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.

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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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Nashville SC announces returning players

From Club release: NASHVILLE (November 14, 2018) – The majority of the main contributors of Nashville Soccer Club’s successful inaugural season that finished in a USL Cup Playoff appearance this season will be back for 2019, pending USL and federation approval. Each of Nashville’s 12 highest minutes-played contributors will be back next year, including all four primary defenders and starting keeper on the league’s second-best defense.
Matt Pickens and Alan Winn are two players who return under contract. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country
Returning under contract in 2019 will be keeper Matt Pickens, defenders Justin Davis, Liam Doyle, Bradley Bourgeois and Kosuke Kimura, midfielders Michael Reed, Matt LaGrassa, Bolu Akinyode, Taylor Washington and Lebo Moloto, and forward Alan Winn. Forward Tucker Hume and midfielder Ramone Howell have been re-signed by Nashville SC. Hume will return after scoring seven goals in the final three months of the season to propel SC into the playoffs. Howell, meanwhile, made his first two USL appearances as a rookie in Nashville’s final regular season game and playoff game, both against FC Cincinnati. Finally, forward Ropapa Mensah has been purchased from Inter Allies FC in Ghana following a season-long loan in 2018 with Nashville SC. Mensah became Nashville’s first-ever goalscorer when he struck against Atlanta United FC of MLS in Nashville’s opening friendly at First Tennessee Park. The club would like to extend its sincere gratitude to every player on the 2018 Nashville SC roster for each of their contributions on and off the field, making for a successful inaugural season for Nashville SC. That means your departures are as follows (in order of minutes played): F Brandon Allen, D London Woodberry, D Ryan James, M Ish Jome, GK CJ Cochran, M/F Kris Tyrpak, M/F Robin Shroot, and D Jordan Dunstan. And several players who never saw the field in USL play (alphabetical): GK Micah Bledsoe, D Michael DeGraffenreidt, M Josh Hughes, M Blake Levine, and M Ian McGrath. Very few surprises there. See here for my predictions. I was wrong on Bledsoe (thought he’d be kept for depth), James (thought his versatility would keep him around one more year), Cochran (really thought he’d have a chance to compete for more minutes with Pickens beginning to transition into coaching), and Tyrpak (the spark he provided late in the season seemed worth keeping around). Four incorrect calls, two on backup goalies, is hardly something to be ashamed of, no? See some of my predictions/ideas for who might fill in the roster here and here.

Nashville SC loan watch: The (partial) return

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Cochran back. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Two of Nashville SC’s outgoing loans are recalled to the squad, while three remain with Inter Nashville FC. That and more in this week’s loan watch.

Fresno FC 4, Portland Timbers II 2

 

Cochran started between the pipes and went all 90 for the Foxes. Although he allowed two goals to a powerful Timbers offense, he was the difference in the final scoreline with three saves and a punched out cross. He also completed 57.6% of this 33 passes in distribution.

Loan totals: Started and went the distance in five of six games with Fresno (was an unused substitution in the other). 750 save%, 1.00 GAA. Completed 80/134 passes (59.7%) with three caught crosses, three punched clearances and three clearances.

Cochran has been recalled from his month-long loan, and will return to the Nashville SC bench (or potentially lineup to give Matt Pickens a rest at some point) going forward.

Inter Nashville FC 0, Chattanooga FC 0

Defender Jordan Dunstan and midfielder Ian McGrath started the game and went 90 minutes. Midfielder Ramone Howell started and went 66 minutes. Defender Michael DeGraffenreidt did not see the field.

Inter Nashville FC 3, Greenville FC 2

Defender Jordan Dunstan and midfielder Ian McGrath started and went 90 minutes. Midfielder Ramone Howell started and went 73 minutes, scoring in the 55th. Defender Michael DeGraffenreidt did not see the field.

Loan totals: The players other than DeGraffenreidt have started each Inter game since joining the team (he has missed the past two game). McGrath has three goals and an assist. Howell has three goals and has been shown a yellow card one time.

Dunstan has been recalled from his loan, and will re-join Nashville SC. The other three remain with Inter, which begins its playoff run tonight in Antioch.

