Profile: Daniel Ríos

Nashville MLS has its first player (officially), and Nashville SC as a USL side has its first new signing for the 2019 season. Who is Daniel Rios?

daniel-ricc81os-john-ingram-in-front-of-nashville-skyline.jpg
Ríos. Courtesy Nashville SC

Let’s begin with the physical: he stands 6-1, 185 pounds – not necessarily an imposing specimen, but certainly plenty big to be a striker of either the goal-scoring or target variety. His ability to do either of those things is a big deal for NSC Technical Director Mike Jacobs.

“I think he embodies what we look for in a player: from the standpoint of wanting someone who is creative, somebody who promotes a daring attacking style of play, and somebody who I think fits into the DNA of our club,” Jacobs said. “He fits the profile that you look for in a striker, specifically a player in that 9 role. Not only is he a poacher and a sniper around the box, but he’s a very clinical finisher: he’s somebody who doesn’t need a lot of chances to score… His hold-up play is very strong, as somebody who can link up with as a target, makes him somebody who can not only create chances for himself, but for his teammates as well.”

At just 23 years old (turning 24 before the beginning of next season), he’s also a relatively young player. In the global picture, that’s a guy who’s settling into a career, but in MLS specifically, that’s essentially the age of what you’d expect from most rookies.

“When you think of the fact that he’s really the age of someone who’s a senior in college or their first year out, the equivalent of an MLS SuperDraft selection, to see him be able to score 20 goals against top competition in USL at such a young age speaks volumes about not only where he is now, but where he’s going as a player.”

After much searching for stats (with very little luck), the official Liga Ascenso (second division in Mexico) website turned out to have what I needed! Imagine that! The first place I should have looked! Here’s his résumé south of the border – all of this while loaned out from Chivas de Guadalajara:

League play:

  • Spring 2016 – Coras FC: 624 minutes in nine games (seven starts), 69 minutes per appearance. Four goals. Coras finished 11th of 16 teams on 19 points in 15 games, 20 goals for and 19 goals against.
  • Fall 2016 – Chivas II (Segunda división – Mexican third division): 722 minutes in 12 games (eight starts), 60 minutes per appearance. Three goals and three yellow cards. Chivas II finished with 32 points in 15 games, 26 goals for and 16 goals against.
  • Spring 2017 – Coras FC: 1216 minutes in 16 games played (14 starts), 76 minutes per appearance. Five goals. Coras finished ninth of 18 teams on 26 points in 17 games, 24 goals for and 20 goals against.
  • Fall 2017 – Zacatepec: 773 minutes in 13 games (nine starts), 59 minutes per appearance. Four goals. Zacatepec finished fourth of 16 teams on 24 points in 15 games, 19 goals for and 12 goals against.

Mexican leagues play two seasons per year, with the Fall (“Apertura,” or “opening”) and Spring (“Clausura” or “closing”) combined for promotion/relegation purposes – before FMF suspended pro/rel, at least – but champions of each considered a champion in their own right.

He also had a number of Cup appearances (in Copa MX, the Mexican version of US Open Cup, as well as the playoffs for the Reserve teams of Liga MX sides). Over the course of four separate seasons, he had four goals in six games in Copa MX’s early rounds, no goals in one appearance in Copa MX proper, and no goals in four appearances in that reserve tournament. Although he never played for the Chivas first team, having come up through that academy certainly can provide some connections for the team to work when looking for players in the future.

Moving to the United States, however, saw a major uptick in Rios’s production with a starring role for North Carolina FC: He earned first-team All-USL honors while leading NCFC in scoring.

Rios notched 20 goals on 61 shots (33% conversion rate for all my “NSC couldn’t finish last year”-heads), 13 with the right foot, six from the left, and one headed goal. Three of his goals came from outside the box, including two free-kick strikes. He also recorded four assists (on 34(!) key passes, so he probably should have had better assist numbers if his team had stepped up around him), giving some serious credence to Jacobs’s “he can be a hold-up striker” statement.

North Carolina was a high-scoring team last year, with 60 total goals (only Cincinnati, Louisville, NYRBII, Orange County, and Phoenix scored more), and Ríos scored 20 of those himself, and assisted on four more: he was the straw that stirred the drink, no doubt. He finished tied for second in scoring across USL despite sitting three games entirely, not making the playoffs (the player he’s tied with, Thomas Enevoldsen, played in 37 games), and playing about 72 minutes per appearance (he came on as a sub five times, and was subbed off himself 12). The team missed out on the playoffs despite their potent offense because the defense was worse than everyone but the bottom three in the Eastern Conference.

