NASHVILLE, TN – You remember some matches forever, no matter what. Tuesday night was one of those, as Nashville SC took down Club América on penalties in the Leagues Cup Round of 16, in a match that truly had everything.
With his squad almost fully available, Gary Smith was able to field a full-strength lineup. Most importantly, he had Sam Surridge available off the bench for his Nashville SC debut.
On the pitch
Nashville actually created a fair amount of chances in the first half, despite hardly seeing the ball. América dominated possession, controlling the ball for 64% of the first half but only putting two shots on target.
In the second half, things kicked off. A soaring Walker Zimmerman header opened the scoring in the 60th minute, with the defender’s trademark leap punctuating the strike. With his wife Sally set to deliver their baby any day, his celebration was apt.
With 15 minutes to go, América drew level through Diego Valdés, who snuck between Zimmerman and Lukas MacNaughton to hammer home a header of his own. In second-half stoppage time, things went from bad to worse for Nashville. A shot from Valdés struck MacNaughton in the arm, giving the visitors the lead from the penalty spot, and certainly securing the victory.
Sam Surridge had other ideas.
In his Nashville debut, the former Nottingham Forest man played a pass to Dax McCarty before making a lung-bursting run into the box. McCarty pinged a ball over the top for Hany Mukhtar, who spotted Surridge’s run and delivered an inch-perfect cross for Surridge to head home in the 99th minute.
Surridge’s goal would prove to be the last touch of the game, but Gary Smith was able to substitute backup goalkeeper Elliot Panicco on once again for the penalty shootout.
After a miss from Mukhtar to open the shootout (his first miss after 11 successful attempts), Panicco saved his first of the night, getting across goal quickly to parry Miguel Layún’s effort wide. Nashville scored their next four, including an audacious panenka from a confidence-infused Surridge.
Things got crazy in sudden death.
After Álvaro Fidalgo scored, Jack Maher had to hit the back of the net to keep Nashville alive. He didn’t, with Luis Malagón saving to his left and sending the crowd into a frenzy. Club América fans began to rush the field to celebrate and take pictures with the players, starting as a trickle and quickly growing.
While the overwhelmed security staff tried to get control of the situation, while tending to a guard who suffered a non-contact injury and had to be stretchered off, referee Selvin Brown was told by VAR that Malagón had come off his line early, and Maher’s penalty would need to be re-taken.
While fans continued to rush the field, leading to well over 20 arrests and reinforcements from the Metro Nashville Police Department, tempers began to flare on the field. Malagón, in particular, exchanged heated words with Smith on the touchline. All the while, Brown and his officiating crew communicated with the players that the game was not, in fact, over.
The field was eventually cleared after 10 or more minutes, and Maher stepped up to the spot. He again went low to Malagón’s left, but this time sent the ‘keeper the other way. After Jonathan dos Santos rang the bar, Dan Lovitz dispatched his spot kick to finally give Nashville the win.
The Club América supporters, who made up a sizable majority of the 24,662 in attendance, were unhappy. Fans began raining down drinks and other liquids onto Nashville and the referees, leading to a hasty retreat for most of the team and a theatrical exit from Smith, who seemed more than content to soak in the moment.
The big picture
It’ll take more than a couple paragraphs to react to this match. Look for more in-depth analysis in the coming days.
For now, Nashville advance to the Quarterfinals. They’ll face Minnesota United, who knocked off Toluca in penalties, on Friday, August 11 at 7:30 pm CT. The match will take place at Geodis Park.