CINCINNATI, OH – Nashville SC edged out FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium on Friday night, winning a penalty kick shootout after a hard-fought 1-1 match to advance to the Leagues Cup Round of 16. Elliot Panicco played the hero, coming on as a stoppage time substitute to make a game-deciding save in the shootout.
With his options limited due to injuries to Jacob Shaffelburg and Randall Leal, the suspension of Teal Bunbury, and lack of fitness for Sam Surridge, Gary Smith matched Cincinnati’s back five, playing Fafà Picault and Hany Mukhtar up top as a lone pair.
Jack Maher made his return off the bench after missing four games with a knee issue, with Brian Anunga the only other outfield substitute to enter the match.
On the pitch
It was a throwback to 2020 in a lot of was for Nashville, returning to their defensively organized roots and limiting Cincinnati in the final third. Picault and Mukhtar were generally quiet, taking just three combined shots, although Mukhtar was able to set up a handful of chances from set pieces.
After a deadlocked first half, Nashville took the lead in the 64th minute through Aníbal Godoy. The Panamanian captain finished from close range after an unmarked Dax McCarty’s header was saved.
Cincinnati equalized with just five minutes to go. Substitute Jack Maher extended both arms into the back of Brandon Vazquez in the box, giving away a fair, if slightly soft, penalty kick for Vazquez to convert.
In the waning seconds of regulation, Smith rolled the dice, bringing on backup goalkeeper Elliot Panicco in place of Joe Willis with an eye towards penalty kicks. Without touching the ball during the match, the 26-year-old stepped up, saving Matt Miazga’s effort and coming close on two others.
On the other side, Nashville were perfect from the spot. Mukhtar, Picault, Godoy and Walker Zimmerman all buried their efforts before Dax McCarty slotted home the final kick, winning the shootout 5-4 and sending Nashville through to the Round of 16.
The big picture
Nashville avoid getting swept by Cincinnati in 2023, after losing both their MLS matchups. After high profile issues in penalty shootouts, Nashville won their first-ever shootout in a competitive match.
The win sets up a Round of 16 date with Liga MX gigantes Club América at Geodis Park on Tuesday evening. Nashville will take on the biggest club in North America in a knockout match, which promises to provide an electric atmosphere.
The two sides met in last season’s Leagues Cup showcase, with Nashville taking down the Mexican powerhouse in penalties after a thrilling 3-3 draw.
Tickets for the Round of 16 match will go on sale tomorrow, August 5, at 10 am CT.