For a good Nashville SC squad, there's just one thing still missing | Estes
Saturday was a good day for Mike Jacobs, the sports executive. For the sports fan in him? Not as much.
In addition to being Nashville SC’s general manager, Jacobs is a devoted fan of the New York Knicks. And they lost Game 3 of their NBA playoff series to the Miami Heat in the afternoon. “A rough one,” said Jacobs, standing in a tunnel underneath GEODIS Park.
The evening’s game had been far easier to digest.
Honestly, Nashville SC’s 3-0 thumping of the Chicago Fire couldn't have been much better for the home team. This was dominance, leaving no doubt as to which MLS team was among the Eastern Conference’s best. As Nashville’s star Hany Mukhtar said, “We controlled the game from the first to the last minute.”
The league’s best defense in 2023 didn’t permit a goal, even with top defender Walker Zimmerman sidelined for injury-related reasons (it was believed to be precautionary). Mukhtar, the league’s reigning MVP, scored a hat trick, converting a pair of penalty kicks before adding a late goal.
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The performance, similar to last week’s 3-1 win over Atlanta United, was more like it for a squad that’s picking up steam as it gets into the season’s third full month. There were a few early stumbles – a six-game stretch featured three defeats and only one victory – but it’s early. Beating Chicago moved Nashville SC (5-3-3, 18 points) into a tie for third in the East, only six points off the lead and in comfortable shape.
Jacobs has built a reliable contender out of Nashville’s young MLS franchise. The next step is to start winning trophies in 2023. No reason to think that can’t happen.
Well … maybe one reason:
Nashville SC still lacks a prolific, goal-scoring striker up front to feed off Mukhtar’s midfield brilliance and ease the scoring burden on him.
For years, that striker has been the white whale of Nashville SC's voyage. The search continues. With the summer transfer window starting July 5 and the club having freed a spot to add a designated player (someone eligible to be paid outside of MLS' salary structure), Jacobs is positioned to try to land the right attacking player to help get this club over the hump this postseason.
Finding a world-class forward to fit into an MLS team at midseason is easier said than done, though. While Nashville SC has stocked up well at every other position – and hit it out of the park with Mukhtar – it has whiffed on some big swings at striker.
Only MLS veteran C.J. Sapong stands out, scoring 12 goals in 2021. But Sapong was on a slump of 27 games without a goal when Nashville traded him to Toronto a couple of weeks ago.
Then on Monday, Nashville SC announced the termination of forward Ake Loba’s contract, solidifying his once-celebrated addition as a bust. Nashville added Loba in July 2021 to a club-record $6.8 million transfer fee, per MLSsoccer.com. (For comparison, Mukhtar’s fee in 2019 was only around $3 million, per The Athletic.)
Loba never got close to justifying the hype and expense. He scored only two goals in 40 MLS appearances, most of them as a substitute. He joins Jhonder Cadiz as another young, DP attempt from Nashville's past.
Worse with Loba, he was on loan in 2023, which meant Nashville had been wasting one of three designated-player spots (Mukhtar and Zimmerman are the others) on someone not even on the team. Last week’s exit was important because it alleviated that.
“Every year, we’ve looked to add players during the summer window,” said Jacobs, noting that MLS’ summer coincides with a primary transfer window for most leagues around the world, opening up opportunities.
While Jacobs didn’t sound desperate for an addition to boost his offense, he didn’t rule it out, either.
“Six different guys have scored for us,” Jacobs said. “We don't really have any concerns from an attacking standpoint as much as we're always just trying to get better.”
Nashville started Jacob Shaffelburg and Teal Bunbury up front against Chicago. Both could be considered as forwards, though technically, each was labeled as a midfielder in the official MLS lineup sheet released before the game.
As much as Nashville controlled Saturday's game, it struggled to create shots on goal out of that possession, letting Chicago hang back defensively and hang around longer than it deserved. While it’s nitpicking after a 3-0 win, Nashville should have scored more in open play.
“Without getting too down about that, having won well, I think one of the criticisms of the group is at that point where you're on top, you've got to make the very most of it,” Nashville SC coach Gary Smith said.
As Nashville SC moves forward in a young season with plenty of promise, perhaps there’s someone out there to help the club make the most of it.
Reach Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nashville SC should be in the market for a striker this summer