It wasn’t supposed to be like this. At the very least, you’d have expected a Nashville SC team very well-versed in finishing games level with the opposition to have an extra bit of juice in the all-important tiebreaker phase of a playoff match. Alas, after playing Philadelphia Union to a 1-1 draw in regulation – and failing to find a winner in extra time – it wasn’t to be.
Hany Mukhtar, Designated Player, MVP candidate, and earlier in the game a goal-scorer: penalty saved.
Alex Muyl, possessor of a 100% penalty-conversion rate in MLS play, who notched that make earlier this season: penalty miss.
Aníbal Godoy, captain of the Panamanian National Team, a seven-year MLS veteran and alumnus of the 2018 World Cup, first in history for his country: penalty saved.
Walker Zimmerman, himself an occasional captain for the US Men’s National Team and the first choice to wear the armband for Nashville SC in Dax McCarty’s absence, the reigning MLS Defensive Player of the Year largely because of his goal-scoring prowess from the centerback position: penalty miss.
In between, Philadelphia Jacks Elliot and McGlynn hit their attempts, and Nashville SC went out with a whimper in a season – after a game – that seemed destined for more. The Boys in Gold finished level with the Union in the regular-season table, losing out on a home game in this very matchup only on tiebreakers. The teams split 1-0 victories with each winning on its home turf in the regular season, and through 300 minutes, there was nothing to separate them.
Mukhtar put the visitors on top in the 38th minute, nodding home a gorgeous cross from Eric Miller for his 19th goal in all competitions (and third of the playoffs) this season. It was his first headed goal, a display of versatility from the 5-8 forward that was yet another bullet in the résumé – unfortunately after the conclusion of voting – for Major League Soccer MVP.
Unfortunately, a common bugaboo for Nashville SC undid Mukhtar’s moment of brilliance in first-half stoppage time. 90 seconds into a planned 60 after the regular time of the first half had elapsed, the Boys in Gold were struck once more by a set piece. Union midfielder Daniel Gazdag had his first shot blocked, but an inability to clear the ball saw the Boys in Gold concede on an impressive hit to the far post, giving the teams level ground once more.
A scrappy first half evolved into a more-open second, but the second frame and the 30 minutes of stoppage time were more defined by crucial misses than that fateful moment to decide the game. Philadelphia striker Sergio Santos missed a handful of chances – he did manage to put a floater on target, though, the only one aside from Gazdag’s goal for the Union – while Nashville left wingback Dan Lovitz mistimed a strike and fumbled the ball out of play with his plant foot on what would have been an open opportunity to test Philly keeper Andre Blake in-behind the Philadelphia defense. Even center official Allen Chapman and his Video Assistants had their misses, with a handled cross by Union midfielder Jose Martinez getting barely a cursory look, with Chapman totally uninterested on the field (At least there was a makeup call shortly thereafter, with a second Gazdag goal from a set piece waved off due to a dubious foul).
In the end, a history-making season – the Boys in Gold became the first modern MLS expansion team to win a playoff game in Years One and Two – ends on a sour note. Not because of a lack of accomplishments, but rather because NSC felt there was so much more out there to achieve. There are six weeks of offseason on the way to begin preparing for another step forward in Year Three.
- 38′ NSH GOAL – 10 Hany Mukhtar (headed), assisted by 15 Eric Miller (right-footed cross from sideline)
- 45’+2 PHI GOAL – 6 Daniel Gazdag (right-footed, from rebound of own shot)
- 45’+2 Half time
- 57′ PHI Substitution – On 17 Sergio Santos, off 31 Leon Flach
- 90’+5 NSH Yellow card – 8 Randall Leal (foul)
- 90’+6 Full time
- FT NSH Substitution – On 99 Jhonder Cádiz, off 17 CJ Sapong
- 105’+1 Half extra time
- 106′ PHI Substitutions –
- On 19 Cory Burke, off 23 Kacper Przybylko
- On 16 Jack McGlynn, off 10 Jamiro Monteiro
- 109′ PHI Substitution – On 26 Nathan Harriel, off 29 Alvas Powell
- 118′ NSH Substitution – On 3 Jalil Anibaba, off 15 Eric Miller
- 120’+1 AET
- NSH 10 Hany Mukhtar SAVED, PHI 3 Jack Elliott GOAL
- NSH 20 Aníbal Godoy SAVED, PHI 17 Sergio Santos SAVED
- NSH 19 Alex Muyl MISS, PHI 16 Jack McGlynn GOAL
- NSH 25 Walker Zimmerman MISS, Philadelphia wins 2-0.