Conveniently, his agent has a highlight video available, set to the dulcet tones of The Killers:

As you can see, there’s great ball-striking ability and a fair amount of technical wizardry, but a lot of what he is able to do is a matter of vision, timing, and positioning. He knows how to be in the right place at the right time (when to make the right run), and of course, can finish. For his part, Ríos names his MLS role models as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lucho Acosta (citing their finishing and technical ability, respectively), which, yeah be a combo of those two guys, pls.

He’s mostly right-footed, but can finish with the left, too. He was much more header-oriented in Mexico, which is probably more a stylistic choice of NCFC (they scored 10 headed goals last year total, with four from midfielder Austin Da Luz, and had only three total goals from set pieces) than any diminishing in his skillset. A little bit of tight-area technical ability allows him to find the space to get a shot off in traffic, and he finds room to pick out passes (preferably so he can make a run and get it right back) near the top of the 18.

Chivas was set to make a decision on his return (Sp.), and this signing seems to indicate that the past three days saw that made: get a transfer fee out of him now, rather than try to work him into the first team or loan him out again.

For the USL side, he’s likely to fill the role we had hoped Brandon Allen would as the finisher, with a bit more technical ability (and presumably a better conversion rate). NSC’s tactical approach will determine how much more that role entails: will he be a lone striker dropping the ball off to midfielders or wingers in hold-up play, and finishing their service? Will he be next to a partner striker (whether Ropapa Mensah in a creative role or Tucker Hume in a hold-up one)? The breadth of his skillset allows for quite a bit of creativity and diversity in scheme. I even think he has some ability to function as a No. 10, though Jacobs was pretty clear that out-and-out striker is his primary role.

As he continues to develop, a little more technical ability added to the package – he’s already physically impressive – will make for a player who can more than hold his own at the MLS level.

Ríos’s signing is also a big one for an organization that has struggled to attract a Spanish-speaking audience in the Nashville market (and that’s a large audience untapped anywhere in the United States for a professional soccer team). Tapping into that with not only a talented Mexican player, but one who was part of the FMF’s youth setup as a youngster, opens a whole lot of doors for both the USL and MLS sides of the operation.

I’ve confirmed with the franchise that he was purchased outright from Chivas, and his contract does not include any allocation money, nor is he in the Designated Player category (putting his salary somewhere between the MLS minimum of $54,500 and the maximum below requiring allocation money of $504, 375). He will be loaned from Nashville MLS, which holds his contract, to Nashville SC, where he will play in 2019. The length of his contract beyond that (and the specific financial terms) will not be disclosed. Given that the ownership of the two teams is effectively the same, the practical effect from the fan perspective is that he’s a guy who plays for Nashville SC and will transition to MLS when the time comes in 2020.

Advertisements

Nashville MLS stadium update

Did you think the Nashville MLS stadium was a done deal when every relevant piece of Metro legislation passed the Council Sept. 6? You should have been right! But you are not.

img_4872
Let’s get it saved, folks. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Quickly, let’s run through the established timeline before getting into the updates (skip to below the bullets if you just want the latest):

  • May 19, 2016: Nashville SC acquires Nashville FC’s intellectual property with intentions of taking the club from NPSL (amateur) to USL (professional) ranks.
  • March 4, 2017: John Ingram acquires majority ownership of Nashville SC, and his bid to bring Major League Soccer to Nashville is unified with the club.
  • November 7, 2017: Metro Council approves initial resolution to issue revenue bonds for the purpose of building a Major League Soccer stadium at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds.
  • November 29, 2017: MLS announces four finalists for expansion: Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, and Sacramento. The four bid groups present their proposals at the league’s New York offices Dec. 6.
  • December 20, 2017: Major League Soccer announces that Nashville will be the 24th franchise in the league (Miami – which had previously been promised a team – would be announced as the 25th on Jan. 29, 2018, and FC Cincinnati would become No. 26 with a May 29, 2018 announcement.
  • March 20, 2018: Metro Council strikes down a resolution proposed by District 12 councilmember Steve Glover to rescind RS2017-910.
  • March 22, 2018: Stand Up Nashville organizes a community benefits meeting (this would ultimately lead to the Community Benefits Agreement that earns SUN’s endorsement).
  • April 10, 2018: District 20 councilmember DeCosta Hastings hosts a meeting in his district to discuss the potential of locating the stadium in Metro Center, per a bill co-sponsored by anti-stadium zealot Glover (Hastings does not realize he’s the patsy in a delay tactic, for what it’s worth).
  • May 22, 2018: The final of three community planning meetings in regards to stadium design is held at the Fairgrounds Expo Center. No Save Our Fairgrounds members (save WSMV “journalist” Nancy Amons) are present.
  • June 21, 2018: Architecture firm Populous is selected to design Nashville’s MLS stadium.
  • August 21, 2018: Metro Council’s Budget and Finance committee votes to recommend disapproval of stadium legislation. (A quick aside here to get into the weeds in terms of the difference between what that was, and why it wasn’t all done when RS2017-910 passed: These pieces of legislation are the individual components required to build the stadium: 2018-1289’s purpose was to recommend demolishing of certain buildings on the property to prep the construction site, and to approve the establishment of a ticket tax on events at the stadium to pay back the loans required for its construction).
  • September 4, 2018: Stand Up Nashville announces signed Community Benefits Agreement, including provisions related to minority hiring, minimum wages, and workforce housing for stadium project.
  • September 4, 2018: All relevant Metro Council legislation required to build the soccer stadium (Bills 1289, 1290, 1291, Resolution 1328) gets final approval.
  • October 29, 2018: Construction begins on new Expo buildings (to be completed before stadium construction commences).

