It only takes one. Nashville would have liked to add an insurance goal – Gary Smith subbed on offensive personnel in the second half to try for it – but Randall Leal’s first-half tally was enough as the Boys in Gold kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 victory on the road.
The game-winner was a crafty combination. Leal’s fellow winger, Alex Muyl, took a foul in Montreal territory as NSC was on a breakaway. Instead of waiting to establish a full set-piece routine, he executed a mind-meld with Leal, playing the Costa Rican through as he hung of the back shoulder of Montreal centerback Luis Binks. A touch to the left foot and a clean finish past goalkeeper Clément Diop was enough to provide all three points for the visitors.
Home hasn’t necessarily been kind to Montreal Impact, particularly because “home” is not La Métropole but rather Harrison, New Jersey thanks to the ongoing – and, to me, frustrating! – coronavirus pandemic. The team has based itself in New York (and more recently, New Jersey) for its living and training, while playing its games at Red Bull Arena, the usual home of the New York Red Bulls.
It was a former Red Bull providing the moment of magic on this evening. Muyl joined Nashville SC mid-season from the Red Bulls, and after recording eight assists in that facility while wearing the home team’s colors, he managed to add one as a visitor – without playing against his former team. The savvy he showed to play Leal through overshadowed his defensive effort (and for that matter, Leal’s – though the latter is not typically known for that aspect of his game), because it was the difference.
Nashville kept its ninth clean sheet of the season – and fifth on the road – to make Leal’s goal hold up. Joe Willis was only called into action twice in keeping the Impact off the scoresheer.
The result was crucially important in Nashville’s quest to lock down a playoff spot as soon as possible. With the three points, Nashville can only finish as low as 12th in the Eastern Conference, with the top 10 teams making the postseason. An Atlanta United non-win against Orlando City and an Inter Miami loss to FC Dallas tomorrow would be enough to seal the inaugural Audi MLS Cup Playoffs bid with three regular-season games to play.
Nashville will have its next opportunity for a proactive step toward improving its playoff position when it host Chicago Fire Saturday evening at Nissan Stadium. The Fire are hanging on the fringes of the playoffs themselves, currently occupying the No. 10 slot. Raphaël Wicky’s team will be eager to move toward cementing its own trip to the postseason, and the game should be a spirited one.
If we’ve learned anything about Nashville SC in the past month-plus – with just two losses in the last 10 games – it’s that the Boys in Gold will rise to that occasion.
- 33′ NSH GOAL – 8 Randall Leal (left foot), assisted by 29 Alex Muyl (right-footed throughball from a free-kick situation)
- 45’+3 NSH Yellow card – 25 Walker Zimmerman (unsporting behavior)
- 45’+3 Half time
- HT MTL Substitution – On 18 Orji Okwonkwo, off 37 Maxi Urruti
- 53′ MTL Yellow card – 26 Jorge Corrales (foul)
- 61′ NSH Substitution – On 99 Jhonder Cádiz, off 14 Daniel Ríos
- 72′ MTL Substitution – On 14 Amar Sejdic, off 25 Emanuel Maciel
- 76′ NSH Substitutions:
- On 7 Abu Danladi, off 21 Derrick Jones
- On 27 Tah Brian Anunga, off 20 Aníbal Godoy
- 80′ MTL Yellow card – 22 Jukka Raitala (persistent infringement)
- 86′ NSH Substitution – On 23 Taylor Washington, off 8 Randall Leal
- 89′ MTL Substitution – On 13 Mason Toye, off 6 Samuel Piette
- 90′ MTL Yellow card – 5 Luis Binks (foul)
- 90’+3 Full time
Randal Leal photo courtesy Major League Soccer