Nashville SC rookie game nights are in full effect and so is center back Jack Maher.
Nashville’s top pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft hopes to stay around to keep his position atop the game night leader board, featuring Blokus, Monopoly, Settlers of Catan and a popular card game in the Nashville camp.
“It’s called Twenty-Two,” Maher said of the game played with fellow rookies Elliot Panicco and Alistair Johnston, with occasional teammate guests. “Pretty much all the (veteran) guys, whenever I came around the team, they’re like, ‘OK, this is the card game of MLS.’ So, whenever we (rookies) go there, that’s what we’ve been doing.”
The objective But, its objective – after being dealt a hand of seven cards and the process of disposing those cards in lieu of ones from the deck pile – is to be the last player left with less than 22 points.
Luke Haakenson was part of those card games before he and Maher were the only two Nashville rookies loaned out to Charlotte of USL in March. Maher was recalled and will join Nashville for the MLS is Back Tournament, which starts next week in Orlando. Haakenson is still in Charlotte.
Haakenson said Maher’s top spot on the rookie leaderboard is no match for veteran teammates Alan Winn and Ken Tribbett. “He’s gotta put his money where his mouth is,” Haakenson said.
Neither has made his MLS debut but Maher could get his chance in Orlando.
“Not too many rookies can say they made their debut in the MLS Is Back Tournament,” Maher said with a laugh. “I mean, it’s definitely cool. I think I’ll be ready whenever my number’s called, whether it’s in the tournament or down the road.”
Maher’s move stemmed from a conversation with club general manager Mike Jacobs with approximately a week left of Nashville’s preseason camp in Florida in February. The conversation was centered around Maher’s individual development plan and what he thought would be best for his future with Nashville.
He was at Nissan Stadium for Nashville’s MLS debut but did not dress for the match. Little did he know, Haakenson had already been told a loan to Charlotte was in sight.
“I got my loan solidified basically a couple of days after preseason ended,” Haakenson said. “And then a week after that, Jack texted me. He goes, ‘Hey, man, I’m joining you on a loan. It should be until like April or May. There’s an extra spot. I’m going to be living with you.'”
Both made their Independence debuts against Sporting Kansas City II on the road. Maher started at center back and Haakenson came on as a substitute in the 63rd minute in the 2-1 win for Charlotte.
“We think a lot of (Jack). He fits our style very well. He’s a really clean passer out of the back,” Charlotte coach Mike Jeffries said. “Obviously, it’s nice that he’s also left-footed, which suited us very well.
“(Luke), he’s got a very good soccer brain. His feet are very clean and he’s deceptive in how he plays. He sees passes that are pretty clever — not just basic, simple balls. He has some good finishing capabilities. He strikes the ball well in front of goal and he puts himself into spots in front of goal, so he’s capable in those areas.”
That game was March 8. Three days later, the pandemic hit and Maher said Charlotte was one of the first USL clubs to cancel training. Nashville recalled Maher in March but not Haakenson.
“I know for a fact, in the last couple of months, guys around (MLS) really didn’t have the uncertainty that I had,” Haakenson said.
“It was kind of like living week-to-week, not knowing what I was going to do. Gosh, man, that’s hard. Am I gonna start (here) and play, or maybe I can go back to Nashville? I’ll be able to tell that story forever.”
Haakenson said the answer isn’t solidified yet. While Maher will be with the club in Orlando, a fall return to Charlotte is not ruled out, either. Regardless, both said he’ll keep practicing 22. Just not together at the rookie table.
“I got to my first day in Charlotte and I was having breakfast. I see a table and there was a deck of cards and (players were) playing 22 here, too,” Haakenson said. “I think this game is just thrown around all over the place and it’s pretty fun.”
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