Nashville SC ships Michael Cox to St. Louis in exchange for international spot

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Cox scored the first competitive goal in Nashville SC club history. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

From club release:

NASHVILLE (July 12, 2018) – Nashville SC has agreed to trade forward Michael Cox to Saint Louis FC of the United Soccer League (USL) in exchange for an international roster spot. The acquisition of the roster spot brings the team’s total to eight for the rest of the 2018 season.

“Michael was a good ambassador for Nashville Soccer Club, and we are happy for the opportunity that he will have in St Louis. We would like to wish him the best of luck in the future,” Nashville SC technical director and VP of soccer operations Mike Jacobs. “This transaction will allow us the flexibility to actively explore potential additions during the summer transfer window, and to continue to put Gary [Smith] and his coaching staff in the best possible position to succeed.”

Cox appeared in five games for Nashville SC in 2018 with three starts, totaling 263 minutes. His only goal of the season came on a penalty kick against Bethlehem Steel in a 1-0 win for Nashville on March 31.

Nashville SC will be back in action on the road on July 21 against Ottawa Fury FC. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. CST.

My reaction: On the field, not much impact. Cox had been a depth player (or even below that) since the beginning of the year, particularly once Ropapa Mensah started to get closer to full fitness – though he’s still not there – and the writing was on the wall for every forward who hadn’t been getting playing time as soon as Brandon Allen signed.

I had actually believed it most likely that a Canadian team would pick him up (there’s been an increasing trend toward those clubs loading up with their countrymen, and he’d be an improvement for either Canadian Club in the USL), for example if he traveled with NSC to Ottawa next weekend, and simply didn’t come back.

Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how the added international spot is used. Nashville hasn’t really explored the transfer market proper a whole lot in its brief existence as a professional club, and adding an international slot (while waiting until a transfer window) implies that there’s a desire for a relatively splashy signing. With the finishing ability returning to pre-Allen levels lately, I’d bet on a player who can put the ball in the net.

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Breakdown and player ratings: Bethlehem Steel 0-1 Nashville SC

Breakdown and player ratings: Nashville SC 0-0 Pittsburgh RiverhoundsNashville SC finally earned its first win of the young season, and a road win, no less. What led to the result?

Tactics and formation

Nashville SC came out with a couple wrinkles that we hadn’t seen this much of prior to the game: a straight-up 4-4-2 formation, and attacking midfielder Lebo Moloto lined up as a striker. We got glimpses of each in the scoreless draw against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, but had essentially a full game here (the formation got a little muddier when Moloto was replaced by Matt LaGrassa, who was a bit like a fifth midfielder at times, while winger Alan Winn raced up the sidelines).

There was also plenty of shifting among the personnel: Winn got his first playing time of the year at right midfielder, wingback Taylor Washington got his first start of the year at left midfielder, Bolu Akinyode replaced LaGrassa in the defensive midfield, and Michael Cox returned to the pitch after sitting the game against Pittsburgh.

The end result was a very different type of attack than in the previous two games, and despite still lacking a goal from the run of play, there seemed to be more danger to it. Without further ado, the player ratings. Please note that I’m still trying to tweak the formula week-by-week, so the numbers may not translate across posts (but are internally consistent within each game). The community ratings are on a more traditional 1-10 scale.

Midfield

Alan Winn 15.96 (97 minutes) – Community rating: 7.75 – I tried to be very conservative in my evaluation of Winn’s performance: the hype train for him (and for Ropapa Mensah) has been a little out of control, and I understand a lot of the reasons he hadn’t seen as much time yet. Still, he was my man of the match, and like I’ve said about Taylor Washington in previous weeks, it’s the simple presence of his speed on the pitch just as much as anything he accomplishes with the ball at his feet that makes him so dangerous.

Indeed, Winn’s play with the ball at his feet was at times really lacking: he’s capable of some really nice skill dribbles or incisive runs, but the “Nashville gets in good positions and doesn’t score or even get a shot off” narrative existed before this game, and Winn seemed to want to continue it in a major way. He over-dribbles in the box, and needs to have a bit more spatial awareness both in the scoring third and when it comes to getting there with his passes.

That should come with more repetitions at professional soccer speed, since he’s still adjusting from college ball. Substitution appearances (depending on a formation that makes sense to get him on the field) would be a nice step for consistent minutes in the next few weeks. Interestingly, he played on the right, even though he’d previously been more comfortable on the left side as an in-cutting winger.

