Nashville SC fell 1-0 against Orlando City on Monday night, losing the first match of their Round One best-of-three series in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Once again, poor finishing doomed Nashville, who had chances to take something from the match.
Gary Smith understandably went with his strongest available lineup, missing only Randall Leal. Dax McCarty was resigned to a place on the bench after suffering an ankle knock in training the day before.
On the pitch
As usual, Nashville sat in a deeper block and ceded possession to the Lions, content to hit on the counter. It nearly paid off for them in the 19th minute. Hany Mukhtar and Jacob Shaffelburg linked up on the left wing, and the Canadian speedster picked out Sam Surridge unmarked just yards in front of goal for what should have been an easy finish. The DP forward inexcusably smashed his shot well over the bar. It was a chance that was almost harder to miss than to score.
Orlando took the lead in the 41st minute via a world-class strike from Wilder Cartagena. The Peruvian international was gifted yards of space just outside the box by a retreating Sean Davis, and punished the lax defending with an unstoppable shot, shaking the crossbar on its way into the back of the net.
Just minutes later, Mukhtar almost pulled Nashville level with a golazo of his own. The reigning MVP spotted Orlando ‘keeper Pedro Gallese off his line, and hit a knuckling shot from well over 35 yards out. The shot struck the bar, only after a fingertip saved from Gallese.
As the match went on, Nashville continued to throw both numbers forward and crosses into the box. One of them should have paid off, but another miss cost Nashville a chance at a result. Dan Lovitz whipped in a perfect cross following a set-piece for an unmarked Teal Bunbury. However, the second-half substitute somehow blazed his header well wide from a prime position.
Nashville couldn’t claw their way back into the match, and fell 1-0 at Exploria Stadium.
The big picture
On one hand, Nashville were uninspired, uninventive and reactionary. Orlando dominated the game, both in possession and in the volume of chances, and were by far the more proactive of the two sides.
On the other hand, despite being pretty poor at times, Nashville weren’t that far off. They created the two most dangerous chances of the night, chances you’d expect a professional to score more often than not. And the one goal they conceded was impossible for Willis to save.
Nashville aren’t dead yet. They’ll return to Geodis Park on Tuesday night to face Orlando once again in a must-win match (8 pm CT | MLS Season Pass). If they manage a victory, they’ll head back to Exploria Stadium in a winner-take-all match, with a place on the conference semifinals on the line.