Nashville SC loan watch: Midfielders scoring for Inter Nashville FC

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Ramone Howell had an eventful week for Inter Nashville, scoring a goal and picking up a yellow card. Courtesy Nashville SC

Nashville SC’s players are not all playing for Nashville SC. NSC now has one player on loan to a fellow USL club (goalkeeper CJ Cochran to Fresno FC) and four to the local NPSL side (Michael DeGraffanreidt, Jordan Dunstan, Ramone Howell, and Ian McGrath at Inter Nashville FC). How were their performances at their temporary clubs?

Fresno FC 0, Real Monarchs 1

CJ Cochran was an unused substitute for the Foxes (Kyle Reynish made eight saves and allowed one goal in his stead).

Fresno FC 2, Sacramento Republic 0

In their second opportunity for a major upset last week, FFC came through. Cochran was key to the effort, making five saves while keeping a clean sheet. He also attempted 28 passes (24 of them longballs), completing 42.9% of them.

Loan totals: .800 save%, 0.75 GAA. Completed 61/102 passes (59.8%) with three caught crosses, two punched clearances and two clearances.

Inter Nashville FC 6, Georgia Revolution 2

Defender Jordan Dunstan and midfielder Ian McGrath started the game and went 90 minutes. McGrath scored a goal in the 88th minute. Defenders Michael DeGraffenreidt started and played 85 minutes. Midfielder Ramone Howell started and played 86 minutes, and earned a yellow card in the 78th minute.

Inter Nashville FC 1, Atlanta Silverbacks 2

Defender Michael DeGraffenreidt and midfielders Ramone Howell and Ian McGrath all started the game and went 90 minutes. Howell scored a 67th-minute goal. Defender Jordan Dunstan started and played 45 minutes.

Loan totals: All four players have started each Inter game since joining the team. McGrath has three goals and an assist. Howell has two goals and has been shown a yellow card one time.

Nashville SC loan watch: Down week in the diaspora

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CJ Cochran (green) will be keeping tabs on Nashville SC from afar. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Nashville SC had never had players out on loan before. In the course of a week, that… changed. NSC now has one player on loan to a fellow USL club (goalkeeper CJ Cochran to Fresno FC) and four to the local NPSL side (Michael DeGraffanreidt, Jordan Dunstan, Ramone Howell, and Ian McGrath at Inter Nashville FC). How were their performances at their temporary clubs?

Fresno FC 0, Colorado Springs Switchbacks 1

CJ Cochran started and went the distance for the Foxes, conceding on a set piece in the 86th minute on the only shot he faced. He completed 70.4% of his passes, and won one duel while earning a foul.

Loan totals: .700 save%, 1 GAA. Completed 48/74 passes (64.9%) with two caught crosses, two punched clearances and two clearances.

Inter Nashville FC 0, Asheville City Soccer Club 2

Defenders Michael DeGraffenreidt and Jordan Dunstan, and midfielders Ramone Howell and Ian McGrath started the game and went 90 minutes.

 

Inter Nashville FC 1, New Orleans Jesters 1

Defenders Michael DeGraffenreidt and Jordan Dunstan, and midfielders Ramone Howell and Ian McGrath started the game and went 90 minutes.

Loan totals: All four players have started both Inter games since joining the team. McGrath has two goals and an assist. Howell has one goal.

Nashville SC loan watch: McGrath gets goals

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CJ Cochran (green) will be keeping tabs on Nashville SC from afar. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Nashville SC had never had players out on loan before. In the course of a week, that… changed. NSC now has one player on loan to a fellow USL club (goalkeeper CJ Cochran to Fresno FC) and four to the local NPSL side (Michael DeGraffanreidt, Jordan Dunstan, Ramone Howell, and Ian McGrath at Inter Nashville FC). How were their performances at their temporary clubs?

Fresno FC 0, Sacramento Republic 1

CJ Cochran started and went the distance for the Foxes. He made five saves and allowed one goal (83.3% save percentage), plus he caught one attempted cross and punched another away for a clearance. He also completed 20 of 22 passes.

Fresno FC 4, Swope Park Rangers 1

Cochran made two saves and gave up one goal in a surprising 4-1 win over the reigning USL runners-up. He completed 10 of 25 passes (goal kicks drag that down, obviously), punched out one cross, which counted as a clearance.

Loan totals: 77.8 save%, 1 GAA. Completed 30/47 passes (63.8%) with two punched clearances and a caught cross.

