NASHVILLE, TN – Nashville SC couldn’t close out the 2023 MLS regular season victoriously. Instead, they conceded in second-half stoppage time to lose 1-0 to New York Red Bulls, who extend their streak to 14-consecutive years in the playoffs.
Other than the suspended Dax McCarty, head coach Gary Smith had a full roster to choose from, and rolled out a first-choice lineup against Red Bulls.
On the pitch
Nashville had their chances, especially in the first half. Hany Mukhtar and Sam Surridge found space on the break, but the connection between the two ultimately disappointed. Too often simple passes were missed, and the issue was exacerbated by Randall Leal’s forced first-half substitution with an apparent calf injury.
Mukhtar came the closest to scoring, when his breakaway shot was tipped onto the post, denying him his 16th goal of the season. Alex Muyl also had a seemingly clear shout for a penalty kick ignored, despite goalkeeper Carlos Coronel appearing to take his legs out following a shot.
As the match went on, Red Bulls pressed harder for a goal, knowing that a win would secure their playoff spot. Although they struggled to create anything of note, a sloppy tackle from Aníbal Godoy in second-half stoppage time gifted the visitors a penalty kick.
Red Bulls homegrown John Tolkin stepped up to the spot, and the 21-year-old made no mistake with the finish. The win extends Red Bulls’ playoff streak to 14 consecutive years, the longest active playoff streak in any major men’s North American professional sports league.
The big picture
It was more of the same for Nashville. Aside from their 3-1 win over New England Revolution last weekend, they’ve been largely bad in the final third. Their 1.15 goals-per-game this season is their worst average since their expansion season in 2020, and the lack of secondary scoring besides Hany Mukhtar has continued to haunt them.
Their defense has continued to be elite, but the lack of evolution at the other end of the field continues to hold them back.
They’ll take on Orlando City in Round 1 of the MLS Cup Playoffs. The new postseason format is a best of three series, with Orlando hosting games one and three. The final playoff schedule will be announced in the coming days.