NASHVILLE, TN – Nashville SC once again came back from losing position at home. Against Toronto FC on Wednesday night, the Boys in Gold battled back to stun the visitors in stoppage time for a 3-2 victory.
Just before the lineups were released, the club announced that centerback Jack Maher had been recalled from his loan to San Diego Loyal in the USL Championship. Maher had started five matches during his month on loan, and was immediately slotted into the starting lineup in place of Walker Zimmerman, who was absent with an undisclosed personal issue.
Toronto broke the deadlock against the run of play in the 26th minute. Rightback Auro Jr. took advantage of a positional mistake to get in behind Dan Lovitz. The defender kept his cool to freeze Dave Romney in place, before sending a low ball to the back post for Jonathan Osorio to tap in.
Nashville nearly responded before halftime, with Aníbal Godoy missing an open chance from two yards out, and a Hany Mukhtar header forcing a save from point blank range.
It was Jack Maher who got his side back into things. The defender peeled off his mark on a corner kick to calmly slot a low shot into the goal from just past the penalty spot. It was Mahers first MLS goal in just his second MLS start.
Despite several other high-quality chances from Nashville, Toronto again pulled ahead. Patrick Mullins breezed past his marker to nod home a Michael Bradley corner kick at the near post. With less than 10 minutes to go, it felt like another instance of missed opportunities costing Nashville points.
Luke Haakenson had other ideas.
On as a 59th minute substitute, the second-year midfielder scored twice to snag a win in dramatic fashion. The first saw him pounce opportunistically on a fortunate bounce following a CJ Sapong header, finishing cooly to the far post.
His second goal was a gem, cleanly collecting a pass from Dan Lovitz and beating Chris Mavinga in a single touch before wrongfooting Quentin Westberg and drilling a low shot to the near post. It was his first goals in MLS, a deserved reward after a standout loan spell with Charlotte Independence in USL last season.
The win is Nashville’s third home victory of 2021, pushing them into 6th place in the East. Toronto drop to 13th with the loss. Nashville have another short turnaround, welcoming CF Montréal to Nissan Stadium on Saturday night.
1. Defense once again shaky. Let’s get the negatives out of the way. Nashville were yet again a bit soft at the back. The first goal especially was preventable, with Lovitz and Romney both caught out of position, and Alistair Johnston slow to react at the back post. It didn’t ultimately cost them points, but it was the type of goal a defense this talented shouldn’t concede so regularly.
2. Nashville can create chances. Say what you will about Nashville’s finishing, but they’re creating chances at an elite level. Opta has their expected goals for this one at 3.34, and American Soccer Analysis lists them in 5th place in the league in xG. Their finishing clearly needs work, with at least three chances missed that should have been scored. But their ability to consistently get the ball into scoring positions is a major improvement from last season.
3. Young players step up. Jack Maher didn’t look at all out of place filling in for Walker Zimmerman, with a crucial goal to give Nashville much-needed momentum. And Luke Haakenson has been a standout this season. He’s worked himself into a consistent role off the bench, and tonight showed a remarkable composure in front of goal for a player so young. It won’t be long before he’s worked himself into the starting lineup.
Possession: NSH 58% – 42% TOR
Shots: NSH 15 – 9 TOR
Shots on goal: NSH 11 – 4 TOR
Expected goals: NSH 3.34 – 1.23 TOR
Goals: NSH 3 – 2 TOR
Fouls: NSH 17 – 12 TOR
Yellow cards: NSH 3 – 3 TOR
Red cards: NSH 0 – 0 TOR
Nashville SC (4-4-1-1): Willis; Johnston, Maher, Romney, Lovitz; Muyl (Haakenson 59′), McCarty, Godoy, Leal (Piñeiro 81′); Mukhtar; Sapong
Toronto FC (4-2-3-1): Westberg; Auro (Endoh 90′), Zavaleta, Mavinga, Lawrence; Bradley, Delgado; Laryea, Pozuelo (Okello 46′), Osorio (Morrow 59′); Akinola (Mullins 79′)