Nashville SC Mike Jacobs Talks MLS Moneyball

I attended the University School of Nashville evening class taught by Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs tonight. The class was advertised as:

“Instructor MIKE JACOBS of Nashville Major League Soccer leads this informative class in applying the “Moneyball” techniques (pioneered by Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane) to building a franchise in any sport. In basic terms, “Moneyball” utilizes a combination of data, resource allocation, and psychology to gauge optimum value for player acquisition and therefore, building a team. It is a way of thinking that can be applied to team-building in any profession. Appropriately, Mike will be in charge of roster construction for Music City’s new major league soccer club.”

I was hoping for some insight into how he is going to construct the MLS roster, but knew that was a long shot. The class started a bit slow with a history of how Mike Jacobs became the GM of Nashville. How he was born and raised in New York becoming a fan of the Cosmos when they had Pele At this time, New York was drawing huge crowds and Mike was a ballboy. He spent over a decade teaching and coaching at Evansville and Duke before landing back in professional soccer with Sporting Kansas City. Next he briefly explained how MLS rosters are constructed by looking at LAFC. From what I remember a few of the more interesting points were:

Nashville SC has a hired a director of strategy and analytics!

Lebo Moloto was a priority when Jacobs arrived in the Music City. He liked that he was 3rd in chances created in USL the previous season so he was easy to sell to Gary.

Despite having the entire state of Tennessee as its homegrown territory, Nashville SC is going to have to recruit hard from the open territory. In the history of MLS you can count the number of players from Tennessee on one hand. When asked Jacobs said if MLS got rid of homegrown territory rights it would be very beneficial for Nashville SC.

Studying MLS last year the 4 clubs that made the conference finals had 16 of their 30 roster spots that accounted for all the significant playing time.

Knowing that Nashville won’t spend as much as Atlanta, LA and New York, Mike mentioned how the San Antonio Spurs and New England Patriots have been hugely successful over a sustained period of time without being in the top quarter of the league in payrolls. I didn’t think these other sports were a good analogy.

Mike wasn’t too specific when asked what variables he uses for MLS like chances created or xG. However, he did talk about how what variables are important change depending on the position. Specifically, he explained how a #6 doesn’t need the penetrating passing that an #8 or #10 requires and therefore should have a different formula to rate.

I asked about allocation money and how Cincinnati has used over $2 million for player transfers. I was hoping to hear him say it was crazy and the antithesis of Moneyball to use it for anything other than paying down a players salary and thus increasing your club’s salary budget. Of course, he didn’t say anything close to that, but I got the impression he agreed even though that may just be wishful thinking. He also mentioned how FC Cincinnati brought 11 players from their USL squad up to MLS. This is a very high number and I’d be shocked if Nashville brought as many even including Lancaster and Rios.

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