Pitch Points plays in Germany

Welcome to Pitch Points, wherein I round up some of the interesting links around the world of Nashville SC and US Soccer. As always, if you have something you want me to share, let me know in the comments or through social channels on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Christian_Pulisic_2017_(cropped)
Photo by Reto Stauffer (Creative Commons license).

Bundimericans. The Bundesliga’s official site is perhaps not an unbiased source when it comes to why the Bundesliga is a good fit for young Americans, but the point remains: it has proven to be in recent years. One of those reasons is fairly obvious:

There are several factors that make the Bundesliga more suitable for American players than Europe’s other top leagues, and one of them is purely administrative: it is easier to get hold of a work permit in Germany than in the UK, where non-EU players are required to have featured in a certain percentage of their country’s recent competitive matches to obtain an endorsement from the English FA.

I wonder if that’ll change when the Brexit fully extricates England from the EU. The British are going to have a ton less access to top European talent (in the way they currently have limited access to American talent), and while that won’t bring about an untimely death of the Premier League, of course, it could certainly help the other four of the Big Five leagues strive to surpass it in global reach.

Of course, our most well-known export to Deutschland in recent years will end his German adventure in the Summer Transfer Window. Christian Pulisic is headed to Chelsea. The style/fit is one thing Pulisic cited for being interested in the move, and how he adjusts to what many consider a higher level of play will be one of next season’s most interesting storylines.

Ayre Force One. Quick quote or two from Nashville MLS CEO Ian Ayre, though the entire article is behind a paywall that’s probably not worthwhile for somebody who’s overseas. The difference between building an MLS club versus heading a Premier League team is obviously a large one. How Ayre navigates it will write the story of the club’s early days.

Speaking of whom, a little bit on how the CEO role was diminished with the hiring of a sporting director, which partially facilitated his departure from Anfield. Ayre announced he was leaving the club no so long after that, and retired even earlier than was scheduled. The personnel on the front-office side – and what he learned about how that should be structured from his trials and tribulations at Liverpool – will be informed by his time there.

Personnel. MLS Multiplex covers the Cameron Lancaster signing. Speedway Soccer has its profile of the USL’s single-season goal-scoring record holder. It’s almost easy to forget how exciting a signing this was, only a couple weeks removed from its announcement.

Another signing (and one that I think was both under-heralded at the time and remains so) is Kharlton Belmar. At least from a fan perspective, seems like it made sense for Sporting KC to unload him to Nashville, to allow Swope Park to give minutes to younger kids. That’s always the intriguing tightrope walk that MLS2 sides between trying to win and trying to develop players for the first team.

What’s in the USL’s future? The league made vague hand motions toward “pyramid structure” and what that might mean in the long-term when announcing its rebrand, but this story is as definitive as I’ve seen in suggesting (from an official league source) that pro-rel is not only something they’re aware of, but actually interested in, if feasible.

Discussion of a new cup competition that would include all Championship and League One clubs to launch in 2020 has already begun, with long-term potential for promotion and relegation between the two professional divisions.

It remains vague, yes, but does demonstrate a willingness to consider in the long run. Obviously I’ve been a skeptic on the topic, but a limited scope (like between two USL divisions) beginning at a lower level is certainly a path toward a long-term future including promotion and relegation.

Etc.: It appears Ramone Howell is playing domestically in Jamaica during the offseason. … MLS Combine is this week. … One Pittsburgh Riverhounds game to catch? When they host Nashville SC. … Doesn’t directly relate to us, but the 2019 MLS schedule will be released this afternoon. … Ropapa Mensah held a mini-tournament in his hometown over the Christmas season. … University of Tennessee senior Khadija Shaw has an incredible (at times heartbreaking) story, and was The Guardian’s female footballer of the year. … How will NYCFC compensate for the loss of MLS all-timer David Villa? Nashville SC will be among the first to find out Feb. 22.

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Pitch Points might try to form megaclub

Running through some links of interest to Nashville and US Soccer. As always, please feel free to follow (and share stories!) on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or your social media platform of choice. If you have a story you’d like me to cover in one of these posts, never hesitate to reach out to me on those social channels, in the comments here, or at t.w.sullivan1@gmail.com.