Taylor Washington 10.04 (97 minutes) – Community rating: 7.00 –  This was a winger-friendly formation and gameplan, so there’s a little to be adjusted expectations-wise for both of these guys, but Washington impressed as he always does. He wasn’t quite on the same page with his central defensive midfielders or defenders (when it came to their distributing it to him) at times, but like Winn, his speed is a game-changer for what NSC can do going forward. He also faded a bit after a strong first half, though that’s more likely a product of getting his first full 90.

Michael Reed 8.37 (97 minutes) – Community rating: 6.00 – I thought this was a nice little bounceback game for Reed after a couple iffy ones to start the year. He was far more assertive in stepping up to get in a tackle on opposing midfielders or forwards, and was far better at being controlled in where the ball ended up at the conclusion of those tackles – to his teammates, rather than just becoming a 50/50 ball in the middle of the field. He’s still a little quieter in terms of overall involvement than I might like, though that’s partially the nature of the D-mids within this club, it seems.

Bolu Akinyode 7.12 (97 minutes) – Community rating: 6.00 – Akinyode was a bit of a surprise starter after Matt LaGrassa had previously been a lock in the starting lineup. He provides a pretty different skillset than LaGrassa, though: he’s less comfortable going forward (particularly with the ball at his feet), but is a much more physically imposing defensive asset. He completes passes at a higher clip than teammates, but a lot of those tend to be extremely conservative – almost “make sure I complete the pass for the sake of not having an incompletion” rather than “make the play that is right for the situation” at times. He also still shows a bit of a lack of effort tracking back on counter-attacks, something that we saw in preseason, too.

Matt LaGrassa 1.41 (31 minutes) – Community rating: 5.75 – LaGrassa’s numbers are deflated for two reasons: first, limited playing time (which plays a big role in my formula thus far), and second, playing out of position. When he replaced Moloto, he was more of an advanced midfielder than a true striker like the player he replaced. We’ve seen LaGrassa go forward with the ball from his CDM spot, but playing up the field rather than matriculating the ball up himself is a different story. He was also called for a pretty weak time-wasting yellow card (among the many awful calls by an officiating crew that really was out of its depth in USL), which I dinged him for despite not thinking it was particularly justified.

Forwards

Michael Cox 10.87 (74 minutes) – Community rating: 7.75 – Cox obviously has the only goal in NSC (regular-season) history to his name at this point, thanks to a penalty that he – along with the incompetence of the officiating crew – earned himself. He was a beast in making runs upfield early in the game, had a bit of decent hold-up play, and got off a couple shots. He does, however, have a bit of a tendency to be iffy with the first touch, and he doesn’t have the pure speed to run onto long balls with the consistency of, say, Winn or Moloto (of course, he’s good for it at least once – in earning that penalty). He needs more game minutes to get used to full-speed action, and had a couple offensive pushes that he spoiled by not taking stock of his runners. Like other NSC strikers we’ve seen, he ran the heck out of gas early in the second half. Conditioning at that position is going to be a work in progress.

Lebo Moloto 10.58 (66 minutes) – Community rating: 6.75 – Moloto looks a little out of position at striker – because he is – but Gary Smith clearly had the same thought a lot of fans did: “let’s put the only offensive threat on the team in position to put the ball on goal.” Oddly, Moloto didn’t do as much in terms of pure offense as we’d seen in the previous two games. Few of his passes were played into (or out of) the box, he took only one shot, and he didn’t seem as involved in the offensive third. Still, he was a decent facilitator as sort of a false nine to drop back to spark attacks – even though he had a couple troubles trapping passes. For a guy playing out of position, I had no serious problems with his performance.

Ropapa Mensah 1.13 (23 minutes) – Community rating: 6.25 – Mensah came onto the field and initiated a bit of a spark. He didn’t have a whole lot of time to make an impact, but losing his feet on a corner (where maintaining a jumping position to get a header on could have been the game-sealing goal) and committing a silly foul in the offensive end dragged down the rating a bit, too.

Defenders

Liam Doyle 11.01 (97 minutes) – Community rating: 6.25 – By the nature of the thing, Doyle (as the middle centerback) tends to get less action – and therefore fewer opportunities to build up a rating – during games, but in playing left centerback in a four-man backline, he got a bit more action. He steps up in the right situations (without doing so in any wrong situations, like we saw at times in previous games), is a threat with the head – he should have had a goal on a well-placed ball off a corner, but for a semi-lucky save by the keeper – and is a threat with the long-ball, as we saw on the would-be assist on Cox’s run that led to the penalty. He still makes some iffy back-passes to his keeper or fellow defenders, though.

