The talk entering the game – as it has been much of the season – revolved around two expansion teams built in very different ways. Nashville SC is the “moneyball” build that entered the year with high expectations. Inter Miami spent big to start its roster, and only continued spending more as the big-name, big-dollar talent flooded into South Florida.
Certainly, Nashville head coach Gary Smith sent reminder in the media that his team is the one that finished with a home playoff game, and that his team is the one that would have made the playoffs even without the coronavirus-induced expansion of the field. Saturday evening, his team reiterated that message – forcefully – on the field.
Randall Leal got the party started with a cracker in the 14th minute. Fellow winger Alex Muyl managed to get just enough on a loose ball to redirect it toward the center of the pitch in a transition moment, and the rest was all Leal. Less than 48 hours after returning from international duty with the Costa Rica national team in Spain, the 23-year old managed to shake off any bad vibes from a winless weekend with the Ticos, and hammered home from over 35 yards away. After Leal didn’t enter the week thinking he’d even be able to play (as with Miajmi Designated Player Matías Pellegrini, a rule change and charter flight were required to see him in the starting lineup), he scored the winning goal early in Nissan Stadium.
Of course, while Nashville proved the stronger team in the early stages, the game is never over with a simple one-goal advantage before the teams even head to the locker room for their orange slices and Capri Suns. Midfielder Hany Mukhtar made sure his teams advantage going into the half would not be a mere score. In the 22nd minute, he rounded Miami keeper John McCarthy in front of net. While McCarthy’s swipe for the ball didn’t make contact, he rolled over Mukhtar’s right ankle, resulting in a penalty kick. Mukhtar finished it himself the following minute.
There wasn’t quite as much excitement in the rest of the game, and certainly very little after NSC captain Dax McCarty put the game to bed 12 minutes into the second half. The veteran collected a loose ball in his own half, and facing little resistance (including from Miami’s World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi, who will not add this particular clip to his “effort” reel), dribbled to the edge of Miami’s penalty area before putting the game to bed with a strike.
Message required? No matter. Message sent.
With the victory, Nashville’s run in the playoffs will continue. The Boys in Gold hope to extend their inaugural MLS season with a trip to Hartford, Conn. Tuesday, where they’ll face a Toronto FC team that has played in three of the past four MLS Cup finals, winning the 2017 title. For a team that thrives on being the underdog, just such a tough task could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the motivation to pull through.
- 6′ MIA Yellow card – 18 Dylan Nealis (foul)
- 14′ NSH GOAL – 8 Randall Leal (right foot, outside the box), assisted by 29 Alex Muyl (square pass from loose ball)
- 24′ NSH GOAL – 10 Hany Mukhtar (right-footed penalty shot), earned by Mukhtar (fouled by 1 John McCarthy)
- 30′ NSH Yellow card – 12 Alistair Johnston (foul)
- 31′ MIA Yellow card – 6 Wil Trapp (foul)
- 36′ MIA Substitution – On 11 Matías Pellegrini
- 45’+2 Half time
- 57′ NSH GOAL – 6 Dax McCarty (right foot, outside the box after individual run)
- 62′ MIA Substitution – On 21 Julian Carranza, off 12 Juan Agudelo
- 63′ MIA Substitution – On 13 Victor Ulloa, off 6 Wil Trapp
- 67′ NSH Substitutions:
- On 21 Derrick Jones, off 10 Hany Mukhtar
- On 14 Daniel Ríos, off 99 Jhonder
- On 70 Handwalla, off 8 Randall Leal
- 74′ NSH Substitution – On 27 Tah Brian Anunga, off 20 Aníbal Godoy (injury)
- 76′ MIA Substitution – On 22 Ben Sweat, off 33 Mikey Ambrose
- 80′ NSH Substitution – On 23 Taylor Washington, off 29 Alex Muyl
- 90′ Full Time