Now, the stuff that has happened since mostly involves Save Our Fairgrounds, having lost a political battle, attempting to wage a legal one. The initial filing date of the lawsuit is September 4, and I believe it was actually filed prior to Metro’s approval of the relevant legislation at that evening’s Metro Council meeting.

The fate of that lawsuit is the primary ongoing drama in regards to the stadium at this point. If Save Our Fairgrounds is successful in suing the city to prevent changes to the Fairgrounds, that’s yet another legal hurdle. The lawsuit has been dismissed once, but in a manner (“without prejudice”) that allowed it to be re-filed.

The plaintiffs – collectively “Save Our Fairgrounds,” for the sake of simplicity here – have requested a temporary injunction from Chancery Court Chancellor (“judge” for simplicity’s sake, with Chancery being the branch of the judiciary that decides on matters of equity, rather than law) Ellen Hobbs Lyle. That injunction is to halt all construction activities at the site of the Fairgrounds pending the outcome of this lawsuit. That injunction was denied Friday (a previous attempt was denied Oct. 26), meaning construction can go on.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for 1 p.m. Nov. 30. That is a Rule 16 conference, for the purpose of selecting a trial date. That is to say – barring an unlikely settlement prior to Nov. 30 (or a rescheduling – the court’s dockets aren’t updated in as timely a fashion as I’d like) – that is the next date on which there will be an update.

What are the grounds of the lawsuit?

SOF alleges that Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee is in violation of the Metro Charter. Specifically, they claim that Metro’s proposed changes to the Fairgrounds site, particularly the construction of a stadium is a violation of 11.602(d) of the Metro Charter. That’s the famed “2011 Referendum” that must be “honored” per the t-shirts of the SOF group. Let’s read the language:

All activities being conducted on the premises of the Tennessee State Fairgrounds as of December 31, 2010, including, but not limited to, the Tennessee State Fair, Expo Center Events, Flea Markets, and Auto Racing, shall be continued on the same site. No demolition of the premises shall be allowed to occur without approval by ordinance receiving 27 votes by the Metropolitan Council or amendment to the Metropolitan Charter.

So, let’s unpack it here: The State Fair, Expo Center events, flea markets, and auto racing events may not be moved from the Fairgrounds site. HOWEVER: there’s a pretty obvious caveat included in the language of the Metro Charter: without approval by ordinance receiving 27 votes by the Metropolitan Council or amendment to the Metropolitan Charter.

Your spoiler: the Metro Charter has not been further amended, so we’re dealing with the other stipulation: approval by 27 members of Metro Council. It seems that unless the legislative action (1289, 1291, RS1328) that involve moving one of those four activities from its current location didn’t pass with 27 votes, there’s no legal grounds for this suit.

  • BL2018-1289 – passed 31-8.
  • BL2018-1291 – passed 30-9.
  • RS2018-1328 – passed 28-6 (5 not voting).

So… as I’ve harped upon regularly over the course of this unnecessarily protracted legal battle, there is no violation of the Metro Charter, and indeed, to prevent construction on the site would be a failure to “Honor the 2011 Referendum.” With a caveat that I Am Not A Lawyer, it seems there’s no grounds for the suit.

Presumably, with one dismissal of the case already in the books, the judicial side of the law sees it that way as well. I would expect another dismissal (again: not a lawyer, this is common sense analysis, not necessarily the legal nitty-gritty), and likely with prejudice this time, to prevent SOF from continuing to file frivolously.

What’s going on with construction now?

While construction begins on the new Expo Center buildings (which will be completed prior to demolition of the current Expo Buildings, allowing for uses thereof to continue), the Fair Park site is getting a makeover, as well. This is a separate item, but helps turn what had been mostly wasted space into community parks, including a trailhead for the greenway network, a dog park, and community athletic fields. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Fairgrounds site, the primary areas under dispute are at the top of a hill, facing toward the North. This is essentially at the bottom of the other side of the hill, on the South and East portions of the Fairgrounds site).

