Alas, even the most magical of runs are maintained on the thinnest of margins, and in the end, only one team will hoist MLS Cup. That will not be Nashville SC, after the Boys in Gold saw their season end in Columbus, Ohio.
Columbus attacker Gyasi Zardes broke behind the Nashville defense twice in the first half of extra time, and twice those runs resulted in goals for Columbus. That was enough to give the hosts the victory, an a trip to the Eastern Conference final. The first of Zardes’s runs saw the American striker square a pass to an on-rushing Pedro Santos, and he slotted home past Nashville keeper Joe Willis. On the second, Zardes ran off the shoulder of two Nashville defenders on a throughball, and slotted past Willis himself.
On a night where the Crew only managed two other shots on goal – while the Boys in Gold racked up four themselves – it may feel like a harsh result for Nashville. Indeed, any game that makes it past regulation deadlocked is going to be a heartbreaker for the team that fails to advance. When it means the end of the season, it’s all the more painful.
Even a depleted Columbus side – without starting keeper Eloy Room and reserve winger Derrick Etienne Jr. after an outbreak of the novel coronavirus surged through the Crew locker room – had enough firepower and stamina (no subs until the second half of stoppage time) to get the job done. Frankly, Columbus is one of a handful of clubs whose build Nashville will aspire to in the years to come.
Nashville has plenty to hang its hat on this season: only the second expansion side in league history to win a playoff game (the other, Chicago Fire, won the 1998 MLS Cup), one of the stoutest defenses in the league (a rarity for expansion teams), and the will to overcome unprecedented adversity for a team as it makes its Major League Soccer debut. They did it all despite not spending nearly as much on a roster build as other successful expansion teams of recent vintage. They did it despite not completing the roster until late in the regular season. But in the end, “it all” amounts to a consolation prize or moral victory – as is the case for 19 other MLS teams already, with four more added to their ranks in the next two weeks.
The Boys in Gold are here to stay. No, not in the 2020 playoff field, but as a player in Major League Soccer for years to come.
- 42′ NSH Yellow card – 12 Alistair Johnston (foul)
- 45′ Half time
- 73′ NSH Substitution – On 21 Derrick Jones, off 27 Tah Brian Anunga
- 90’+1 Full time
- ET NSH Substitutions:
- On 14 Daniel Ríos, off 99 Jhonder
- On 23 Taylor Washington, off 8 Randall Leal
- 99′ CLB GOAL – 7 Pedro Santos (right foot), assisted by 11 Gyasi Zardes (square pass inside the box)
- 103′ CLB GOAL – 11 Gyasi Zardes (right foot), assisted by 7 Pedro Santos (throughball)
- 105+1′ Half extra time
- EHT NSH Substitutions
- On 15 Eric Miller, off 12 Alistair Johnston
- On 70 Handwalla, off 29 Alex Muyl
- 109′ CLB Substitution – On 20 Ema Boateng, off 12 Luis Diaz
- 111′ NSH Yellow card – 23 Taylor Washington (foul)
- 113′ CLB Substitution – On 29 Krisztian Németh, off 11 Gyasi Zardes
- 116′ CLB Substitution – On 2 Chris Cadden, off 10 Lucas Zelarayán
- 120’+1 Full extra time
Nashville SC photo from file/courtesy Major League Soccer