Justin Davis 10.08 (97 minutes) – Community rating: 6.50 – Davis has a very, very different quality about him as a left outside back than he does as one of a central defensive trio. He doesn’t get directly up the sideline for overlapping runs, but is comfortable folding inside with the ball at his feet (we see him press from a CDM role, but dish it when he gets into an advanced position, rather than trying to dribble in like he did Saturday) and likes to dish it up the sideline. His physical nature gets the better of him at times – he gave up a dangerous and unnecessary free kick late in Saturday’s game, and I think one of these spectacular slide tackles is going to be a yellow eventually.

Ryan James 9.77 (75 minutes) – Community rating: 6.25 – Playing fullback in a 4-4-2 versus wingback in a 3-5-2 or midfield in a 4-4-2 is a very different role for James. He still managed to make a number of overlapping runs, but due to a lack of chemistry with Winn, he didn’t get service when he should have a couple times. His primary role in this one was defensive, and early in the game he was having trouble making the adjustment, letting a couple runners through (Bourgeois cleared one, the other was whistled for offside). It seemed like his sub-off was more to get the defensively-sound Kimura on the field to hold onto the result (and reward the veteran, who missed his first start of the year).

Bradley Bourgeois 7.96 (97 minutes) – Community rating: 6.50 – For a smaller central defender, I really like what Bourgeois brings physically: he actually manages to get up and head the ball for clearances, he’s willing to really get in and battle for the ball, and is solid at stepping up to a threat or tracking back to cover. He has a similar trait to Akinyode, where he’s overly conservative with the passes he plays, though on the backline that (somewhat ironically) leads to some really risky moments.

Kosuke Kimura 0.91 (22 minutes) – Community rating: 5.50 – Kimura wasn’t on the field long enough to have much of an impact, and the ball never really came his way during the time on the field. Consider this grade an incomplete.

Goalkeeper

Matt Pickens 5.33 (97 minutes) – Community rating: 8.25 – Pickens wasn’t particularly involved in this game (I’ll get into that in a moment), but when called upon, he came up big. He had a couple saves on free kicks, including one on which he had to immediately make a second save on the rebound – if it’s not the USL save of the week, the league is doing it wrong. He was a little iffy in distribution – normally a strength of his game – with kicks out of the back landing short or, at times, out of bounds. He did what he was asked, though.

Conclusions

Bethlehem fans are (rightly) upset about Michael Cox’s penalty kick: that foul occurred outside the box (though the red was absolutely justified, and I’m pleasantly surprised it was called). That wasn’t the only mistake by the refs though, who had an absolute howler. This play was whistled for a yellow card:

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…but with no legitimate attempt on the ball and a sweep from behind (to say nothing of the fact that Adam Najem is probably the last defender with a chance to prevent Davis from a free run on goal) – that’s a red basically every time, no questions asked. Lebo Moloto was also shoved into that very same advertising board well after another play, which didn’t draw a foul, much less a card.

Then there was this:

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That’s not one but three(!) defenders keeping Alan Winn onside (this is a moment after the ball is played so that third one looks iffy, but he’s coming the opposite direction as Winn is sprinting upfield – he was well ahead of Winn’s position) – two of them by five yards or more – and a linesman who is not remotely in position about to raise his flag. That is terrible officiating, and not appropriate for the professional game. It’s understandable to make mistakes, but to that degree… high school leagues need refs too, I guess.

Now that all that’s off my chest…

I’m not down on the performance, though I know others are. There’s this “Bethlehem peppered the goal in the second half while down a man” narrative circulating, but it’s really not particularly accurate. They had four shots on goal all game, two of them directly from free kicks and a third on the rebound from one of those free kicks (the rebound was the only shot inside the box that was remotely on target – one was well off-frame, the other two were blocked off the foot by NSC defenders). Add in that the free kicks were against the run of play – particularly the Davis one I mentioned above – and the danger is far less in reality than it felt as a fan of a team scrapping to hold onto a one-goal lead against a ten-man side.