Construction on the Expo Center buildings is taking place on the Fair property lot across Walsh Road (which will be closed during construction). Walsh will be re-routed to remain East-West – it currently bends to the North at its eastern terminus to meet Nolensville Pike – when it re-opens.

Building a Nashville SC roster: Players with coaching connections

The latest edition in a series of indefinite length that I’m labeling “Project 2019.” In this stop, looking for more players who could join the Boys in Gold for the final USL season before MLS arrives in Nashville. This time? Players who have past connections to the Nashville SC technical staff.

Gary+Smith+MLS+Portraits+lIx6b9tyHhnl
Could some (additional) guys who helped Gary Smith earn this photo join Nashville SC this offseason. Courtesy Colorado Rapids

Players for the inaugural USL roster for Nashville SC came from a number of places. MLS squads, other USL teams, recent college grads, even overseas clubs.

Everyone knew a few key members had previous connections, especially to head coach Gary Smith: goalkeeper Matt Pickens and defender Kosuke Kimura were key members of Smith’s MLS Cup-winning 2010 Colorado Rapids. However, the connections to some of the other players were a little less obvious, but certainly extant – and connections to Technical Director (and now GM for Soccer Operations when MLS rolls around) Mike Jacobs were key, too:

  • Keeper CJ Cochran, midfielder (and captain) Michael Reed, midfielder Josh Hughes, and Kimura played on Smith’s 2015 Atlanta Silverbacks team.
  • Midfielder Robin Shroot played for Smith at Stevenage in England.
  • Midfielders Lebo Moloto and Kris Tyrpak (a mid-season signing who also played with Reed last year at San Antonio FC), and defenders Liam Doyle and Oumar Ballo (who ultimately didn’t play for the team after being unable to sort out a visa issue) came – directly or indirectly – from the Sporting Kansas City system where Jacobs had spent the previous three years.
  • Midfielder Ian McGrath played college soccer at the University of Evansville, where Jacobs had coached before joining SKC (including during McGrath’s freshman year).

There are even more subtle connections to other places – and that list isn’t intended to be exhaustive.

So, who are some players in the world of soccer nowadays who both have connections to Smith and/or Jacobs, and could also help the team? The whole set is too long, but here are some intriguing candidates:

New York City FC/Phoenix Rising defender Saad Abdul-Salaam – Abdul Salaam’s time with Sporting Kansas City directly overlaps with Jacobs’s 2015-17 tenure. He made $120k this year from New York City FC (which signed him preseason), but spent the end of the year on loan with Phoenix Rising. I don’t know how the finances work for MLS-to-USL loans, but I’d imagine Rising was not on the hook for that whole salary.

He’s a 27-year old guy from the Midwest (who may want to be a little closer to home territory), and as a 6-4 centerback update: Thanks to Ben from Speedway for pointing out that Abdul-Salaam is actually a comically large fullback, not a CB, could be a useful addition to an NSC backline that had poor depth in the middle when Bradley Bourgeois went down. Phoenix also rode its “one of the few truly good defenses in the West” status to the USL Cup runner-up spot.

Montreal Impact forward Quincy Amarikwa – Amarikwa was a 24-year old member of Smith’s MLS Cup champion Rapids, and is now a wizened vet at 31. He’s one of the more expensive names on this list (making $289k in MLS this season), but with only 10 appearances and one goal, it’s likely that both club and player are interested in moving on – the question becomes whether he’s cheap enough to truly become an option for a Nashville SC side that shouldn’t be among the cheapest in salary this year, but also still doesn’t have MLS bucks.

He’s never been the type of guy to pour in goals or bang out a ton of assists (21 and 14 total in the past six years), but some offensive punch – with MLS quality – could be something that interests Nashville SC.

Northern Virginia United defender Oumar Ballo – This one, to me, is a no-brainer if it can work out. Nashville SC initially signed him for the 2018 roster, but he had visa complications and couldn’t join the team. Instead, he spent the Summer with an NPSL side playing some amateur ball. His connections to Nashville run pretty strong (he even was with Swope in previous years, giving him some familiarity with Liam Doyle) for a guy who never suited up for the team.

A 6-2 centerback, the Malian who grew up in Baltimore could provide the depth that the spot could have used this past season. Given that he was stuck playing outside of the professional ranks this year, he’s probably available on the cheap, as well.