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Club images courtesy those respective clubs. Beautiful graphic by Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Major local youth shake-ups. You can read into a couple organizational changes in youth clubs whatever you’d like. I have thought (and continue to think) that by and large the most prominent clubs in the area are trying to position themselves to either be acquired by Nashville SC when it founds its Development Academy team in the not-so-distant future, or at the very least trying to become affiliated clubs.

There have been various mergers (at the very least, consolidating and sharing of resources) in the past year-plus, and Nashville FC Youth and Tennessee Soccer Club are the latest to explore combining forces.

Club leaders said the merger discussion was the product of their collaboration to support the push to bring a Major League Soccer team to the city in 2017-18. Both clubs had coaches and volunteers on the MLS2Nashville Committee.

The clubs stressed the potential merger is designed to provide more opportunities for youth players in Middle Tennessee to develop and play at a higher level. Each club now has approximately 1,500 players at either the recreational or competitive levels with teams based in Davidson, Williamson and Rutherford Counties.

Does it seem weirdly premature to announce that you’re in discussions with another club with the possibility that nothing happens? It sort of does to me. I guess there’s a bit of a responsibility to families already involved with either club, and a bit of a feeling-out of public sentiment, but… still weird.

Meanwhile, Nashville United Soccer Academy is reorganizing its administration, in a way that seems to be geared toward a more “True Academy” and professional structure top-to-bottom. You may recall NUSA was one of the programs involved with a major merger over the summer, joining forces with Tennessee United and Murfreesboro United.

My thoughts on the matter are basically the same as they’ve always been: more opportunities for kids (and particularly more opportunities with good coaching and good development) are aways better. If these moves help do that, great. It’s always possible that a laudable goal is not achieved – fewer distinct clubs could mean fewer opportunities if teams within different clubs are merged as well, etc. – so it’s worth keeping a skeptical eye on, as well.

Obviously, our state doesn’t produce nearly the number of high-level players it should, so anything that can move toward growth is good.

My ideal layout would be more hyper-local clubs whose best players feed into bigger academy-type clubs, and in turn those clubs’ best players entering a Nashville SC in-house academy. I understand the organizational overhead costs saved by pooling resources in a slightly different way, and just hope it doesn’t mean less soccer for anyone out there. More soccer is better.

The Fury-Concacaf saga plays on. Then it ends with minimal fanfare. USL obviously wasn’t particularly concerned about Concacaf’s refusal to sanction the Ottawa Fury for cross-border play in 2019, having released the Championship alignment and schedule, but it had to go  (or didn’t if an obviously CYA and untrue statement from Concacaf is to be believed) to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Also, the headline here is, uh, something else:

Is CONCACAF playing its own games with the intention of crippling Fury FC?

No? Of course not? What would their motivation be to cripple the Fury? There is none (other than some semi-wild conspiracy theories in there). They’re enforcing the rules of FIFA and their Confederation. They’re doing it in a way that’s overbearing and not in a sporting spirit, perhaps, but to assume malice when there’s an obvious, non-malicious motivation – even if there’s a selfish one by former Canada Soccer head (now Concacaf head) Victor Montagliani – to get Canadian teams playing in the federation and league they’re bound to by FIFA statute doesn’t seem unfair.

There was basically never a chance that the Fury couldn’t play in USL this year, given that they always had the blessing of both the Canadian and American federations.  It’s more likely a power play by Concacaf to set up the “OK, but for this year only” situation where they force Fury into CPL in 2020 and beyond – which seems pretty fair to me, actually. Of course, it resolved to the positive Friday afternoon.

For whatever reason I’m obsessed with MLS roster rules. Fortunately for our purposes, that will become relevant in about 10 months’ time. For now, we’ll just call it a weird quirk.