Inter Nashville FC 5, Asheville City Soccer Club 1

Defenders Michael DeGraffenreidt started the game and went 90 minutes.

Midfielder Ramone Howell started the game and went 78 minutes. He scored a 57th-minute goal.

Midfielder Ian McGrath started the game and went 90 minutes. He scored in the 32nd and 82nd minutes, and also added an assist.

Loan totals: Same as above, this was their first game with Inter.

Nashville SC signs Charlie Dennis, Ramone Howell

In addition to the major news of fan favorite Martim Galvão’s signing, the Boys in Gold added another pair of midfielders this morning. In addition, defender Oumar Ballo will not be joining the team due to a visa issue. I liked Ballo as a player, though I wouldn’t consider him an irreplaceable piece, especially with the other quality defensive talent NSC has added.

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Charlie Dennis

Dennis is a 6-2, 190-pounder from Brighton, England, who played two years at Shorter University outside Atlanta before finishing his college career at Palm Beach Atlantic. In two years at PBA, he played in 33 games, notching 15 goals and nine assists. As a senior, he went the full 90 just once (though in college, the eased restrictions on substitution make that less troublesome). The team went 14-2-2 during his senior season, falling in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and went 13-5 during his junior year.

Dennis also played for South Georgia Tormenta FC in the PDL last Summer, appearing in all 14 games with production of three goals (on 41 shots) and three assists. Against NSC U-23, he took one shot in 57 minutes in a 4-3 loss, went 77 minutes and took six shots in a 2-0 win, and recorded an assist and four shots in 79 minutes of a 2-2 draw.

Here’s the highlight reel in two parts:

Despite being a taller guy, he shows good technical ability and ball skills to dribble around opponents. He’s not the fastest in a pure straight-line race – though he appears to be one of the faster guys who’ll be on this team – but his first two steps have impressive burst (especially while controlling the ball), allowing him to get by defenders and pop out of tight areas by playing himself into space and popping past them.

He whips some pretty impressive balls from the wing or shooting from the top of the box, including on free kicks. The ball seems to jump off his left foot, too, even though there are others on the team who have a bit more power. He’s also a threat in the air due to his size – and he looks like a monster in some of his highlights. The caliber of competition will be better in USL, but with some added strength that can be a major asset to his game.

At just 22 (and not turning 23 until very late in the USL season) he’s a high-potential prospect for the future. He has the strength and skill to play central midfield, but I could also see him on either wing, either serving crosses from the left or inverting on the right to shoot for himself.

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Ramone Howell

Howell is a Jamaican Youth International who arrives from a four-year career at Valparaiso University in Indiana (if you ask my sister who used to live in Valpo, it is “just outside Chicago.” It is not.). At 5-11, 170 and 22 years old, he’s a young guy and while not tiny, not big, either.

In 16 appearances for Valparaiso, he took 27 shots – third on the team ,and tied for third with 10 on goal – but only scored one goal. He had – by a wide margin – the lowest shooting percentage of any non-zero player on the team.  In fact, shooting a lot and not scoring much emerges as a theme when you dig further into previous years: 34 shots, 11 on goal, two goals as a freshman; 42 shots, only eight on goal, one score as a sophomore; 33 shots, 14 on goal, three scores as a junior. However, he’s a timely scorer, with four out of his seven career tallies game-winners. The Crusaders finished 8-9-1 on the year (a pretty standard result during his four years, with a high mark of 10-5-4 when he was a junior).

Howell played two years in the PDL, with the Des Moines Menace in both 2016 and 2017. He appeared in nine of 14 regular-season games this year, notching just 359 minutes (40 minutes per showing), but put in two goals on ten shots. He scored in the Menace’s playoff win against the Michigan Bucks, as well, though they were beaten in the second round by Thunder Bay Chill. The previous year, he played in seven games, tking only one shot.

To the highlights (which consist entirely of one play):

As you can see, he’s helping build from the back, he manages to beat a player 1v1, then gets a nice ball forward to make a run onto it, and finishes the give-and-go. Doesn’t tell us a ton about him – though does demonstrate some really good tools to work with. I would bank on him being a defensively-minded guy who can still get box-to-box, especially since the college stats seem to indicate he has improvements to make offensively.