Welcome to your match thread for a Sunday afternoon match-up between Orlando City (12-9-11, 47 points) and Nashville SC (12-4-16, 52 points) at Exploria Stadium. It’s the third of three scheduled meetings between the two southeastern sides this season and the only one in Orlando. In fact, it is the Lions’ home finale for the regular season and possibly for 2021.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of the match.
The Lions are 1-1-3 in the all-time series and 1-1-0 at home. Oddly, the team scoring first has yet to win in the series.
The teams last met on Sept. 29 in Nashville with a late rally by the Lions earning the team a 2-2 road draw at Nissan Stadium. The hosts had taken a 2-0 lead on goals by Hany Mukhtar — scoring off the rebound of his own saved penalty — and Randall Leal, but a penalty by Daryl Dike and a stoppage-time own goal by Brian Anunga turned the game around. That was the second draw of the season between the teams in Nashville. On Aug. 18 the teams finished in a 1-1 draw. CJ Sapong put the hosts ahead in the first half and Antonio Carlos leveled the score in the second half. The Lions, who played poorly in the opening 45, were the better team throughout the second half and Tesho Akindele’s shot off the crossbar was inches from providing a winner for Orlando.
The last meeting at Exploria Stadium took place on Decision Day of last year, with Orlando melting down late, allowing two goals from the 88th minute on, and falling 3-2 at home on Nov. 8, 2020 — the team’s only home loss in 2020. Dike and Nani goals sandwiched a strike by Daniel Lovitz, giving the Lions a lead until late. Headers by Mukhtar (in the 88th minute) and Jhonder Cadiz (in the 93rd minute) turned the game on its head late.
In the Lions’ first trip to Nissan Stadium, the teams played to a 1-1 draw on Sept. 2, 2020. Benji Michel put the Lions ahead with a stunner of a goal, but Leal knotted things up and that’s the way the match ended.
That 1-1 draw came a week after a 3-1 Orlando City win on Aug. 26 at Exploria Stadium. Dave Romney had opened the scoring for Nashville with a header off a free kick but Orlando scored the last three. Dike took a star turn for Orlando City, scoring a brace. Chris Mueller also scored for the Lions.
The Lions sustained what could be a critical blow in the playoff race in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss at Columbus. Orlando can improve its chances of a second consecutive postseason appearance exponentially with a win but a draw would also be helpful. The trouble is that Nashville is one of the toughest outs in MLS, losing only four times all year and managing 16(!) draws. Today’s visitors tend to take something from each game.
Orlando City is 8-2-6 at home in 2021, with the Lions going unbeaten in their last three at Exploria (1-0-2), although the last two were draws. City was moments from a huge win last weekend against Supporters Shield-winning New England but conceded in the 93rd minute. Nashville is 4-4-8 away from Nissan Stadium, so the team has suffered all four defeats this year on the road. The Tennesseans did win their last away game, coming back from 3-1 down at Cincinnati to win 6-3 during the midweek. Prior to that, the team was 0-1-3 in its previous four road matches.
This year’s Nashville SC team has continued to play excellent defense, with the fewest goals allowed (31) in the Eastern Conference and tied for the fewest conceded in all of MLS. A Lions team that has struggled to generate clear-cut chances (and finish them when they appear) must be clinical to have a chance in this match.
But last year’s expansion side has added some offense in 2021 after struggling to score goals at times in 2020. Only three teams in MLS have scored more than Nashville’s 53 goals. Mukhtar has 14 goals on the season while Sapong has 12 and Leal has eight to pace Nashville. Mukhtar also leads his club with 12 assists, while Leal has eight on the season.
To get anything out of this match, the Lions must return to their stout defensive posture that they held through the season’s first half, but they must also take their few chances when they come. The back line and central midfield must contain the potent Nashville attacking trio, while not fouling. Tonight’s visitors have center backs who are more than capable in the air and crafty offensive players who can shake free of their marks. Watch for Nashville to set picks for Walker Zimmerman on set pieces, and many of those push the boundaries of legality.
“It’s important for us to be focused on that [Nashville] game and on the importance of the points after obviously not getting the result in Columbus, because now the time is urgent for all the teams that are tied in the standings,” said Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja. “The boys are working hard, like always, and using the extra day that we had in order to have the team with energy for that game. As usual, from me it’s just trying to keep all the boys with energy and with the belief in what we’re doing. It’s a good opportunity for us here to put our presence in front of our fans and try to win it.”
Orlando will continue to not have its preferred starting XI as Joao Moutinho (lower body) joins Uri Rosell (concussion protocol) as out for this match. Youngsters Raul Aguilera and Rio Hope-Gund are unlikely to feature but both are listed as questionable. Nashville will be without the suspended Daniel Lovitz (yellow card accumulation), as well as Dax McCarty (hamstring) and Daniel Rios (ankle).
Mandatory Match Content
- Our Intelligence Report provides a look at Nashville SC from senior writer Ben Wright from Broadway Sports.
- This week’s PawedCast includes our key match-ups and predictions for tonight’s game.
- Our Dave Rohe gave his three keys to an Orlando City victory.
Orlando City (4-4-2)
Goalkeeper: Pedro Gallese.
Defenders: Emmanuel Mas, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, Ruan.
Midfielders: Mauricio Pereyra, Junior Urso, Sebas Mendez, Chris Mueller.
Forwards: Nani, Daryl Dike.
Bench: Mason Stajduhar, Kyle Smith, Rodrigo Schlegel, Joey DeZart, Andres Perea, Benji Michel, Silvester van der Water, Alexandre Pato, Tesho Akindele.
Nashville SC (3-4-3)
Goalkeeper: Joe Willis.
Defenders: Dave Romney, Walker Zimmerman, Jack Maher.
Wingbacks/Midfielders: Alistair Johnston, Randall Leal, Anibal Godoy, Eric Miller.
Forwards: Hany Mukhtar, C.J. Sapong, Alex Muyl.
Bench: Bryan Meredith, Jalil Anibaba, Dylan Nealis, Luke Haakenson, Matt LaGrassa, Brian Anunga, Ake Loba, Jhonder Cadiz, Abu Danladi.
Ref: Allen Chapman.
AR1: Matthew Nelson.
AR2: Ian McKay.
4th: Lukasz Szpala.
VAR: Rosendo Mendoza.
AVAR: Jose da Silva.
How to Watch
Match Time: 4 p.m. ET.
Venue: Exploria Stadium — Orlando.
TV: UniMas, TUDN.
Radio: 104.1 FM Real Radio (English) and Acción 97.9 FM, 810 AM (Spanish).
Streaming: The match can be streamed in English on Twitter or on Univision NOW, at TUDN.com, or the TUDN app.
Twitter: For rapid reaction and live updates, follow along at @TheManeLand, as well as Orlando City’s official Twitter feed (@OrlandoCitySC).
Enjoy the game. Go City!