Anyway, Paul Tenorio predicts the distant future at The Athletic ($), primarily in the form of trying to decide what the salary cap, designated player, and other roster rules will be within a couple years of the United World Cup:

I think it’s possible that MLS clubs will have a $20 million salary budget in ten years’ time, about five times more than in 2018. In this vision, there are four designated player spots, which allow teams who want to spend substantially more on star players to continue to do so.

There’s obviously a hell of a lot more there, including the reasoning for this structure (and more detail to it).

The Lancaster-ing. This will obviously be a running topic on the site (along with all the other offseason player movement), but it should come as no surprise that Cameron Lancaster’s signing has drawn some big attention. USA Today Sports Network Tennessee spoke with Lancaster the day his signing was announced:

“I was really impressed with the vision and ambition they (Nashville MLS GM Mike Jacobs and Nashville SC coach Gary Smith) had with turning Nashville SC, already a top USL club, to a top MLS team,” Lancaster said in an email to the Tennessean. “After facing Nashville last season and seeing the improvements they made each time, and then to make the playoffs in their first year as a team, I knew Gary was a top manager. He had a good group of players, and that excited me.”

The Louisville Courier-Journal discusses the Englishman’s departure from LCFC.

Bundimericans. Gregg Berhalter has been on a tour of Europe, checking in on US Internationals in the various overseas leagues. The Bundesliga’s official site caught up with him to talk about some of the key Americans plying their trade in Germany’s top flight.

On Christian Pulisic:

“I’m not too concerned about where he’s lining up. We want him affecting the game, we want him playing between the lines, taking on players one on one, and it will be up to the team to get him in, and find him in, those positions.”

Weston McKennie (after making fun of Schalke for the bizarre – and ongoing – center forward experiment they’ve been subjecting him to):

“I would say central midfield. I think he’s very good, [he has] a very good ability to win balls. That’s [at] a high level, I think he’s seen that at Champions League level, winning the ball and playing to his teammates.”

And channeling his inner Klinsmann:

bundesliga.com: How important is it for you that these players are playing in Germany, as opposed to the MLS for example?

Berhalter: “The Bundesliga is a top league in the world so that’s taken into consideration when you consider a player’s performance. For us to be a top team in the world we need players performing in top leagues in the world, so that’s one of the issues we’re faced with. This is a high-level programme and if you can perform here that means you’re a high-level player.”

Plenty more in there on a few other key Americans (John Brooks, Josh Sargent, Bobby Wood, Haji Wright) in Deutschland. On this side of the pond, putting together the January camp with almost exclusively MLS players is always an interesting task ($).

Etc.: Ian Ayre’s move across the pond sees the Liverpool Arena and Convention Center name a new chair to replace him. … Nascar will be joining soccer at the Fairgrounds after a long hiatus. … Richie Ledezma transfer to PSV shows that USL (Real Monarchs in this case) can be a path to Europe, though there’s probably something to be said for the MLS team that invested in his development losing him on a free transfer being bad for the long run. … Learn how to build a club. Surely it’s very easy.

As always, thanks for reading. Share buttons below.

Pitch Points has a busy offseason

Running down the links of interest to Nashville SC and US Soccer fans. Please follow the site on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook if you don’t already, and if you like what you read here, share with a friend and encourage them to follow as well!

Daniel Ríos & John Ingram in front of Nashville skyline
Courtesy Nashville MLS

Busy offseason for Nashville SC. A little self-promotion here, but there’s been a ton going on over the past few weeks. Here’s a greatest-hits from some of the signing-related content I’ve been publishing:

Nashville SC offseason tracker. Signing profiles for Daniel Ríos, Ken Tribbett, Darnell King, Kharlton Belmar, and Connor Sparrow.

Given that I nailed the Tribbett and Belmar signings, you may want to re-visit these two posts, though I will say that NSC seems to be even more ambitious that I’d expected, so they may be obsolete by this point.

The Berhalter-ing. Who will be in the January USMNT camp? It’s always an MLS-heavy one, so keep that in mind when making your guesses.

