Photo courtesy Nashville SC/Major League Soccer
It didn’t always look like it was going to be easy, but ultimately, it was. Nashville SC got two goals from Hany Mukhtar, and one each from Walker Zimmerman, Randall Leal, and Alistair Johnston to blow out inter Miami CF. While the Herons got one back with designated player Gonzalo Higuaín blasting a shot from outside the box, the outcome was never in doubt. A Nashville SC side that felt disappointed to forfeit a winner – and then give up a loser – the last time it visited South Florida wanted to leave nothing to chance in a 5-1 romp.
Mukhtar got the scoring going just six minutes into the game, swinging through a loose ball at the end of a Johnston cross that barely cleared the head of teammate Aníbal Godoy. It was Godoy creating the second goal, collecting a rebound on the left edge of the box – with Miami keeper Nick Marsman scrambling (futilely) to collect it – and lofting a cross that found Zimmerman in prime position to nod it home.
Nashville wasn’t content with the 2-0 lead at halftime. Almost immediately out of the locker room, Johnston fired a low cross to Sapong. While Marsman was able to keep the service away from Nashville SC’s striker, he parried it directly into Mukhtar’s path, and one dribble was all he needed to give himself an open net. He made no mistake completing his brace – fourth of the year – to give the visitors a three-nil lead.
As poorly constructed as the roster is, and as poorly coached and motivated as Miami often seems to be (to say nothing of spending more than league rules allow to put… that… on the field), the Herons didn’t want to go down that easily. After a poor clearing pass from NSC keeper Joe Willis – who had an otherwise outstanding night with three saves, including an impressive one – Gonzalo Higuaín pounded one to the lower left corner to cut the deficit to two in the 64th.
Proceedings devolved rapidly from there. Miami midfielder Gregore stepped on the ankle of Mukhtar, but referee Jon Freemon waved play on. When Mukhtar stayed down, play was ultimately stopped, but the only discipline from the incident went to the German, who protested… a little too vigorously to Freemon, earning a yellow card for dissent*.
Nashville would re-find the (extra?) insurance goal just a couple minutes later, with a throughball from Alex Muyl finding winger Randall Leal on the edge of the Miami box. The Costa Rican rode out some contact, and did what Nashville SC fans probably feel he hasn’t done enough of in the second half of 2021: fire away. He beat Marsman to the far post, scoring his first goal since returning from international play with the Ticos.
After playing with fire and avoiding a burn just a few minutes earlier, Gregore was carded twice in 11 minutes to be dismissed from the match. His absence may not have been the greatest factor in Nashville finding one more goal to end the match with the lopsided scoreline… but right back Alistair Johnston certainly hadn’t scored in any of his minutes of 11v11 soccer (or in any other gamestate) and he slammed home a cross – bar-down, as the hockey players in his home country would say – from Jhonder Cádiz to add insult to previous insult.
With the win, Nashville strengthens its grip on the No. 2 position in MLS’s Eastern Conference, opening up a five-point gap with New York City FC (after the Pigeons drew tri-state rivals and former landlords New York Red Bulls). The Boys in Gold have their next chance to add points to the board Sunday, with a noon matchup in the Windy City against Chicago Fire. A win in that game would lock NSC into a finishing position of 12th or better (and for practical purposes, very close to clinching a playoff spot).
Not bad for a squad whose star player isn’t in the all-star conversation, much less that for league MVP.
* For Nashville SC fans wondering if Mukhtar’s yellow card will be rescinded, the short answer is no. Dissent is specifically forbidden, even when justified, and he got his money’s worth there. As to whether the official will be reprimanded for his game-management decisions… well, just google his name and you’ll see that, against all odds, he’s gonna keep getting assignments.
- 6′ NSH GOAL – 10 Hany Mukhtar (right-footed first-time, at corner of six-yard box), assisted by 12 Alistair Johnston (right-footed cross)
- 39′ NSH GOAL – 25 Walker Zimmerman (headed, from top of six-yard box), assisted by 20 Aníbal Godoy (left-footed short cross)
- 45’+2 Half time
- 48′ NSH GOAL – 10 Hany Mukhtar (right foot, after rebound and dribble), created by 12 Alistair Johnston (cross cleared to Mukhtar by keeper)
- 64′ MIA GOAL – 9 Gonzalo Higuaín (right foot, outside the box after dribble), assisted by 10 Rodolfo Pizarro (right footed square pass)
- 67′ NSH Yellow card – 10 Hany Mukhtar (dissent)
- 68′ NSH Substitution – On 19 Alex Muyl, off 10 Hany Mukhtar
- 68′ MIA Substitutions –
- On 20 Brek Shea, off 3 Kieran Gibbs
- On 19 Robbie Robinson, off 21 Julián Carranza
- 70′ NSH GOAL – 8 Randall Leal (right footed), assisted by 19 Alex Muyl (right-footed throughball)
- 75′ MIA Yellow card – 26 Gregore (foul)
- 76′ NSH Substitutions –
- On 99 Jhonder Cádiz, off 17 CJ Sapong
- On 27 Tah Brian Anunga, off 6 Dax McCarty
- 84′ NSH Substitution – On 72 Aké Loba, off 8 Randall Leal
- 86′ MIA RED CARD – 26 Gregore (foul, second yellow)
- 88′ MIA Substitution, On 35 Semi Guediri, off 10 Rodolfo Pizarro
- 90’+6 NSH GOAL – 12 Alistair Johnston (right-footed, first touch, off crossbar), assisted by 99 Jhonder Cádiz (low cross from left)
- 90’+6 Full time