On the other end, Nashville’s attack wasn’t quite as toothless as it seemed, either. There is something to be said for “we get in good positions but don’t get a dangerous shot off” developing as NSC’s identity (as it was even before this game), but that’s certainly preferable to “we don’t even get in the good positions in the first place.” There are chemistry issues here, and individual inexperience played a role, as well.

It almost feels disingenuous to keep saying “the goals are going to come” when the flow remains the same and those goals just haven’t arrived. Still, it feels like NSC is knocking on the door of a breakout game where things just click. It may come frustratingly late in the year, and they may pile up goals against the weaker teams in the East while going scoreless against better opposition. However, I remain confident – more so than I was after either of the previous two games, given how much time NSC spent in the box Saturday – that it’s on the way.

Full transcripts: Michael Cox and Ryan James March 8, 2018

A couple Boys in Gold met with the media yesterday. Here’s the full transcript from striker Michael Cox and fullback Ryan James.

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Michael Cox. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Michael Cox

On the Florida trip and the team’s building of chemistry in the Sunshine State:

“It was real good, you know. We got in a lot of sessions, quite a few games. We’re really starting to come together as a team. All the things we’ve been working on, we’ve started to see them in the games. With a strong performance in Orlando.”

Scoring and assisting in the Orlando game – did he build confidence?:

“Of course, every attacker wants to have a goal or an assist. For sure, as preseason goes on, I’m feeling better and better, so I’m hoping it carries onto the season.

What he’s looking forward to with the beginning of the regular season:

“Just getting that first game out of the way. It’s been a long time we’ve been in preseason. I think all the guys are ready, so it should be pretty good.”

His expectations for the season:

“Personally, I just want to stay healthy and be ready for whenever I’m called upon to give the best that I can. As a team, of course we want to do well. We want to be competitive, we want to be up there at the top of the table at the end of the season.”

After missing much of 2017 with injury, how is he feeling for 2018?

“I’m feeling great. It’s been a – it was a long recovery for me. But I’m feeling better than ever.”

Ryan James

On the team coming together:

“I mean, every day is a different day. I think with every day, everyone gets to know each other a little bit more. These two-a-days are really bringing us together in the sense that we can see each other’s tendencies: what one guy is going to do. So if I move left, another guy’s going to move right. You can just kind of almost sense like, ‘he’s gonna do this, so I’ve gotta do that.’ You’re working that partnership, and it only makes you guys stronger. I think it’s going well so far.”

How does the team build chemistry with no returning players?

“I think it’s tough in a sense, but everyone has that experience where you come into a new team. You know how to approach it from a sense where you don’t know many guys. A lot of guys – you don’t start with one team, and go through with that whole team your whole life – everyone has that experience of coming into a new team and you don’t know anyone. ‘How can I know these guys better as quick as I can?’ I think everyone’s applied that and we’ve gotten to know each other fairly quickly. I think these two-a-days and long days, as draining as they are on the body and stuff like that, everything helps. Outside of soccer, inside of soccer, just getting to know who you’re playing with and all those guys, it helps a lot, just knowing that person and getting those relationships.”

How has the off-field chemistry come about?

“Honestly, I think it’s just the amount of time we spend together. I know me personally, some guys come in different times, but it’s usually 8 am until who-knows-when in the afternoon, three or four sometimes. Just always being around these guys, and then even when you go back, sometimes you see guys hanging out together on extra. It’s almost like the only time we’re not seeing each other sometimes is when we’re sleeping. Everyone’s in their separate rooms, you know. That’s preseason, and you can only expect to have a strong team by having those long days and being – in a sense – forced to be with each other all the time, even though sometimes guys may want their own time apart from the team. It pays off in the end and I think everyone appreciates this time together and the long days with each other in the end.”

What will change with the regular-season rhythm soon to be established:

“I think it’ll still pan out. Although we’re not playing soccer quite as much, the quality will come within a shorter timeframe. I’m assuming – I can only say that I think guys will still hang out outside of soccer. It’s not just soccer that brings us together. After this month-and-a-half, now we’re more than just teammates. We’re going to be exploring the city together and just hanging out together, and just enjoying our time here in Nashville.”

Is the team regular-season ready?

“I think we’re at very good place right now, but there’s always room for improvement. The time that we’re given, we’ll use it to tune up a couple things. Always take the time that you’re given, and were going to use it wisely and we’re going to use it to our advantage.”