Berhalter spoke with the MLS Extra Time pod about his vision for the USMNT. It’s not super-heavy on details, but certainly the generalities sound pretty good, and he’s quite obviously a very, very bright soccer mind. The tactical talk they did with video rather than just audio, on the other hand, is extremely informative:

I think just about everybody is excited to see the beginning of a new era for the US Men’s National Team after the yearlong interim tenure of the new North Carolina FC coach, and I for one anticipate it to be a very positive era (yes, that puts me outside of the constantly-pessimistic USMNT mainstream).

More from an interview with Alexi Lalas. And little fluff, primarily focusing on his love for tactics and analytics (without giving many specifics on either).

MLS thinkpieces. This was published before Atlanta United’s win in MLS Cup, but that make it all the more important (because it was obvious, title or not, how far ahead of the curve the Five Stripes are). MLS owners can’t agree over how best to grow the league($).

MLS now has a stability never before achieved in American soccer. It has strong markets with stadiums and training facilities built across the country. And it has a relatively diverse group of owners, many of whom are investing hugely in the sport.

Yet some owners expressed caution about whether the league is truly prepared for the next era of growth, especially if that growth is predicated on unbridled spending.

The sides are (somewhat simplistically, but perhaps fairly) divided into the progressive, “let us spend” types and the “don’t let the other guys spend because then I’d have to” stodgy types. I think it’s pretty clear that the vast majority of American soccer fans side with the former. Certainly a lot of the regulations have allowed clubs to survive and the league to remain stable and grow, but if others want to spend more, so be it.

Interestingly, Don Garber also admitted in his State of the League speech prior to the title game that MLS should be willing to become a selling league… something that he personally had been opposed to in the past. Of course, you don’t want to only be a selling league, but certainly embracing that side of the transfer market would be a positive (and profitable). League rules make it tough for that to be worth teams’ while all-too frequently, so hopefully some of the regulations about who keeps what portion of a transfer fee, how that see can be used (right now, my understanding is a team gets $750,000 max, only in TAM, for any non-Homegrown sale).

MOAR MLS. Speaking of Garber changing course on things, it sounds pretty likely that the league’s expansion will not stop at the previously established limit of 28 teams. Major League Soccer will get to that mark within the next year (Nashville and Miami will be Nos. 25 and 26, so two more bids are on the table), and then there will be a re-evaluation.

Looking simply at who makes geographic and demographic sense, stopping at 28 would be a mistake:

  • Phoenix (this one is a must for me)
  • Sacramento
  • St. Louis
  • San Diego
  • (The above plus Charlotte, Detroit, Las Vegas, and Raleigh are the known bids for spot 28).

With Austin effectively promised No. 27… there’s not a ton of room there. Yes, USL can fill some of the gaps in the first tier, but the size of our country sort of precludes sticking to the “smaller top division” that you’d see in England (20 top-flight teams in a country smaller than the state of Michigan – and that’s with Northern Ireland and Scotland included, even though those constituent countries of the UK have their own top-flight leagues).

I’m all for as much expansion as the market(s) can support, and would assume there’s probably an MLB-like split at some point where the two leagues don’t play each other in the regular season with any regularity, though it’d be an East-West split rather than the semi-arbitrary divisions that baseball has. “But there’s interleague play all the time now!” is true, but the growth of soccer in the country and the logistics of cross-country travel for a sport that’s a little more physically demanding would make that sensible to me.

Etc.: Nashville MLS CEO Ian Ayre is behind an anti-scalping ticket measure based on Blockchain technology. … #OptaProSoccer conference in Chicago Jan. 9 should be a good one, but it’s invite-only :(. … A little history lesson on Atlanta-area soccer. … Zack Steffen‘s transfer to Manchester City is official. … Podcast with Liam Doyle from his homeland (I’ll admit I haven’t had a chance to listen yet).

If you come across something you’d like me to share in a Pitch Points (or any other type of post), feel free to drop me a line via the comments here, or the social channels linked at the top of the post.

Pitch points: With plans! Maybe!