Swope Park/Sporting Kansas City forward Kharlton Belmar – Belmar had a tough time seeing the field for the parent club, so he spent most of 2018 down with Sporting Kansas City. Making $68,200 on an MLS contract, he’s one of the more bargain-y players on this list. Could a loan agreement from SKC to a USL team that’s likely to be one of 2019’s most ambitious in pursuit of a league championship help him take the next step in his development? Could Nashville buy him outright in hopes he’s ready to be a full-time MLS guy the following season?

He was SPR’s second-leading scorer with 10 goals on the year (in just 22 appearances), and converted on 22% of his shots, which would be among the highest on Nashville’s roster – Brandon Allen hit at a slightly higher rate, but was helped by a large proportion of his scoring coming on penalty kicks. A fringe US National Team prospect, Belmar is only 25 and could be a very intriguing piece.

Swope Park/Sporting Kansas City defender Amer Didic – Didic started his career with Swope Park Rangers, and impressed enough to be signed to the parent club during the time Jacobs was assistant technical director. However, he got zero (0) minutes for Sporting Kansas City this year, while making 27 appearances for Swope Park.

A 6-4 centerback who’s just 23 years old (he turns 24 next month), he could be on the block if he’s not in SKC’s long-term plans – they do have club options for the next several years, and at a $55,600 salary he’s not costing them a bunch to just loan down to the B-team. Still, Nashville needs depth at centerback, and could be a loan or transfer destination for a guy who may get plenty of run for a team aiming to win big in 2019.

DC United defender Kevin Ellis – Pending the exposure of Kimura as “secretly a robot who will never ever grow old” (or: Peter Pan?), there may be a need for additional right back depth on this team, possibly even a starter. Ellis is just 27, and has eight MLS seasons under his belt. The majority of that came with Sporting Kansas City – including short stints with Swop Park Rangers in 2016 and 2017 when Jacobs was their technical director as part of his ATD duties with the parent club.

Ellis got 20 games with the Chicago Fire before they waived him, and signed with DC United in September, where he got only two appearances. Making $158,000 this season, he could be available for cheaper, as it would surprise if there’s any priority in re-signing him.

Seattle Sounders 2 forward David Estrada – The Sounders’ B-side was awful this year, but it wasn’t the fault of their veteran striker: Estrada scored 11 goals on a 34% conversion rate (again: doing it for a team that couldn’t provide him a lot of help), and added 22 key passes. That’s a skillset that Nashville SC could certainly use. He also has versatility, playing as a lone or side-by-side striker, as well as a No. 10 and a right winger for S2 this year.

He played on Smith’s 2014 Atlanta Silverbacks (albeit for just a few games on loan from the Sounders’ senior side), so there’s a connection there, albeit a potentially tenuous one. A guy who’s going to be 31 when the season begins may be more interested in playing for a team that’s aiming for a championship than one that’s designed around developing for the first team, anyway.

Atlanta United defensive midfielder Jeff Larentowicz – Larentowicz actually featured in a version of this post last year, when I thought it was unlikely that Atlanta United would bring back a 34-year old midfielder. They did, and he played in damn near every game, so what the heck do I know.

Larentowicz made $210k this year, but presumably his contract extension for Atlanta United was for one year (albeit likely with a club option for future years). Depending on what a new manager wants, he may not be in the plans going forward. He was a key member of Smith’s Rapids teams, and if he’s not in Atlanta’s plans, it’s possible that being a key member of a USL side is more appealing than having an unknown role with a new MLS club (if the money’s right).

Toronto FC defender Drew Moor – This is a guy who’s been an every-game starter in MLS for a few years, but he’s coming off a season that he basically missed the entirety of, on account of an injury suffered in Concacaf Champions League. Despite being on a salary of $350k, there may be discounts on the way, given that a 34-year old may not be expected to bounce back from that.

Moor was a member of Smith’s teams in Colorado, including the MLS Cup champions. Though just a six-footer, he’s been a center back in recent years (you may recall his absence without knowing it, through such mechanisms as “Michael Bradley played CB for Toronto this year”), and that’s a position that Nashville can use depth… and if the price is reasonable, may be able to take a risk on a guy with MLS talent.

New England Revolution/SKC forward Krisztián Neméth – This is a bit of a reach, I’ll admit. Neméth made $1.01 million for the Revs this year, an amount that’s probably comparable to (if not greater than) the entire roster’s wages from the 2018 season. There are a couple caveats here, though: he was traded mid-season largely because he wasn’t getting time at New England (21 appearances), and going to SKC wasn’t a panacea in that regard (appearances in nine of 14 games since, 386 minutes which is less than 30% of available time).

His goals have also dried up to an extent, with only one for each of his clubs this season. He had 13 in 26 games in Qatar the previous year, and 11 in 28 with SKC in his previous stint there (which coincided with Jacobs). At just 29, is he willing to or interested in dropping a level – and making lots less money – to find his form and extend a career? NSC could certainly use a finisher.

