Nashville SC

Mukhtar sends Nashville SC to US Open Cup Quarterfinal

It was not the prettiest day in Nashville SC history. But it’s not supposed to be in a rivalry game, and even though Nashville SC hadn’t faced Louisville City FC in a competitive match since the Boys in Gold departed USL Championship for MLS, they’re still rivals – just at a bit of distance.

So when NSC went down to the Derby Boys in the 37th minute, it served largely to awaken something deep inside Nashville. We are supposed to be the big brother. We are supposed to be the better team. Brian Ownby’s 37th-minute header found an answer almost immediately, with Nashville drawing level shortly after the ensuing kickoff.

A ball over he top from centerback Jack Maher found winger Luke Haakenson in space. While his pullback pass was slightly behind striker Aké Loba, the Ivorian managed to leave his right foot back, getting enough to the ball to put it on frame, and slam the roof of the open net.

From that point forward, a game that saw Nashville SC trend toward direct play (admittedly with a rotated group, but perhaps not the most beautiful style against a lower-division team) evolved into a more midfield-oriented battle. While the Boys in Gold certainly felt hard-done an offside call or two – one of which would have seen Loba in alone on goal early in the match – rather than throw their hands up in frustration, they adapted their play to take such decisions out of the hands of the officiating crew – or at least make them less life-or-death to the outcome, with a build through midfield and the wingbacks, rather than popping balls long for Loba or strike partner Ethan Zubak to run onto.

An improvement in aesthetics, though, required a round of reinforcements before it also improved the results. A handful of the players that were absent from what might be considered a typical starting group – centerback Walker Zimmerman and attacking players Hany Mukhtar and CJ Sapong – entered between the 69th and 77th minutes, and ultimately helped make the difference.

In the 89th minute, Sapong dribbled through traffic near the top of Louisville’s penalty area, then laid off to fellow substitute Handwalla Bwana. A curling run from Mukhtar allowed Bwana to play him in alone on goal, and he was able to do the same thing he’d already done five times this year: put the ball in the back (or in this instance, side) of the net. While he’s not on last year’s 19-goal pace, he has four goals and two assists in his past five appearances in all competitions, and may just be finding his form.

After six – which turned into eight – minutes of stoppage time, Louisville City had no response, and suffered the first home defeat in the club’s US Open Cup history. Nashville moves on, and will travel to Orlando June 21 or 22 after the other Boys in Purple knocked off Inter Miami in Penalty kicks.

First, though, it’s a quick return to league play. NSC travels to Colorado Rapids for a Saturday evening contest against a Rapids team that sits just a single point behind Nashville in the Western Conference standings. It’s also a Colorado franchise that won its only MLS Cup in 2010 – under the tutelage of the man who now leads Nashville SC, manager Gary Smith. With an international break on the horizon, the emotional – and physical – toll of the Open Cup match and Smith’s rocky departure from Commerce City will be storylines to watch for NSC.

Starting lineups

Match events

  • 37′ LOU GOAL – 10 Brian Ownby (headed), assisted by 3 Amadou Dia (left-footed cross)
  • 39′ NSH GOAL – 9 Aké Loba (right foot, first touch reaching backwards), assisted by 26 Luke Haakenson (pullback pass from Man City Zone, after longball from Jack Maher)
  • 45’+1 Half time
  • 48′ NSH Yellow card – 26 Luke Haakenson (foul)
  • 51′ LOU Substitution – On 6 Wesley Charpie, off 66 Josh Wynder (injury)
  • 69′ NSH Substitutions –
    • On 25 Walker Zimmerman, off 5 Jack Maher
    • On 7 Handwalla, off 26 Luke Haakenson
  • 70′ LOU Substitutions –
    • On 11 Niall McCabe, off 13 Corben Bone
    • On 17 Cameron Lancaster, off 14 Wilson Harris
  • 77′ NSH Substitutions –
    • On 27 Brian Anunga, off 20 Aníbal Godoy
    • On 10 Hany Mukhtar, off 9 Aké Loba
    • On 17 CJ Sapong, off 11 Ethan Zubak
  • 81′ LOU Substitutions –
    • On 36 Paolo DelPiccolo, off 10 Brian Ownby
    • On 19 Oscar Jimenez, off 3 Amadou Dia
  • 86′ LOU Yellow card – 11 Niall McCabe
  • 89′ NSH GOAL – 10 Hany Mukhtar (right-footed, to far corner), assisted by 7 Handwalla (throughball from top of penalty area)
  • 90’+6 LOU Yellow card – 9 Jorge González (dissent)
  • 90’+8 Full time

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