Jacobs and Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre
“We’ve GOT to formulate a PLOT” – Eminem-inspired and forward-looking. Courtesy Nashville SC

For future consideration. Bournemouth has hired a loan manager to track their players who are out with other clubs. Maybe not that interesting on its own (they’re hardly the first to do it – certainly Manchester City and Chelsea have entire departments to manage their empires) – but does indicate a seriousness about the way they intend to do business. As Nashville SC enters the big leagues, these are the sort of ideas that they’ll want to stay on the forefront of. Personnel management (from academy to senior team, to scouts, etc.) is such a huge part of being a club that gets the most out of its resources.

Fortunately, the Nashville Soccer Supporters’ Trust president David Wasiolek got a sitdown with GM Ian Ayre (must be nice 😒), and came away with some positive takeaways in that regard:

  • The club has a strong vision of what a Tennessee-wide academy system would look like and how players could be developed and monitored across all the youth organizations and age groups. Personally, Ian would like to see this begin either simultaneously with the start of the team or even earlier.

  • Ian is working hard with Mike Jacobs on identifying top talent to bring to Nashville. There is a great desire to build a team of exceptional talent that also reflects the diverse flavors that make up the stew we call Nashville.

Those are the key newsworthy items, and a positive sign. There isn’t enough talent in Tennessee to primarily build a roster from home territory – New York/New Jersey is ain’t, much less Southern California – but as the club builds, it can play a role in helping change that.

I’ve been involved in that area of things in a different sport (American football) for most of my professional career, and will be extremely interested in seeing how it plays out.

Bethlehem Steel to Philadelphia. Bethlehem Steel announced this week that they’ll be playing the 2019 season at the home of their parent club, Philadelphia Union, with a change to USL stadium requirements:

Unfortunately, we have been informed by the USL that Lehigh University’s Goodman Stadium no longer meets the minimum requirements set forth by the league due to a lack of stadium lighting. Upon hearing the decision that we could not return to Goodman, we visited and analyzed multiple other potential venues with the aim of keeping Steel FC in the Lehigh Valley, but there was no solution that met all the league requirements that could be ready in time for the 2019 season, including field size, capacity, and lighting, among others.

As a result, Bethlehem Steel FC will play next season at Talen Energy Stadium while we evaluate stadium options for beyond 2019.

Steel supporters are not happy, feeling betrayed not by the Steel’s front office, but rather by the Union.

I feel multiple ways about it (first off for the supporters: if you want to feel like the organization owes it to the local fans to stay in Bethlehem, you should have worked to get more than 2,300 fans out to each game). At the same time, clearly the Steel or Union felt like they’d be able to get waivers indefinitely – “the NASL gambit” – or is truly not all that invested in staying in Bethlehem.

USMNTakes. This story with Steve Cherundolo was pretty interesting. The former Men’s National Team standout was a guest coach with the Nats during their two-game stint in Europe. He was recently fired as part of the Stuttgart coaching staff, and has some outsider takes. For subscribers to The Athletic, Paul Tenorio has much more with Cherundolo.

I also present this:

I disagree (and strongly). You call up guys who give you the best chance to win, regardless of their club situation. That’s particularly true for guys whose club situation comes with an asterisk. Is “only turned 18 in February and was ineligible to play for his club team” or “can’t beat out Neymar for a spot in the lineup” damning? Is it worse than “is mediocre starter on mediocre MLS team?” I’d say no.

If the games were meaningful, you could convince me otherwise, but given that Dave Sarachan’s lone mandate seemed to be to blood the young talent – and that it’s the one thing he did pretty well in his 13 months as MNT manager – I don’t understand the complaint. That’s particularly true when Weah in particular proved to be one of the better players for the team over this time period. Clearly “playing for club team” isn’t the only indicator of high performance (which goes back to the above).

The headline here comes across as “finally, proof Christian Pulisic cares about the USMNT” which is an epically dumb take. Fortunately, the story is much more productive. It does, however, include a mention of the hot take to end all hot takes (if only to refute it, as the story implies).

Meanwhile, Tyler Adams writes for The Players Tribune, including the unsurprising “will be going to Europe in January” news. U-20 standout Alex Mendez will sign with Freiburg. And of course, goalkeeper Zack Steffen will likely sign with Manchester City (and then almost as likely, head out on loan somewhere).

