC, Columbus Crew, Seattle Sounders, Minnesota United, New England Revolution, ATLUTD, and Sporting KC). Nashville SC will be able to protect 12 players. Handwalla Bwana, Derrick Jones, and Alex Muyl are off limits due to being Homegrown players under 25. Jack Maher is also safe due to being a Generation Adidas player.
The club has extended the contracts of goalkeeper Joe Willis and center backs Dave Romney and Walker Zimmerman. These were solid moves in order to lock in the league’s best defense and the Defender of the Year. Speaking of Zimmerman, he has been called up to the USMNT camp for their friendly against El Salvador on December 9 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
Striker Cameron Lancaster has already signed a contract with USL Championship squad Louisville City FC with whom he played before he signed with NSC. Lancaster scored 12 goals for Lou City this season while on loan.
In addition, midfielder Alan Winn and defenders Tanner Dieterich, Brayan Beckeles, and Ken Tribbett will all be moving on. Defender Eric Miller’s contract is also up, but the front office is negotiating to keep him on the roster.
NSC exercised contract options adding another year for goalkeeper Elliot Panicco, defenders Jalil Anibaba and Alistair Johnston, midfielders Bwana, Brian Anunga, Matt LaGrassa, Luke Haakenson, and Taylor Washington, and forwards Daniel Rios, Abu Danladi, and Dominique Badji.
In addition to these, this leaves the following players on the roster for 2021: the aforementioned Willis, Romney, Zimmerman, Jones, Muyl, and Maher; goalkeeper Brady Scott, defenders Daniel Lovitz and Miguel Nazarit, midfielders Anibal Godoy, Dax McCarty, Randall Leal and Hany Mukhtar, and forwards Jhonder Cadiz and David Accam.
If I had to choose who to protect, I’d pick the three contract extensions (Willis, Zimmerman, and Romney), the three DP’s (Mukhtar, Cadiz, and Leal), Captain McCarty who showed that age is nothing but a number, his partner in the midfield Godoy, inaugural MLS signing Rios who showed class toward the end of the season, fan favorite Johnston, veteran Lovitz, and either Anibaba or Anunga. Anibaba is a leader both on and off the field, while Anunga proved to be a decent substitute for McCarty and Godoy. With Maher definitely returning, it seems that Anunga would be the better save. If selected, Jalil Anibaba would be a huge benefit to any team in this league.
We will see what Mike Jacobs and Gary Smith decide to do, but no matter who is protected and who isn't, I will trust their decisions. They have led us to new heights and showed us new visions of what dreams may come.