Portland Timbers centerback Lawrence Olum – Nashville’s lack of centerback depth was exposed this year (particularly after the departure of short-term signing David Edgar). While the starters were good, when Bradley Bourgeois missed several games to injury, there was a bit of scrambling and shuffling in the back. Olum is getting old – he’ll be 35 in the middle of the 2019 North American season – but as a depth piece, he could be valuable to a USL side (and not likely to take up a spot when the Major League Soccer team arrives in 2019).

He had a long stint at Sporting Kansas City when Jacobs ending was the assistant Technical Director there, and re-signed with SKC while Jacobs was still around. He was transferred to Portland before Jacobs left, so he may not be one that’s seen as a sure-thing guy. He has gotten reasonable minutes this year (ninth on the team, which is still in the MLS Cup playoffs), but is getting old and with a $200k salary this season, may be available for cheaper than that.

Indy Eleven forward Soony Saad – Sporting Kansas City drafted Saad when Jacobs was the assistant technical director, and there’s a good relationship there. While Saad didn’t stick with SKC, he’s carved out a career as a spot player for them and with time in the USL (Swope Park Rangers, and most recently Indy Eleven). As a fellow Michigan grad, I selfishly want Nashville to sign him.

While NSC fans remember the brace he had against their side in Lucas Oil Field, he had only two more goals all regular season (and added one more in the playoffs). Converting on just 8.5% of the shots he took, that’s a high-volume shooter, which may not be the fit Nashville needs.

Non-players

A couple of former Gary Smith players from the Rapids days could be very useful additions to the club in non-playing capacities.

Pablo Mastroeni – The name should be familiar to US Men’s National Team fans: he has 65 caps, including starting in two World Cups (albeit with semi-disastrous results in the second one, with a red card against Italy in 2006). He also played 225 games for the Colorado Rapids, including captaining Smith’s 2010 championship team.

Mastroeni is now in coaching, with two and a half years as the leader of the Rapids that ended midway through last year’s campaign (his replacement, Anthony Hudson, has… not improved the club. Nor the reputation of the head coaching position therefor). He spent a week with Nashville during training this season, and while a guy with head coaching on his resume may not have “USL assistant” on his to-do list, it would be cool to find a role for him.

A guy who was born in Argentina could also help repair a reputation (whether that reputation is fair or not) of a club that doesn’t value Latino/Hispanic communities, too.

Jacob Peterson – I honestly don’t know what Peterson did this year: he collected a player salary in MLS ($174k), but after being waived by Atlanta United in preseason, he didn’t, like, play. Despite that, he’s on the executive board of the MLS Players’ association. While his playing days may be in the rearview mirror, a background with MLSPA could make him valuable to a club in a consultant role, and particularly a club that’s soon to make a transition from USL to Major League Soccer and needs personnel with institutional knowledge of the future league.

Peterson played on Gary Smith’s first Rapids team, and to add a bonus connection, he also signed with Sporting Kansas City and was still on the team during most of Jacobs’s time as the assistant technical director there. The specifics of a role for a guy like that may be murky (I’m just a dude spitballin’ on the internet, after all), but it seems like something could be worked out, given the breadth of his experience.

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.

img_6223

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.

#MySoccerStory

This is not a soccer story. Well it is, but it’s more than that. It’s important to remember that tonight’s Metro Council meeting is about soccer, but building a stadium is about more than soccer. Pro-stadium/pro-soccer/pro-MLS voices need to remember (and I’m guilty of overlooking at times) that this isn’t a referendum on whether soccer is cool and good. It’s about approving a major municipal project that impacts much more than how a bunch of people are going to spend 17 afternoons/evenings in the Summer and Fall in the next few years.

IMG_4830.JPG
From dirt fields to MLS grounds, the game is beautiful. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

That’s why this is a story about belonging.

I also encourage you to listen to stories from those who don’t want a stadium to be built. For the most part, it’s a story about belonging for them, too. Many of those involved are simply worried that they’re going to lose the racetrack that gives them a sense of belonging, the flea market that gives them not only a sense of belonging for for many a primary source of income, the State Fair that gives them a belonging not only in Nashville, but a belonging in their own personal stories and a connection to their past.

It’s important to listen and understand the fears of disenfranchisement that they’re threatened with. Yes, it’s absolutely fair to also point out to them “Shane Smiley and Rick Williams have lied to your face: the only way to Save Our Fairgrounds is to allow for this investment.” The Fairgrounds aren’t going anywhere (well, some portions will move to a different area of the same site, in brand new facilities), and the disingenuousness that has led the Average Joe in a red shirt – not those who traffic in untruth to sway them – to think otherwise is their enemy, not a soccer stadium.