Nashville SC building chemistry, coming together in preseason

Professional teams aren’t always known for perfect harmony in the locker room. To the greatest extent that may be expected, though, Nashville SC seems close to an exception in that regard. With six preseason friendlies in the rearview mirror and just one more coming up – this weekend in Chattanooga – this has grown into a team that has a genuine camaraderie.

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NC has come together off the field and on it. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country.

“Everyone has that experience where you come into a new team,” said defender Ryan James. “You know how to approach it from a sense where you don’t know many guys. A lot of guys – you don’t start with one team, and go through with that whole team your whole life – everyone has that experience of coming into a new team and you don’t know anyone. ‘How can I know these guys better as quick as I can?’ I think everyone’s applied that and we’ve gotten to know each other fairly quickly.”

The players’ personal relationships have grown just as quickly as their knowledge of what teammates are going to do on the field.

“Honestly, I think it’s just the amount of time we spend together,” James said. “I know me personally, some guys come in different times, but it’s usually 8:00 am until who-knows-when in the afternoon, three or four sometimes. Just always being around these guys, and then even when you go back, sometimes you see guys hanging out together on extra.

“It’s almost like the only time we’re not seeing each other sometimes is when we’re sleeping,” he added with a laugh. “Everyone’s in their separate rooms, you know. That’s preseason, and you can only expect to have a strong team by having those long days and being – in a sense – forced to be with each other all the time, even though sometimes guys may want their own time apart from the team. It pays off in the end and I think everyone appreciates this time together and the long days with each other in the end.”

Like the relationships and familiarity have grown, so too have the chemistry and the overall product on the field. After losing 3-1 to an Atlanta United team among the best in MLS in the first contest, NSC has bounced back in a big way with three draws and two victories – including one over another MLS side, Orlando City SC.

The defensive product has remained strong, and the scoring punch has slowly developed. By the time the regular season hits, this squad should be in full stride.

“I wanted, at some stage or another through preseason, they’ve found an opportunity to come back from a difficult spot, which they have: they’ve been behind twice and got themselves back in the game.” said head coach Gary Smith. “They’ve shown really good signs in front of goal, which they have: last two games [excluding a 2-0 win over Lipscomb University], we’ve scored five goals. And we’ve been able to, in some moments, show that we’re capable of keeping other teams out, which we have.

“So I’m really pleased with what we’ve seen. The biggest challenge for us is going to be consistency. It’s a brand-new group. I’ve seen some really good moments; I’ve seen some moments where certainly we need to improve.”

Half of the preseason contests took place in the Sunshine State. After falling to Atlanta United, NSC headed down to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for a week of training and a couple games. They drew MLS side Chicago Fire 0-0 and fellow USL competition Ottawa Fury 1-1 at IMG, before heading just up the road to Orlando to face Orlando City SC. That 3-1 victory served as validation of the methods in preseason training, and also served as a coming-out party for forward Michael Cox. While the team had scored just two total goals in the three prior contests, he scored one and assisted another on his own in that victory over a higher-tier club.

“It was real good, you know,” Cox said of the trip. “We got in a lot of sessions, quite a few games. We’re really starting to come together as a team. All the things we’ve been working on, we’ve started to see them in the games with a strong performance in Orlando.

“Of course, every attacker wants to have a goal or an assist. For sure, as preseason goes on, I’m feeling better and better, so I’m hoping it carries on to the season.”

Even if Nashville doesn’t come out against Louisville and earn a season-opening victory March 17 – even if this weekend’s friendly against Chattanooga goes sideways at some point, unlikely though that may seen – it’s clear that the methods of team-building are already paying off, and will mean solid regular-season results in the end.

Observations from Nashville SC practice

Most of the period of practice that was open to media today was the installation/fine-tuning of a five-man backline scheme (and the rest of it was positional drills), so there’s a little less to glean from offensive players, but we got a really good look at the defensive personnel. Gary Smith did mention in his press conference afterwards – video coming soon – that it’s one of multiple formations they intend to run out, so it sounds like there’ll be four-man backlines, as well.

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Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Lineup notes

The first-choice line appeared to be (left to right): Taylor Washington, Justin Davis, Liam Doyle, London Woodberry, and Kosuke Kimura. Ryan James rotated in on the outside on both sides. Jordan Dunstan and Bradley Bourgeois rotated in at the CB positions, too (I believe Dunstan got a tiny bit of time at RB, too).