Etc.: Add Madera Café in Plaza Mariachi to the soccer bars list. Thanks to reader Santiago for bringing it to my attention. … English clubs’ academy output. … Are we still talking about Jonathan Gonzalez? In a way, yes. … Probably the one guy with a legit argument for beating Matt Pickens as USL keeper of the year does so. …  … Austin Bold’s coach is also the coach of the USVI team. … Story on Liam Doyle’s re-signing from the Isle of Man, and one on Ropapa Mensah from one of the many Ghanaian soccer outlets. … USL Players Association earns league negotiating recognition.

Pitch Points gotta catch ’em all

After an extremely long delay, Pitch Points is back. Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for the latest updates. Some of these links are old because portions of this post have been sitting in my drafts folder for literally months. We regret the error.

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Slipping through the cracks. I thought this 343 Coaching podcast with Joey Anthone of @USAProspects was fascinating. It’s most interesting to me coming from the world I do (I cover high school football recruiting at the day job, or given that FCAC is not a for-profit venture, we can just say “the job”).

Joey has some consternation about some of the players he’s communicated with only getting US looks because of his coverage… but that’s just the way this world works, man. Maybe it’s not in other countries, maybe it’s not the way it should, but that’s the reality in a country this large: it is in football and basketball (sports in which the United States is far more advanced than the competition in comparison to our status in soccer), and you can bet your booty it’s the case in a sport that’s considered secondary or tertiary in our culture.

Part of the landscape in a country this big, and with this much talent, is that the media plays a role in the scouting thing – as should high school coaches, club coaches, college coaches, etc. That’s the sort of thing we need to figure out as a country, that the federation needs to figure out for purposes both self-serving and not: how to take advantage of everyone’s skillset that’s available.

Minor leagues are our future. Forbes delves into how second-division soccer and below can be key to future World Cup for the United States. It uh, does not actually do that so much as it’s just a feature on FC Motown – there’s a throwaway line or two about how a local club can show people what it’s like to be a pro, and about how maybe they’ll add some sort of youth team in the future.

Howeva, the point is more important than actually making it (and of course it’s one I’ve made in the past): American soccer needs the local clubs to help be that developer and example, and (this ties into the final graf of the section above, as well) in a country this size, unless and until we have more community clubs like it, kids are going to slip through the cracks. That’s what makes it especially frustrating for me to see people complain about, for example, the pay-to-play system (though the complaints themselves are legitimate to a large degree). Think kids shouldn’t have to pay to play soccer? Start your own organization that’s free for them.

From Olympics to the World Cup. Stars and Stripes FC takes a look at how much impact Olympic success has historically had on the next World Cup cycle for the USMNT. Short answer: not a ton.

There are 16 teams at every Olympics. One caveat to remember is not the best U23 players are at the tournament because they overlap with the Euros and Copa America. Also, during qualifying, players don’t have to be released for the tournament, so the deepest teams are the ones who qualify for the World Cup, not the top heavy ones.

Important caveats, yes, but if the analysis is strictly “does the Olympic tournament predict the next World Cup,” rather than “is the Olympic tournament strongly correlated with future success,” or “why might it not correlate?” then we good. In fact:

The players who will help boost senior national team success, like Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie if they stay on track, will most certainly not be released for qualifying and may be needed with the senior team for the summer of 2020.

So essentially, we wouldn’t expect it. As mentioned in the first pull quote, Olympic qualifying and tournament can be more a measure of U-23 depth than U-23 quality. And of course, different nations treat it differently (Neymar was an overager for Brazil at the most recent Olympics, for example, whereas other countries simply don’t value it quite like that).

Building from scratch. This is more a feature on new CEO Ian Ayre than it is actually a story about how to build the MLS side from scratch, but interesting nonetheless.

He said: “When you are creating something from nothing, you have to create a DNA, then bring in people who fit. If you look at Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, culturally he was a brilliant fit for the club.

