Nashville SC closed off their first-ever MLS regular season in style, coming back in the last minute against fourth-placed Orlando City SC to win a back and forth, free flowing match.
Head coach Gary Smith named close to his first-choice XI, bringing back the pairing of Dax McCarty and Aníbal Godoy in midfield, with Daniel Ríos leading the lines.
The match got off to a poor start from a Nashville perspective. Defender Walker Zimmerman got caught upfield trying to intercept a pass, allowing Chris Mueller to pounce. The winger drove the ball at the defense and laid it off for Daryl Dike, who blasted a finish off the near post and in.
The Boys in Gold pulled themselves back into the match through Dan Lovitz, who scored his first goal for Nashville and second-ever in MLS. The left back collected the ball following a corner, and after his first effort was blocked, he curled home off the inside of the post with his right foot, opening his Nashville account in style.
At the half, Gary Smith made three changes. Godoy and McCarty were withdrawn after picking up yellow cards (McCarty was probably lucky not to be sent off), as well as Daniel Ríos. The trio made way for Matt LaGrassa, Brian Anunga and Jhonder Cádiz.
It was Orlando, though, who came out of the break on top. The Lions continued to streak through Nashville’s midfield, creating plenty of dangerous moments. They found the net again through Nani, who smashed a world-class free kick into the top corner to put the home side ahead.
Nashville came close to conceding a couple other times, with both Mueller and Antonio Carlos putting chances just wide.
Things changed for Nashville with the return of Hany Mukhtar. The designated player hadn’t played since coming off injured against Houston on October 14, 25 days ago. After coming on in the 75th minute, he pulled Nashville level in the 88th. Alex Muyl whipped in a dangerous cross, and the German playmaker found the back of the net with a well-timed header.
To cap off the display, Mukhtar set up the winner in the 93rd minute, serving in a set piece for Jhonder Cádiz to head home from close range.
The 3-2 win for Nashville was the first time this season Orlando was beaten at home, capping off a regular season in which Nashville defied expectations by finishing in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
The result in Orlando and around the league pushed Nashville into seventh place, setting them up for a home matchup against tenth place Inter Miami CF in the play-in round of the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs on November 20.
Heading into a two week break over the international window, Nashville will hope the momentum of their comeback victory in Orlando will carry over and propel them on a playoff run.
Shots: Orlando 13 – 11 Nashville
Shots on goal: Orlando 4 – 6 Nashville
Expected goals: Orlando 0.69 – 1.06 Nashville
Goals: Orlando 2 – 3 Nashville
Possession: Orlando 52.3% – 47.7% Nashville
Yellow cards: Orlando 1 – 3 Nashville
Red cards: Orlando 0 – 0 Nashville