In front of the backline, NSC was going with two holding midfielders – first choice Michael Reed and Matt LaGrassa, second choice Bolu Akinyode and Josh Hughes – so this is a pretty defensive formation if those wingbacks don’t get forward (though obviously that’s a strength of Kimura’s game, and Washington has some forward ability as well). Cutting out crosses, and tactics/switching/etc. when those wingbacks got into dangerous areas up the field was a focus of the install.

Since there wasn’t a true offensively-focused portion in the open portion, there’s not quite s much to glean about the personnel battles there. Offensive groupings included Robin Shroot and Martim Galvao together, as well as Michael Cox and Tucker Hume. Striker Ropapa Mensah was not in attendance, settling his visa situation before he joins the squad next week.

There was a handful of non-rostered players – clarified by Smith after practice as those who tried out, didn’t make the 23, but have something to contribute as practice players who could be signed to USL contracts down the road – also there (including a couple different keepers and a number of midfielders).

Personnel observations

Two players really stood out as vocal leaders. Kosuke Kimura is obviously familiar with Smith’s tactics from their previous stops together (including the MLS championship side for the Colorado Rapids back in 2010), and the veteran is very good at instructing, demonstrating, coaching up, etc. He’s still a ball of energy even though he’s starting to get up in years, so there shouldn’t be worry about the team getting into offensive shape even with a 5-3-2 formation. Still, his ability to communicate and teach was the most impressive aspect to me.

The center backs were still learning the priorities and rules for the system, but in the defense-favored format of the practice, all looked fairly solid. There’s going to be a curve in terms of building familiarity and communication with each other. Justin Davis seemed to be the most solid there, though after playing outside left back in a four-man backline for Minnesota United, it’ll still take a bit of adjusting.

The practice was about getting the field players ready, so the goalkeeper rotation (which was heavy on CJ Cochran) probably isn’t particularly meaningful. Smith hinted that Matt Pickens is probably the top dog at that position in the press conference.

In the midfield, Robin Shroot was extremely vocal, even in the modified-Rondo portion of the practice. Communicating and a bit of veteran savvy are going to combine to give him a real role to play. Former San Antonio FC captain Michael Reed (defensive midfield) was a good communicator in organizing his defense, as well.

The Martim Galvão fixation for fans (the former NSC U-23 star had longtime “why hasn’t he signed?” status) is probably a way to set the guy up for failure – expectations so high they’d be tough for anyone to meet – but he fit right in on a roster composed entirely of pros. There’s definitely going to be a role for him (if not a major one) this Summer. His touch and ability to move the ball through traffic translates better than I’d expected.

Kimura and James both played a couple nice crosses, and with target-forward Tucker Hume roaming the middle, that’s going to be a dangerous tactic this season. Unfortunately, on both occasions (including one on which he was all alone in front of net), the header sailed just high. He’ll dial that accuracy in a bit with more time on the training pitch.

Again, not much to be gleaned from the offensive guys, so don’t read too much into a lack of notes on them. Michael Cox had a handful of nice touches in addition to the guys I’ve mentioned above.

Nashville SC announces four more player signings

Yesterday afternoon, Our Club (from Our Town, I guess) made its second round of player announcements. This one has one headliner from Gary Smith’s Colorado Rapids days, and plenty of USL talent (check out the league’s writeup on the latest wave of signings).

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Kosuke Kimura

The first native of Japan in MLS history (though he has never been capped by the Samurai Blue), Kimura has eight years of MLS experience from 2007 to 2014, and has spent the past three years in the NASL/USL with the Atlanta Silverbacks, Rayo OKC, and most recently the Tulsa Roughnecks. The Silverbacks have reorganized as an NPSL team after a season of ownership by the league itself, while Rayo OKC folded completely after just two seasons.

The 33-year old Kimura made 24 appearances for the Roughnecks this season with 22 starts, and was ninth on the team in minutes played with just shy of 2,000. He’s an outside defender playing primarily on the right side, and at one point was a decent offensive threat, though he had only one shot (and 19 total crosses) this season – it would appear that he’s going forward less as he gets up in years. He’s known for a high motor, but at least as used by the Roughnecks, that meant pretty much only in his own half last year.

