NASHVILLE (Nov. 30, 2017) –Nashville SC unveiled former Major League Soccer (MLS) Cup Champion goalkeeper Matt Pickens as the first 2018 signing for the club’s inaugural United Soccer League (USL) season alongside three other players.
The historic signee joins fellow American midfielder Matt LaGrassa, forward Robin Shroot from Britain and defender Oumar Ballo from Mali, as the first group of players signed to deals with the club for the 2018 season, pending USL and federation approval. The four players, and the rest of Nashville SC, open the season in just 72 days against MLS foe Atlanta United on February 10, 2018.
“The identification of players and creation of our team’s philosophy has been ongoing since last spring,” Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith said. “There have been countless hours of investigative work to find the right players to build a culture within our new club. It’s exciting to see our efforts bear fruit with high caliber signings that Nashville can be proud of.”
Pickens is a proven keeper with a long record of American soccer success. Drafted 19th overall in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft by Chicago Fire, Pickens led the club to the 2006 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship. Pickens was also in net for Colorado Rapids run to the 2010 MLS Cup championship, beating FC Dallas in the final 2-1.
The Missouri State alum has been a part of five U.S. Men’s National Team training camps and most recently was in net for USL side, Tampa Bay Rowdies. Last season, Pickens led the Rowdies to a third-place finish in the Eastern Conference of the USL, recording 10 clean sheets in 30 appearances.
Coach Smith's Thoughts: "Matt is one of the elite goalkeepers over the last 10 years in MLS. He is a first-class professional and an MLS Champion. Matt will be an individual that will set the standard and hold others accountable."
Ballo brings serious USL experience to Nashville SC’s backline. Hailing from Mali, Ballo was drafted in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft by Houston Dynamo.
The defender has spent the last two seasons with USL club Swope Park Rangers, making the USL Cup Final each year. In his two years with the club, the Rangers have kept 22 cleans sheets, including 13 last season.
Coach Smith's Thoughts: "Physically & athletically, Oumar is a giant. He has been a foundational part of Swope Park Rangers in their back-to-back USL Cup Final appearances, by being a leader and driving force, on and off the field."
LaGrassa joins Nashville SC from Reno 1868 of the USL. Following an 11-win, five-goal season as a senior at Cal Poly, LaGrassa led the Mustangs into the 2015 NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years. In all he scored 18 goals at Cal Poly in four years, making him the fourth-highest scoring player in program history.
Last season with Reno 1868, LaGrassa scored a goal and added three assists for a side which finished with the fourth-most points in the USL. From his midfield position, LaGrassa completed 1,783 passes last year for Reno, the third-most in the USL.
Coach Smith's Thoughts: "An all round midfielder in every sense, Matt is comfortable on the ball and competitive without it. He was the heartbeat of the midfield in Reno's exceptional debut season."
Shroot provides Nashville SC with a true scorer at the forward position. A Northern-Irish international, Shroot most recently played for IL Hødd of the Second Division in Norway. In three seasons for Hødd, Shroot scored 38 goals in 74 appearances and has 64 goals throughout 11 professional seasons.
Earlier in his career, Shroot played for Birmingham City of England’s Football League Championship, making an appearance in the club’s third-round FA Cup game. He has also played for English League One clubs AFC Wimbledon, Walsall and Stevenage.
Coach Smith's Thoughts: "Robin is an under-21 Northern Ireland International with great experience in the English Football League and Scandinavia. He is a catalyst for creation with a high soccer IQ and a wonderful ability in front of goal."