NASHVILLE, Tenn. - When Nashville SC needed someone to cover for stalwart midfielder Dax McCarty in a match against Inter Miami CF amid a heavy run of games, they found the Captain’s deputy in the form of a young Cameroonian who had yet to make his Major League Soccer debut.
“First and foremost, let’s look at Brian Anunga. His very first start in MLS, he goes a full 90 minutes, and I thought he was absolutely outstanding in midfield,” Nashville Head Coach Gary Smith said in his press conference after Nashville’s 1-0 win over Inter Miami in which defensive midfielder Tah Brian Anunga made his MLS debut. “It was exactly what the team needed: more bite, more energy.”
Anunga sparked buzz thanks to a commanding performance that helped Nashville beat the fellow 2020 expansion club on Aug. 30. He arrived in Nashville from Charleston Battery on Jan. 18, 2020, making the step up from the USL Championship to MLS.
After leaving Rainbow Bamenda in his home country of Cameroon in 2014, Anunga joined the Wilmington Hammerheads in the USL League Two before moving onto the Carolina Dynamo. He then graduated to the USL Championship, where while with Charleston, was able to showcase his game in front of Nashville’s technical staff in 2019, prior to the Boys in Gold making their jump into MLS. The teams battled four times that season across various competitions, with each earning two wins. When Nashville called to sign him as a member of the MLS roster, the Cameroon youth international says he knew he would fit in.
“As a player, you always want to move up to the next level,” Anunga says of signing for his former club’s rivals. “I felt comfortable joining Nashville because every time we played against them, it was always a battle. I began to like Nashville from afar, so that made it easy joining the team.”
Anunga scored seven goals and added two assists in 85 career appearances for Charleston. An ambitious player, he wanted to go to the place that would best help his development when he received offers for his services.
“I just wanted to train with new, better players. You know, to have more competition,” he says. “And MLS provides that, for sure. I had some opportunities to go out of the country, maybe Europe, but at that time I felt Nashville was a better fit for me.”
Having captained his country at the Under-20 level and also appeared for its U-17 and U-23 teams, Anunga already received recognition within his country’s national setup. He never mentions it, though. He instead talks about what is in front of him, like doing his best in every training session to earn more time on the pitch.
“You want to be somewhere where you don’t wake up and think you’re going to play the next game,” he says. “You want an environment where it makes you work harder. We have a lot of good players, so many good midfielders like Dax [McCarty], [Aníbal] Godoy, Derrick Jones. They make you step up every day at practice. It’s also different with the depth. You’re not just competing against two other midfielders. You’re competing against four or five, so that makes it even tougher.”
The mental side of Anunga’s game has come a long way since joining Gary Smith’s side. The player praised the USL Championship’s talent and competition, yet he notices a few differences between the leagues.
“In MLS, it’s not all about being physical,” Charleston’s 2018 team MVP says. “You can be physical, but if you dive into challenges and try to win every single ball, it’s not possible. I had to get that mindset really quick with the help of the coaches, because, in the USL, I felt I could win every single ball, or at least challenge for every single ball. Sometimes you have to appreciate that in certain areas, you can’t just win the ball and be physical all the time.”
The hardworking midfielder constantly talks about adapting and developing. He often praises his teammates; it reflects his style of play, which is winning the ball and playing simple passes. So far, keeping things simple has helped him rise from USL League Two to Major League Soccer.
“I’m loving it. It’s great to be here, other than the pandemic that’s hit hard. So you have to adapt. Nashville is a really good city with great people.”