MVP? It’ll be an upset if Hany Mukhtar wins Major League Soccer’s top individual honor when it’s announced, but the Nashville SC attacker once again put another significant forward that he’s a deserving candidate. The German scored goals in the 21st and 74th minutes to draw Nashville level – and then provide the winner – as Nashville SC moved to the second round of the playoffs with a 3-1 win over Orlando City SC.
The game started in ignominious fashion as the primary bugaboo of this year’s defense bit the Boys in Gold once more. Set pieces were a strength of Nashville’s inaugural season on both ends of the pitch, and were to begin the 2021 campaign. However, 12 of Nashville’s 33 regular-season goals allowed were from dead-ball situations, including three of the four scored by Orlando across a trio of meetings between these teams. In the 14th minute, it was once again a set piece, with striker Daryl Dike placing a header to the far post from corner-kick service by Mauricio Pereyra to put the visitors ahead.
Nashville tilted the pitch over the remainder of the first half, though, and thanks to a bit of luck, went into the locker room level. Aníbal Godoy made a tackle in the attacking half of the pitch and quickly slid the ball to Mukhtar. While the shot may have been saved in regular circumstances, a deflection from defender Antônio Carlos left Orlando keeper Pedro Gallese helpless as it looped into the back of his net.
While Orlando would come out after the break with a much firmer grip in the game than the first-half tilting Nashville had given the field, it was once again Mukhtar who would find the magic moment. Playing a quick break with striker CJ Sapong, he dribbled… and dribbled… and cut onto his left foot at the top of the box, going back across his body to beat Gallese once more in the 74th.
From that point, Orlando turned “firmer grip in the game” into “solid dominance of possession and chances,” with multiple opportunities for Tesho Akindele left wanting, in addition to dangerous shots from Junior Urso, Luis Nani, and Daryl Dike. The Nashville SC defense recorded only one blocked shot in the stretch, but scrambled time and again to prevent most shots from even being launched.
While it felt Nashville was holding on for dear life, it didn’t take until the final whistle for the collective exhale of the 26,043 in attendance. Substitute striker Jhonder Cádiz – the oft-maligned Designated Player – shielded his defenders, ran onto a ball over the top from defender Dan Lovitz, and slotted home in stoppage time to give the home crowd a final minute-plus to celebrate while the clock was still running.
With the 3-1 victory, Nashville SC becomes the first MLS expansion franchise to win at least one playoff game in each of its first two years since the Seattle Sounders completed the feat in 2009-10. A trip to Chester, Pa. beckons Sunday afternoon, with a Philadelphia Union team that gave Nashville the final of its four regular-season losses waiting on the banks of the Delaware River. Kickoff in the second-round matchup is at 5:30 p.m. EST, with the winner taking on either Supporters Shield winners New England Revolution in Foxboro, Mass. the following weekend, or hosting NYCFC if the Pigeons can earn the upset in the other conference semi.
For tonight, though, Nashville has nothing to do but celebrate like nobody has before – because almost no team has done so much in so little time in the league. Savor it.
- 14′ ORL GOAL – 18 Daryl Dike (headed), assisted by 10 Mauricio Pereyra (right-footed corner)
- 21′ NSH GOAL – 10 Hany Mukhtar (right foot, deflected), assisted by 20 Aníbal Godoy (pass in attacking third after tackle)
- 39′ ORL Yellow card – 10 Mauricio Pereyra (professional foul)
- 45’+2 Half time
- 65′ ORL Yellow card – 8 Jhegson Mendez (professional foul)
- 74′ NSH GOAL – 10 Hany Mukhtar (left foot to bottom corner, after dribble), assisted by 17 CJ Sapong (pass at midfield)
- 75′ ORL Substitution – On 17 Luis Nani, off 19 Benji Michel
- 81′ ORL Substitutions –
- On Tesho Akindele, Off Chris Mueller
- On Alexandre Pato, off 8 Jhegson Mendez
- 83′ NSH Substitutions –
- On 99 Jhonder Cádiz, off 17 CJ Sapong
- On 3 Jalil Anibaba, off 15 Eric Miller
- 85′ NSH Yellow card – 3 Jalil Anibaba (professional foul)
- 90’+1 NSH Substitutions –
- On 27 Tah Brian Anunga, off 8 Randall Leal
- On 19 Alex Muyl, off 6 Dax McCarty
- 90’+2 ORL Substitution – On Silvester van der Water, off 3 Emanuel Más
- 90’+4 NSH GOAL – 99 Jhonder Cádiz (right-footed), assisted by 2 Dan Lovitz (lofted throughball)
- 90’+5 Full time