Mike Jacobs and Jack Maher, 1.16.20

Mike’d Up: General Manager Mike Jacobs Dishes on Expansion Draft, Training Camp Preparation

Nashville SC GM excited to welcome SuperDraft class, looking forward to training camp

NASHVILLE – The Major League Soccer SuperDraft is over, and Nashville SC’s first-ever MLS training camp looms.

Last week, General Manager Mike Jacobs made headlines when he joined a bus full of Nashville SC supporters in surprising second overall SuperDraft pick Jack Maher at his house. But he wasn’t done that day, as he traded for two additional picks to draft Alistair Johnston and Elliot Panicco in the first round before using the club’s second-round selection to take Nashville native Tanner Dieterich.

Now, Jacobs prepares to see the players come together in training camp as they get ready for the club’s home opener in less than 50 days. Take a look at what Jacobs had to say about the club’s first-ever SuperDraft and what lies ahead for Nashville SC’s roster in the latest edition of Mike’d Up.

On his strategy going into the SuperDraft

“I think you saw some players at the top of the draft, with Jack included, where I think you could handicap a couple of guys to be really good MLS players. One thing we were steadfast with on our staff as far as looking at this group was not getting too hung up on whether we were going to select the player too early or too late. We had a fixed budget we were going to spend as far as allocation money to acquire the picks, which we came under on, so I was really happy about that. Sometimes it’s a bit of a roller coaster when you get going in the draft. We set a clear picture of what players we wanted, where we thought we could get them, and what we were willing to give up to get them also. From that standpoint, our goal was just getting those guys regardless of what pick they were or what we gave up to acquire that spot.”

On the work that went into surprising Maher at his house

“A lot of credit has to go to Ian Ayre. I think the vision that he has when it comes to his own experiences in media and marketing, about trying to do things that are uniquely Nashville and different. In his mind, he didn’t want to be in a situation where we were competing with other clubs to see who can have the larger celebrities or who can create a higher rating. It was more about how we can separate ourselves in the marketplace. I think the idea of ushering in our first draft pick with a bus of supporters was amazing, and the execution of our communications and marketing group was outstanding. It was definitely different, and I think we created something uniquely Nashville.”

On Jack Maher

“My goal is to try and be as boring as possible and lower expectations around Jack. The reality is he’s a 20-year-old kid. It’s not cookie-cutter from the standpoint that everyone is different in terms of how they develop. I think Jack has as high a soccer IQ as you’ll find for a kid his age, which is definitely going to serve him well as he acclimates to playing with professionals. His character and leadership skills are off the charts and that will serve him well also, but he has to find his footing. It’s exciting to have young centerbacks like Jack and Miguel Nazarit. But the reality is they’re both young centerbacks. I think it’ll probably take time for both of those guys to settle into their true potential.”

On Alistair Johnston

“Alistair is also somebody who’s an outstanding leader in his team, he’s got high character attributes. His versatility as somebody who’s played as a central midfielder and as a wide player has helped him adjust to playing as a right back. I do think in our league it’s not uncommon to find players like that. I think time will tell with Alistair about where he breaks out as far as his potential, but the fact that he has a good level of experience playing at a variety of positions bodes well. He’s been a really good right back in a team now that has Brayan Beckeles, who has been a full international for Honduras, and Eric Miller, who has had a lot of success as a youth international and in MLS.”

On Elliot Panicco

“We felt strongly that he was the best goalkeeper in the draft. We were very happy with Joe Willis’ body of work and we’re very happy with the potential that Adrían Zendejas brings. Looking at the age of guys like Adrían and someone like Elliot, I think we kind of feel like as Joe approaches the twilight of his career, we have two goalkeepers who can evolve into our future for the next 10 years. I really like the idea of what we did to strengthen our goalkeeping corps, not just now but in the future.”

On Tanner Dieterich

“Tanner is not a homegrown even though he grew up in our territory, but he’s as close as we have to a homegrown right now. Tanner was a youth international, he was a captain at Clemson which was arguably the best team in college soccer this past year, and again his leadership skills and his character are off the charts. I was really excited and hopeful that he was available where we were. His versatility is similar to Alistair in that he can play as a midfielder, a center back or a right back. Having one of our own from Nashville, a figurative homegrown on our roster, was really exciting for his family and for our community.”

On what’s next for the club going into training camp

“I can tell you I’m very happy to hand this group over to [Head Coach] Gary [Smith] and have him now manage them and put them on the field together. We’ve talked all along about not trying to build this for January preseason; we’re trying to build this as a sustainable model that’s going to keep going. I do feel that the group of guys we have now not only can contribute in MLS, but a goal for our group is to be comparable to other teams in our league. Whether it’s different than other expansion teams recently or any other team you compare to, I’d like to think our group right now is comparable to other teams you’ll see in MLS.

Saying that, I think there’s certain roles on the field that if we upgrade, it takes us from being a competitive team in year one to being a team that can go even above that. We can talk about a [Designated Player] No. 9, but the reality is that’s what preseason is for. One of the reasons why we’re so thoughtful about not spending all of our allocation money and keeping roster spots and international spots open is that we’ve been waiting for this time in preseason to watch guys on the field against other MLS teams. I think at that point we’ll get a first glimpse of what we need to do to freshen this group up. I do feel like this group as assembled right now, including these four players, is ready to go in the preseason and be competitive with other MLS teams.”