Nashville SC fell last night to Orlando City on penalties. For 90 minutes, Nashville looked to be the better side and well on their way to hosting a U.S. Open Cup semifinal. But an Orlando City goal in extra time wrestled away control of the match.
Here are my three thoughts on the match:
A golden road wasted
I internally debated for the past week whether the match against Orlando City was the biggest in club history. On the one hand, Nashville have twice played in the quarterfinals of the MLS Cup playoffs. However, after a favorable draw for hosting priority for the remainder of the U.S. Open Cup, the road following the quarterfinal was paved in gold for the Coyotes. After conceding a stoppage-time equalizer and eventually the game-winning goal in extra time, Nashville wasted the golden road to a U.S. Open Cup final.
Nashville may lobby complaints about some questionable officiating, but they only have themselves to blame. They choked away the lead through their own mental errors.
In stoppage time, Elliot Panicco found himself in no man’s land having failed to punch away the ball on an Orlando City free kick presenting an open net for Rodrigo Schlegel to even the score. It was a mental misstep by Panicco after an otherwise remarkable night (more on that later).
Later on, just a minute into stoppage time, an unforgivable mental error flipped the match entirely in Orlando City’s favor. Sean Davis committed a tactical foul to slow down a Lion’s counterattack despite already having received a yellow card. You may want to blame the referee for the soft yellow given to Sean Davis earlier in the match, but Davis simply cannot commit that foul. He has to know that he must keep his hands off the Orlando City attacker having already picked up a card. Nashville and Davis have only themselves to blame for shifting the numerical advantage to the hosts.
The win and golden road to the U.S. Open Cup final were right there for the Boys in Gold. They simply wasted the chance.
Panicco’s mistake erases an otherwise stellar night
For 90 minutes, Elliot Panicco looked like a 10-year veteran confidently collecting balls, stopping shots, and milking every second off the clock as Nashville held onto a one-goal advantage. It would have been fair to wonder if Panicco had managed to wrestle away the starting goalkeeper job with his performance. My colleague Ben Wright certainly raised that possibility midway through the second half.
But as Nashville supporters have learned at various points this season, one error by a goalkeeper can completely erase an otherwise positive night.
To Panicco’s credit, he bounced back well. He produced steady play in 30 minutes of extra time and a crucial save of Andrés Perea’s penalty.
As far as goalkeepers go, Panicco is still young. I believe he will learn from the error. But make no mistake, Orlando’s tying goal will be seared into the collective memories of all for a long time to come.
A small silver lining
The bad taste in your mouth from that match is going to take a while to subside. But there is one positive takeaway. As a whole, Nashville looked far more confident in their penalty taking than last season’s disaster in Philadelphia.
The penalty shootout started with a big heaping of déjà vu. Alex Muyl took the ball first for Nashville and proceeded to sky his attempt straight into the Purple Wall. At that moment, it was not hard to immediately conjure up the sickening feeling of watching Nashville’s season sail away into the Delaware River.
After Muyl’s miss, Nashville’s next five penalty takers stepped up to the plate and confidently drilled their attempts. The run of goals ended when Pedro Gallese’s trailing foot managed to knock away Miller’s down-the-middle attempt. You can’t fault Miller for the miss; he had Gallese guessing the wrong way. But Gallese made an incredible play to send Orlando City on to the semifinal. After all, Gallese is nicknamed El Pulpo (“The Octopus”) for a reason.
The well-taken penalties, none of which were taken by Nashville’s three primary attackers (Mukhtar, Sapong, and Leal), at least have me feeling more confident about Nashville’s chances were they to find themselves back in a penalty kick shootout in the MLS Cup playoffs. It is a small silver lining on a bitter night, but it is a silver lining nonetheless.
We have stumped the U.S. Open Cup gurus as to whether Nashville set a competition record for most yellow cards in a single match.