Mike Meredith/Club and Country
Through six games to start the Major League Soccer season, Los Angeles FC had yet to face a deficit of any size. With a 5-0-1 record, the league leaders had conceded only five times on the year, and only at times when they’d already built a lead of their own.
Hany Mukhtar changed that in the 35th minute in GEODIS Park Saturday evening. The reigning MVP did what he does, and Nashville SC led the reigning Supporters Shield and MLS Cup Champions. Mukhtar got his left foot to a loose ball in traffic – striker Teal Bunbury was credited with an assist for a bit of a scorpion kick from a prone position at the edge of the six-yard box after a cross – and gave the Boys in Gold the 1-0 advantage.
The single-goal lead was justified at the break given the first half’s run of play. Perhaps defying expectations, Nashville SC had controlled play through the first 20 minutes. Likely not defying expectations, that didn’t turn into much in the way of shots, and certainly not shots on-target. LAFC wrested a bit of control back, but Nashville’s ability to push the ball into the attacking third in a hurry gave the team the opportunity to score against the run of play, and Mukhtar did just that. From there, the rest of the half played out as a stalemate.
The game changed again 10 minutes into the second half, when Nashville SC’s captain, defender Walker Zimmerman, left the game with groin tightness on the heels of a 90-minute appearance for the US Men’s National team earlier in the week. His exit saw him pass the armband to Dax McCarty, his predecessor as the team’s full-time captain, who was making his 400th MLS start on the evening.
Within two minutes of Zimmerman’s departure, LAFC was able to take advantage of his absence. Striker Denis Bouanga is off to perhaps as hot a start as any player in the league (this side of Atlanta’s Thiago Almada, at least, and Nashville will see Almada next weekend). Zimmerman’s centerback partner Jack Maher and his replacement Dan Lovitz – who slid inside to a CB position with Taylor Washington entering as a left back substitution for Zimmerman – miscommunicated about which should step to Bouanga after a 50/50 at midfield turned into winger Stipe Buik’s leading the Gabonese standout into space. He did nothing to stall his hot start, slotting to the far post beyond Joe Willis.
From there, the confidence provided by the goal combined with waves of high-end subs. LAFC started with a mixed group in preparation for a mid-week matchup with Philadelphia Union in Concacaf Champions League, and even with that in mind, there aren’t many teams with a talent like former MVP Carlos Vela, much less the luxury of bringing him off the bench.
Nashville was in firm “hold on and pray” mode for much of the final act of the match. Joe Willis made five total saves in the match, and once again the veteran keeper kept his team competitive (something he seems to do against LAFC: he made 14 saves in a decision-day victory in Los Angeles last season).
With the draw, Nashville treads water at sixth position in the Eastern Conference with a record of 3-3-3. The Boys in Gold have a US Open Cup match with San Antonio FC on Wednesday, then a matinee against Atlanta United on Saturday afternoon. Both matches take place at GEODIS Park.
- 8′ LAFC Yellow card – 2 Denil Maldonado (foul)
- 35′ NSH GOAL – 10 Hany Mukhtar (left foot, from rebound), assisted(?) by 12 Teal Bunbury (scorpion kick from his stomach)
- 45’+1 Half time
- 55′ NSH Substitution – On 23 Taylor Washington, off 25 Walker Zimmerman
- 59′ LAFC GOAL – 99 Denis Bouanga (right foot, after dribble) assisted by 7 Stipe Buik
- 67′ NSH Substitutions –
- On 12 Teal Bunbury, off 17 CJ Sapong
- 14 Jacob Shaffelburg, off 7 Fafa Picault
- 69′ LAFC Yellow card – 18 Erik Dueñas (not retreating)
- 70′ LAFC Substitutions –
- On 10 Carlos Vela, off 19 Mateusz Bogusz
- On 22 Kwadwo Opoku, off 7 Stipe Buik
- On 23 Kellyn Acosta, off 6 Ilie Sanchez
- 79′ NSH Substitutions –
- On 22 Josh Bauer, off 19 Alex Muyl
- On 24 Jan Greguš, off 6 Dax McCarty
- 82′ LAFC Substitution – On 24 Ryan Hollingshead, off 30 Sergi Palencia
- 88′ LAFC Yellow card – Jesús David Murillo (time-wasting)
- 90’+4 Full time