It all started in Querétaro City, Mexico.
Prior to the 2020 season, Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs and Chief Scout Chance Myers paid a visit to watch Querétaro FC’s exciting young striker in action: Aké Loba. After watching him play and spending time with him, Jacobs knew Loba could be a “foundational piece” for Nashville SC.
Loba ultimately signed with Liga MX giants C.F. Monterrey in January 2020. However, Jacobs kept Loba on his radar as Nashville played through an unprecedented inaugural Major League Soccer season.
Fast forward to 2021, and Jacobs finally had the chance to get his guy again. And this time, he succeeded.
Nashville SC officially announced Loba as its newest Designated Player on July 7, acquiring him from Monterrey after one season with the Mexican heavyweights. Jacobs says that’s a testament to the cohesion between himself, CEO Ian Ayre and Owner John Ingram.
“I connected with Duilio Davino, the sporting director at Monterrey, to make sure he knew of our interest in Aké,” Jacobs said. “It was almost like, ‘You know at any point if you’re ready to move on or potentially sell him, let us know, we would love to talk to you and explore that.’ And when that opportunity came around a second time, I really have to give a lot of credit to both Ian [Ayre] and our ownership with John Ingram of having the confidence and trust in our ability to find the right player, and with having the ability to invest and commit to doing what we had to do to secure a signature.”
The 23-year-old Ivory Coast native began his professional career with the Ivorian club Société Omnisports de l'Armée, before moving to Universidad San Martín de Porres in Peru in 2018. At 19 years old, Loba scored 18 goals and added six assists in 32 appearances for the Peruvian side.
His rapid ascent continued when he went on loan to Querétaro FC in Mexico in 2019. His 11 goals and two assists in 41 appearances caught the eye of Jacobs and Nashville, as well as Monterrey, who ultimately signed him in January 2020 after his loan with Querétaro ended. Loba registered seven goals across all competitions in 795 minutes of play.
Jacobs praised Loba’s ability to use his pace to play off of the back shoulder of defenders and cause trouble for opponents, as well as his flexibility at playing in different formations and different positions in the attack.
Ayre says that signing someone of Loba’s caliber, and the negotiations required to make it happen, demonstrate the ambition that the club has to be respected and succeed in a global soccer landscape.
“I think when we started out, we were hugely ambitious for Nashville,” Ayre said. “I think it’s one of the things people have been complimentary about is the way we’ve gone about our business, generally, in the past year and a half. Whether we’re dealing with Monterrey or anyone else, I think the deals are kind of always the same. Between Mike and I, we have a lot of experience across lots of leagues and lots of countries and lots of players.”
After his transfer to Nashville was confirmed last Wednesday, Loba made his first public appearance in front of the Nashville SC faithful on Thursday ahead of Nashville’s match against Atlanta United FC. The Backline rang out a loud “Aké Loba” chant as the club’s newest striker posed for a photo at midfield.
That love from the supporters was an extension of the interest, attention and appreciation that the Nashville SC technical staff showed Loba throughout this years-long pursuit.
“First, I chose Nashville because of the staff, the technical staff,” Loba said. “They showed their love, they showed their appreciation for me. They have been scouting me for two years, so when the opportunity finally came to be, it was a no-brainer for me to take it.”
Now, the countdown is on for Loba to make his Nashville SC debut. But first, he’ll get to know his teammates and his coaching staff as he gets to know a new team, a new league and a new country. Loba says he’s already done plenty of research on the club and is ready to get to work.
“I obviously don’t know every single player deeply, but I’ve been following the team for the past two years and there’s a lot of time within that,” Loba said. “The most important part when I arrived, everyone gave me a great warm welcome, which made me feel a part of them. I believe it’s going to be a great union moving forward.”
Don’t miss Loba’s first opportunity to make his debut this Saturday when Nashville SC faces Chicago Fire FC at Nissan Stadium. Tickets are available here.