Anyway, on to my story of belonging.

Growing up, I didn’t really play soccer. Like basically every kid born in the mid-80s, I kicked it around as a young child, but quit the AYSO version of the game when American football, basketball, etc. became my focus. That’s a pretty standard narrative for a kid of my era, and even though I had friends who continued playing through high school (and even some in college), it just wasn’t my thing.

I attended the University of Michigan, and quite honestly wasn’t big into college sports before that. Becoming a member of the university community was a life-changing experience for me. the sense of community and, yes, belonging became a massive part of who I am today. Without that simple experience, every part of my life and career is completely different. I’ve become a professional sports writer because of that experience, and it was more about the sense of belonging than about the sports themselves.

I got back interested in soccer during college (a crush on one of the players on the Michigan women’s team may or may not be involved), and have been highly invested in the game ever since. Other than the US Men’s National Team, though, I had a hard time finding that deep emotional connection to a team once I left college. I’ve cheered off and on for a Premier League team here, an MLS side there, but it’s just not the same.

When I moved to Nashville, I didn’t even know there was an NPSL team here (it began the same year I arrived), and quite honestly probably didn’t know a whole lot about the existence of the NPSL. I was aware of Detroit City FC, having moved here from Detroit, but couldn’t have told you what competition they played beyond “American minor leagues.” For the first three years I lived here, that didn’t really change. I attended one Nashville FC game in 2016, a couple Nashville SC U-23 games in 2017. I tried to find my emotional roots in the soccer wilderness, getting involved with the Nashville Hammers – but still having a hard time with serious emotional investment in a team 4,000 miles away, in a city I’d never been to, with no true connection.

IMG_1E6EDC5F12F5-1
Our valiant hero, with-child. Courtesy Nashville Hammers

Last Winter, I decided that Nashville SC would be my team. I decided that I’d do what I’ve always done when I find a sports topic I love: write. That’s led to this site – which I hope y’all enjoy – and it’s led to a sense of belonging. (It’s also led to zero U.S. Dollars retweet subscribe and contribute to my gofundme)*

*I’m joking. There is no GoFundMe. 

That’s why, as much as tonight’s council meeting is about soccer, it’s really not. It’s about belonging. Do you want to belong to a city that is open, inclusive, exciting? Certainly there are some who don’t, and I can’t begrudge them that opinion. There are too many others whose sense of belonging is being threatened by false claims from political ideologues who are tricking them into thinking this stadium not only will threaten something they love, but is intended to do so as a personal insult. 

Perhaps Nashville doesn’t need MLS, and certainly looking at the big picture as a pragmatic, transactional matter, it’s not a money-maker. But this isn’t about money (nor is it about enriching developers who have friends in government, among the many tales the aforementioned liars spin in order to drum up support on the basis of false premises). It’s about belonging. And soccer belongs here.

If it didn’t, I don’t know if I would.

If you haven’t yet (or even if you have!) contact your Metro Councilmember and the council at large to encourage them to vote in favor of tonight’s Bill, 2018-1290. Make it clear in the subject line that you’re writing to support the MLS stadium, as they’ll be inundated today and may not have time to read through every e-mail before the meeting.

Metro Budget and Finance Committee recommends disapproval of key stadium legislation

img_4877
Who could possibly want to tear down this well-maintained, very safe building? Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

The ups and downs of the battle to build an MLS Stadium at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds hit a down point last night: The Budget and Finance Committee of Metro Council recommended disapproval of a couple key resolutions. We’ll start with the good news, though. A couple resolutions were killed by Metro Legal before even getting to a serious point:

Resolution RS2018-1372 (Cooper, Vercher)
Referred to the Budget and Finance Committee

A resolution calling a county-wide referendum election to ascertain the will of the people regarding the issuance of bonds by the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County to be secured by revenues of the Metropolitan Government, and the lease of public property, for the construction of a new Major League Soccer Stadium at Fairgrounds Nashville, and appropriating an amount not to exceed Fifty Thousand Dollars ($50,000) from the Undesignated Fund Balance of the General Fund of the General Services District to provide the necessary funds for the referendum.

This resolution cannot be voted upon until the Metro Finance director rules the funds are available (which has not happened). That was considered an unreasonable technicality by sponsor John Cooper, which is an odd characterization of something that’s plainly stated in the Metro rules.

