Nashville SC stunned FC Cincinnati with a 6-3 comeback win on Wednesday night at TQL Stadium. The Boys In Gold officially clinch a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs with the win, and finish the night in second place in the Eastern Conference table.
Gary Smith switched to a back four for the first time in 15 matches, giving Luke Haakenson a surprise start on the right wing.
Nashville started the match about as poorly as possible. A deep cross from Haris Medunjanin deflected off Dave Romney for and own goal just six minutes in, and just eleven minutes later Brenner added a second from the penalty spot to put Cincinati up 2-0.
The match looked over almost before it had started when referee Ramy Touchan pointed to the spot again in the 23rd minute, but Joe Willis stood his ground to gather Brenner’s ill-advised panenka attempt. The save would prove to be one of several turning points in the match.
Nashville were dealt another blow. Walker Zimemrman pulled a goal back from a Hany Mukhtar set piece, but Cincinnati reclaimed their two goal lead just four minutes later when Brandon Vazquez ran uncontested through Nashville’s half before driving a low shot past Willis.
The turning point came just before halftime, when Randall Leal caught every last bit of a volley, smashing it past Kenneth Vermeer to give Nashville a lifeline going into the half.
Leal’s goal was the change in momentum Nashville needed. With DP attacker Aké Loba sent into the match at halftime, the Boys In Gold ran riot on Cincinnati. After threatening on multiple occasions, they found the breakthrough through C.J. Sapong in the 71st minute.
A second goal from Leal just five minutes later would prove to be the winner, and Loba added a goal of his own and an assist to Sapong to ice the match and three points for Nashville.
It shouldn’t be ignored just how poor Nashville were to start the match. Whether it was the switch to the back four, taking a win in Cincinnati for granted, or some other reason, they just didn’t look ready to start the match. Poor defensive spacing, sloppy tackling and misplaced passes looked set to cost Gary Smith’s side points in a nearly must-win match.
But credit to Smith and his side for correcting their mistakes and getting back on track. It was the third time this season Nashville have scored five or more goals, and with Philadelphia Union’s shock 2-2 draw in Toronto, Nashville end the night in second place in the East, with a two point lead on the Union. They officially clinch a playoff berth with two games to go, just the sixth expansion side in MLS history to qualify for the playoffs in their first two seasons.
Things keep getting worse for Cincinnati. The Knifey Lions somehow always find new and painful ways to drop points at home, and blowing a 3-1 lead to their regional rivals will hurt for a while.
With a huge road match coming up against fifth-place Orlando City on Sunday, Nashville will take the three points home to Nashville knowing that their spot in the 2021 playoffs is secured.
Nashville become just the fourth expansion team in the modern era of Major League Soccer to appear in the playoffs in both of their first two seasons, joining Seattle Sounders, Atlanta United and LAFC in that exclusive club.
Possession: CIN 47% – 53% NSH
Passes: CIN 404 – 450 NSH
Shots: CIN 9 – 15 NSH
Shots on goal: CIN 5 – 8 NSH
Expected goals: CIN 2.51 – 2.04 NSH
Goals: CIN 3 – 6 NSH
Fouls: CIN 16 – 13 NSH
Yellow cards: CIN 2 – 1 NSH
Red cards: CIN 0 – 0 NSH