Nashville SC may not have been favorites to make the playoffs this season, but once they got there they played like they belonged. Against an Inter Miami CF side whose struggles were compounded by three missing starters, Nashville cruised to a win in their first ever playoff match in Major League Soccer.
With a full two weeks of rest over the international break, head coach Gary Smith was able to utilize a full strength lineup for one of the first times this season. Designated player Jhonder Cádiz got his first start in a gold shirt, and with Randall Leal back from his national team, it was the first time Nashville had three DPs on the field at the same time.
Before the match, much was talked about Miami controlling possession. However, it was Nashville who came out of the gates in control. The Boys In Gold had 53% of the ball in the first half, and absolutely made the most of it.
Fresh off of a charter flight back from national team duty, Randall Leal opened the scoring in style in the 13th minute. The Costa Rican hit an absolute rocket past John McCarthy to give Nashville an early lead.
Nashville doubled their lead just 10 minutes later through Hany Mukhtar, who earned and converted a penalty kick after McCarthy brought him down in the box. Back from injury, the German has scored four and assisted two in his last three appearances, and capped off one of his better showings in gold with a composed finish.
Miami came out of the break looking more dangerous than they had in the opening 45. Matías Pellegrini had a golden chance in the 48th minute, but skied a shot from close range that would have given Miami a lifeline.
Nashville quickly made them pay. Dax McCarty picked up the ball in his own half and found himself uncontested. The captain carried the ball forward in plenty of space before curling into the far corner to secure the result.
Up three goals, Nashville continued to create chances as Miami threw numbers forward. Cádiz, Daniel Ríos and Dan Lovitz each had chances to add to their lead as the game grew stretched.
It wasn’t all positive for Nashville, though. After missing international duty with a thigh injury, Aníbal Godoy was forced to come off after an injury off the ball. Brian Anunga filled in capably for him all season, but with another playoff match in four days, his status will be one of the few points of concern for Nashville.
After advancing through the play-in round, Nashville will travel to Hartford, CT to take on Toronto FC, who have been based out of the US for the last stages of MLS’s return to play due to Covid protocols.
Nashville will go into the match as underdogs, as they have been all season. With the run of form they’re on, though, it won’t be easy to bet against them.
Shots: Nashville 7 – 9 Miami
Shots on goal: Nashville 4 – 3 Miami
Expected goals: Nashville 1.01 – 0.46 Miami
Goals: Nashville 3 – 0 Miami
Possession: Nashville 46% – 54% Miami
Yellow cards: Nashville 1 – 2 Miami
Red cards: Nashville 0 – 0 Miami