Now, on to the bad news. The following bill is necessary for the stadium to be built, and was voted against by the committee, 7-5:

Bill BL2018-1289 (Sledge, Vercher)
Approved by the Planning Commission
Referred to the Budget and Finance Committee
Referred to the Codes, Fair, and Farmers Market Committee
Referred to the Planning, Zoning, and Historical Committee

An ordinance approving the demolition of certain buildings and structures necessary for the construction of a new Major League Soccer Stadium at the Fairgrounds Nashville, and amending Title 5 of the Metropolitan Code to impose a privilege tax on the sale of tickets to events at the new Major League Soccer stadium (Proposal No. 2018M-020PR-001).

That’s not a kiss of death for the resolution: indeed, at tonight’s Metro Council meeting, the expectation is that it is approved on a second reading. Tonight’s vote requires a simple majority (21 “yes”) to make it to the third reading, slated for the Sept. 4 Metro Council meeting.

However, it is an indication that all is not in the clear in terms of making an MLS stadium – and therefore an MLS team – happen for Nashville.

What can I do?

First and foremost, let your metro councilperson know that you are in favor of the passage of Bill 1289, in favor of an MLS Stadium (and the accompanying pieces, including ten acres for private development and new facilities for the flea market and State Fair) at the Fairgrounds, and in favor of MLS coming to Nashville.

Don’t know how to get in touch with your councilperson? You can see how on this website, which lists the e-mail addresses along with district (if you don’t know which district you reside in, you can enter your address on the right). I would also recommend contacting at least the at-large councilmembers.

Want to have your voice heard to the entire body? councilmembers@nashville.gov is the address to reach all of them at once (or you can go through the MLS2Nashville site here). Ensure that whatever you include in the body, it’s heartfelt and honest – since we’ve seen plenty on the anti-fairgrounds side of things trafficking in dishonesty, including Councilmember Glover – and make sure the subject line of the e-mail makes it clear that you support an MLS Stadium.

Show up! Nothing is more impactful than making your presence felt in a literal sense. Go to tonight’s 6:00 p.m. Metro Council meeting, and show up early (here) to make sure you get in.

Better yet, if you’re a fan of pizza and/or soft drinks, show up to Public Square Park (immediately in front of the Metro building) at 4:30 p.m. MLS2Nashville will be providing the grub, and there will be a march into the building early enough to make sure all attendees get a seat in the chambers – which is not always guaranteed, especially when there are other contentious items on the docket (which, if you haven’t been yet, please know that these meetings cover all Metro business, not just stadium-related items. Prepare for boredom).

Importantly, wear blue and gold (preferably Nashville SC garb), bring scarves, bring friends who are wearing the right colors, etc. A show of force for the pro-stadium crowd can’t be ignored. On the same note do not wear red, which the anti-stadium group has adopted as the color of its cause.

What’s next?

Assuming 1289 makes it through a majority vote tonight, the easiest thing to remember to do is to keep repeating the steps listed above. Make sure your Councilperson and the body writ large hear your voice in the interim.

Be ready to show up again at the Sept. 4 meeting (and if you’re truly dedicated, next Monday for committee meetings), and hopefully, be ready to celebrate clearing these hurdles.

Populous selected for preliminary contract to design Nashville MLS stadium

Architecture firm Populous, which is no stranger to the sports and soccer worlds for its stadium designs, has been selected for a contract to design the MLS stadium in Nashville, slated for the Fairgrounds. The contract is subject to approval from Metro Council, and final details have yet to be publicized (though a $12 million value was approved by the Nashville Sports Authority).

Populous has designed plenty of high-profile soccer stadia in recent years, including Tottenham Hotspur’s upcoming stadium, slated to debut in the 2018-19 season, Lyon’s Groupama Stadium, and the conversion of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium from an all-purpose track facility to a soccer ground (occupied by West Ham United).

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 2.59.24 PM.png
Tottenham Hotspur stadium. Courtesy Populous.
Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 3.01.05 PM
2014 Incheon Games. Courtesy Populous.

On the domestic front, Populous was the design firm behind Sporting Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Park, generally regarded amongst the best Major League Soccer facilities in the country:

childrens mercy park sporting kansas city populous nashville sc major league soccer
Children’s Mercy Park. Courtesy Populous

While no two design projects are exactly alike – and Populous’s results have run the gamut from traditional to fully modern – there are some consistent features among the soccer stadiums we’ve seen in recent years.

The majority of them are open-air but have covered seating (two aspects that are going to be almost certain inclusions in the Nashville design). Plenty of them have sweeping, flowing exterior design elements tying the stadium itself into a big-picture connection with the area surrounding it (Incheon 2014 being the most obvious example among the above). All of them are purpose-built, and given Nashville’s desire for the stadium to be more than just a soccer venue – also the cornerstone of a new commercial/residential district, including the 10-acre parcel in the initial stadium proposal – there will be plenty of engagement in determining exactly how to meet the needs of the city and team.