Nashville SC exit MLS Cup Playoffs in shootout loss

Nashville SC’s 2021 season ended in disappointing fashion on Sunday night. A 1-1 deadlock after extra time lead to a penalty kick shootout against the Philadelphia Union at Subaru Park, but Nashville missed all four of their attempts en route to a 2-0 loss.

The XI

Dave Romney was again unavailable, despite indications from head coach Gary Smith that he was on track to participate. Smith fielded an unchanged lineup and bench from the 3-1 win over Orlando City on Tuesday night.

120 minutes

Despite a difficult opening exchanges, Nashville found the opener through Hany Mukhtar. The talisman scored his 19th goal of the season after cutting in front of defender Alves Powell to head home the service from Eric Miller in the 38th minute, continuing his rich vein of form with his third postseason goal of 2021.

Philadelphia equalized with the last kick of the first half. Daniel Gazdag got a second bite of the apple folowing a corner kick and was able to find the side netting with an opportunistic finish.

Nashville spent much of the second half on the back foot, especially once substitute Sergio Santos entered the match for the Union. The striker consistently found space in Nashville’s defense, but was only able to put one of his six attempts on target, despite finding a pair of golden chances falling to him.

Dan Lovitz had an exceptional attempt to give Nashville a late lead near the end of extra time, but flubbed his shot to send the match to penalty kicks.

Things devolved quickly for Nashville from the spot.

Hany Mukhtar and Aníbal Godoy saw their efforts saved by goalkeeper Andre Blake. After a crucial save from Joe Willis to deny Santos, Nashville saw a way back into the match, but Alex Muyl and Walker Zimmerman both sent their kicks high and wide to cap off an impressive sophomore season in a brutally demoralizing loss.

The big picture

The ending was brutal, but the whole of 2021 was an unmitigated success. Nashville became just the first expansion team in the modern MLS era to win a playoff game in their first and second year. Hany Mukhtar has turned into one of the stars of the league. Walker Zimmerman is an elite defender in MLS. Their roster build is strong. They’re set to open a gorgeous 30,000 seat stadium. And they have a $7 million DP striker in Aké Loba who hardly sniffed the field in 2021, but should be a much bigger piece of the picture going forward.

The future is bright for Nashville. To continue their trajectory of year-over-year growth, the set piece issues and lack of production from DPs not named Hany Mukhtar have to improve.

For the second straight season, Nashville feel they were poised to compete for MLS Cup, but couldn’t make it past extra time of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

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