“For us, it means starting with scouting and analysis. By doing that we can begin to build a picture of the type of player we need in the timescale we are looking at.”

Appointing a coach is “some way off”, according to Ayre. Discussions have taken place internally, though, and he expects to be working seriously on a couple of names by the end of the year.

That’s certainly newsworthy-ish (as long as you don’t consider it the obvious way to build), at the least.

No, YOU’RE on loan. There’s been quite a bit of discussion about the European mega-clubs and their loan practices lately, especially after FIFA regulations to limit the number of players that clubs can have out on loan have been proposed.

Seems to me that this would be detrimental to players from the United States, who routinely use big-club money to transfer abroad, then get loaned out elsewhere within the continent (Matt Miazga with Chelsea, Erik Palmer-Brown with Man City, to name a couple that spring immediately to mind). Closing off a path for such moves doesn’t seem to benefit Americans at all.

Should the legislation come to fruition, one potential change could be a necessity for MLS to bring its outgoing transfer rules, policies, and practices closer to something approaching sanity, which is good in the long run, but more in a way to react to overcome new difficulties than a way that nets positive.

Etc.: This list of suggestions from the united supporters of FC Cincinnati will be an interesting document for Nashville fans to revisit (and make their own version of) in a couple years. … Very in favor of as many teams getting an opportunity in the US Open Cup as possible. … One of Nashville SC’s owners is a good dude. … Will be interesting to see what the Tampa Bay Rays do with the Rowdies. … Nashville got a boost for hosting 2026 World Cup games thanks to a solid job (and sales pitch) with the Mexico friendly.

Taking a deeper look at Ian Ayre

Nashville’s CEO hire for the MLS side happened at the top of a very busy time for the USL team, and while I dippedinto some analysis at the time, there’s finally a minute to breathe and re-focus.

Fortunately, several other outlets have spoken about Ian Ayre (or the Liverpool side he helped form on its way to the Champions League final) in the interim. While my initial take – primarily based upon speaking to Liverpool-supporting friends here in the States – was on the negative side, I think there’s plenty of positive, as well. With a bit more analysis (and, importantly, an understanding of the differences between the tasks Merseyside and in Music City), I’ve warmed up in a major way, though still with some concerns to keep an eye on.

A good place to start would be Grant Wahl’s podcast, as it sits down with Ayre. Thankfully, you don’t have to listen to every word to get to the meat of the matter: Wahl transcribed some of the best parts.

I think what we’ll do is over a reasonably short period of time, we’ll start to develop a playing style we expect, to look at the type of football we want to play, look at the budget. … I think our coach will come through that process once we define the type of style and type of players we want to have and everything else. Then obviously the coach needs to fit within that.

That’s sort of a non-answer, but it is interesting in that it sort of clarifies (or at worst reiterates) that the coach will be hired as a result of the style desired and players desired for that style, rather than any other causal order.

You could find Ayre quotes from his introductory presser anywhere and everywhere (including here) a few Mondays ago. There’s still a point I didn’t touch on. From the Tennessean:

“I think if you look at MLS, particularly over the last five years, its trajectory has always been upward,” Ayre said. “I think watching from afar and living in the U.K., everybody’s got one eye on them because it’s really coming into its own. … The opportunity to build something and be a part of that was a big attraction for me.”

The positioning of Major League Soccer in the sport internationally has obviously been a major talking point recently, whether in the USSF presidential election, discussion of the failure to qualify for World Cup 2018, or elsewhere. Obviously Ayre’s perspective doesn’t apply within the framework of MLS’s position in developing MNT talent, but his view of it as a league on the rise is important nonetheless.

Liverpool’s run to the Champions League Final – though it comes a couple years after Ayre’s departure – is still a line on his resume. Some of the important players on the Reds’ roster were acquisitions in Ayre’s tenure as CEO. That’s not interesting in itself, given that any squad is going to have some holdovers and some new signings with each season (and will be reluctant to give up on the guys who turn into established stars).

A willingness to take a statistical angle is definitely something that catches my eye, though.

They needed attackers who could play anywhere in the front line. To find these key pieces, the team turned to analytics….