Kimura was sixth on the team with 37 clearances, fourth with eight blocked shots, fifth with 44 intercepted passes, he had a 76.3% tackle success rate, and won 48.1% of aerial duels despite being a 5-9 guy (and on limited reps, too – though that’s what you’d expect from an outside back). The Roughnecks were No. 11 in the USL in fewest goals allowed despite their only all-USL player being a second-team forward, so Kimura was part of a decent enough defensive unit.

Kimura’s signing – taken in concert with GK Matt Pickens – probably indicates what we should expect from a lot of this roster: members of Gary Smith’s 2010 MLS Champion Rapids team who are now playing in USL (especially those out of contract, of course).

Taylor Washington

Washington is a two-way winger who plays primarily in defense but can also get some time in the midfield thanks to pace and work rate. As a bonus, he can play on either side: he can be a utility player to plug in at any of four spots, based on other signings (or three, assuming Kimura is the projected starter at right back).

The college soccer product (one year at Boston University, three at George Mason) was an MLS Draft pick of the Philadelphia Union, but has played with the Bethlehem Steel – Union’s USL affiliate – and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the past two years, his first two as a pro. This season, he played primarily in defense for the Riverhounds, with three shots all year (one on goal), and they had a pretty anemic offense overall en route to 33 goals in 32 games, while they gave up 42 markers.

He played the third-most minutes on the team, with 28 starts in 29 appearances over the season. He wasn’t one of the most-tested players on the team, with just 37.5 passes per 90 minutes played, and his passing accuracy numbers (including crosses, of which he booted 70) are just OK. It’s defensively that he separated himself: 91 clearances, a team-leading (by a huge margin) 96 passes intercepted, 51 tackles on a 66.7% success rate, and about 64% of duels won both overall and aerially, even though he’s another shorter guy at 5-10.

Whereas some of the older signings are potentially “USL only” guys who won’t be extended if MLS does indeed become a reality for the 2019 season, the potential is there for Washington to at least have a role long-term, at just 24 years old.

Michael Cox

Cox is a goal-scorer, and one of the few NSC has announced so far (Robin Shroot being the other). The Canadian has spent the past two seasons playing with Orlando City B, and had a poor year in 2017 with just two goals and three assists for a team whose offense was pretty anemic – 37 goals was tied for No. 20 in the 30-team league. The 6-2, 180-pounder had a much better year in 2016, with 11 goals (eight of them coming from outside the box, all coming from the right foot) and again three assists.

Cox made only 17 appearances this year, which is probably part of the explanation for the decrease in his numbers – he played in 26 games the previous year. He’s a target strike with some pace as well, and is probably going to be used as a complement to Shroot’s more dribble-oriented style. Cox had 19 shots, 12 on target this year, and scored a goal with each foot. Playing time was apparently hard to come by (maybe by injury? nobody has mentioned it, but if it’s performance-related, not being able to crack into a bad lineup is worrisome).

Both of Cox’s goals last year came in the same game, and both came but breaking the back line of defense and firing across the keeper’s body (with the lefty strike a more impressive finish, though from an easier angle):

I would presume that a change of scenery and not playing for a bad team (their goalkeeper faced a ton of shots and was the only all-league honoree) could work wonders for his numbers.

CJ Cochran

Cochran is the second goalie announced by the team, and comes from OKC Energy. He was the No. 2 keeper for his team, but entered the lineup after an injury to starter Corey Laurendi and put up much better numbers.

For a team that gave up 41 goals in 32 (regular-season) games, he gave up seven tallies in 10 appearances, including three playoff games which naturally come against the better talent faced. He gave up just one goal in three playoff games, winning a 1-0 decision and a 1-1 draw (with a 4-1 victory in penalties, an impressive credit to a keeper), and losing a 0-0 draw to league runners-up Swope Park Rangers in a 7-6 penalty shootout.

The 26-year old Cochran is potentially a longer-term signing for the club, given the age at which keepers are in their prime being a bit later than field players, though I would suspect he begins the season behind Pickens.

Cochran had a 75.9% save percentage, had four clean sheets in 10 games, (which of course means he gave up seven in the other six games combined, still not half-bad), and cleared the ball from his box another 16 times. His team had zero all-USL players, but finished sixth in the Western Conference (before the nice playoff run that Cochran helped spearhead).

His distribution might have some room for improvement, with a 42.9% passing success rate and 29.5% on long passes. That means he missed on just one non-long pass, but given Pickens’s more impressive numbers (54.6/37.8), hopefully he can be a bit of a mentor and help the youngster come along.

More on signings as the news continues to roll in.