Over the last three years, very few young players have put up big numbers in xG and xA per 90 minutes while playing on smaller clubs and getting the majority of their minutes from outside the center forward role. Liverpool found three of them.

Like I said when examining Earnie Stewart’s qualifications for the USMNT general manager position, it’s less about “this guy used xG, I like this guy,” and more about a willingness to use methods both conventional and advanced, and not shying away from an evaluation just because it’s outside-the-box.

One thing that I’ve seen as a criticism of Liverpool under Ayre, of course, is an unwillingness to spend, an unwillingness to have the coach take the reins when it comes to signing (friction with Klopp was reportedly one reason he departed), and the establishment of a “transfer council.” That said, the results – aside from being unable to spend enough to hold onto Coutinho – haven’t been half-bad.

As well as overseeing the successful $160 million stadium expansion of Anfield during his time with Liverpool, Ayre was directly responsible for all player transfers, including contract negotiations. He helped acquire the likes of Phillipe Coutinho, Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Manè during his time with the Reds. While also working with top-class coaches such as Rafa Benitez, Brendan Rodgers and Jurgen Klopp.

How much of that is Ayre – “directly responsible for all player transactions” seems a bit of a stretch, except inasmuch as he established a body that was directly responsible – and how much is attributable to others in the organization is up for debate, of course.

Overall, it’s easy to understand why Liverpool fans have reservations about him, while still maintaining a view that those particular concerns won’t be directly ported to a very different job in Music City. We’re still eagerly anticipating Ayre’s first moves as CEO, and seeing how he approaches though will be more telling about the future than anything in his past.

Music City is indeed Soccer City

The title is a play on one of the early posts I made on this site, but it’s more true now than ever – and that reputation will only continue to increase.

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We back, baby. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country (but like, way before I started the site).

Certainly, fans of FC Cincinnati – home to a USL franchise two entire years before Nashville SC’s USL side debuted – will continue to crow about a lack of history, Louisville City fans will cry about something as it relates to being sellouts, but there’s no denying that Nashville’s beginning to build plenty of buzz.

Yes, there’s the news that they’ll be hosting an MLS team in the fourth round of the US Open Cup (and the small fact that it happens to be the most-beatable MLS team of 2018 certainly doesn’t hurt that buzz). That’s not it, though. Nashville SC also hired a bigtime General Manager for when the MLS days begin in 2020, and that’s something that has generated attention well beyond the Metro area – indeed, it’s made major waves overseas as well. And it says Nashville means business.

So too does hosting FC Cincinnati July 7 in Nissan Stadium. The Boys from Queen City like to brag incessantly about their ability to fill a venue (in between complaints about Nashville’s lack of soccer history, of course), and it’s time to help put their money where their mouth is. The venue’s soccer record of 56.232 fans – set last Summer for a friendly between Manchester City and Tottenham hotspur – should be in serious danger. With the right marketing push, it should absolutely fall. Given that Cincinnati will be a fellow future MLS team by then makes it all the more exciting.

The club isn’t directly involved, but that Nissan Stadium will also host an international friendly in September is exciting. That it’s far and away the No. 1 rivalry game in Concacaf is even better. Nashville soccer fans turn out for the Men’s national team, and they’ll definitely turn out for a contest against the hated El Trí.

As if that’s not enough, the combination of all the above factors has led to another major move. European clubs are reaching out to the Boys in Gold about a friendly this Summer, knowing that they’ll be able to play in front of tons of relatively new (and plenty of existing) soccer fans:

There’s a buzz about town, and it’s up to not only Nashville SC – which currently sits tenth in the USL (though with two games in-hand on more than half the teams ahead of them) – but also Inter Nashville FC – playing tonight at International Indoor Soccer in Antioch – and fans, players, and supporters of the beautiful game to make it all stick.

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Courtesy Nashville SC

It doesn’t start with any one particular factor in play. Only through the combination of multiple avenues coming together to grow the game, grow the support, and grow the local clubs, can greatness be achieved. Then, Music City may just be supplanted as the nickname of choice.