Orlando City drew 1-1 with Nashville SC in a crucial Eastern Conference showdown with plenty on the line. It was the third draw between the two sides this year, but the first at Exploria Stadium as the Lions played their final home game of the regular season. Daryl Dike gave Orlando the lead in the first half after some great passes from Chris Mueller and Nani, but Hany Mukhtar equalized in the second half. It looked like Orlando would walk away as the victor after a late set piece, but the Lions only ended up with a point.
Here are my five takeaways from the match as Orlando is forced to wait on securing a place in the postseason.
Game Ends as a Nightmare for Orlando
Referee Allen Chapman overshadowed the game as Orlando City’s game-winner in stoppage time was reversed. Alexandre Pato’s late free kick hit the crossbar and Andres Perea pounced on the rebound to give Orlando a winner that also clinched a spot in the postseason. But the celebration was short lived as Chapman went to review the goal on the monitor and determined that Dike committed a foul in the build-up and the goal was disallowed. Here is the play in question that Chapman saw as a clear and obvious foul, which was clarified as Dike preventing Alistair Johnston from clearing the ball.
It’s a sickening result for Orlando, which managed to find a way to beat a team that’s only lost four times this year. For the fans who came out to Exploria Stadium on Halloween for the last home game of the regular season, a dream ending turned into frustration. The Lions must shake off the result and be ready to rebound before Decision Day.
Pato Can Lift the Lions Late in Games
It was only his third shot of the season, but Pato made it a good one late in the match as he nearly scored the winner himself directly from a free kick. Designated Players Nani and Mauricio Pereyra, who handled Orlando’s set pieces throughout the match, were both on the bench when Pato won a foul in a dangerous area. The Brazilian managed to deliver when the Lions needed a playmaker and was inches from putting the game away. Pato’s first season has been marred by injury, but this match proved that he can come into a match and make an impact.
Orlando’s Defense Holds Its Own
Although Orlando wasn’t able to get a clean sheet, the defense did fairly well against a Nashville offense that’s scored 54 goals this season. Collectively, the back line had three tackles, nine interceptions, six clearances, and two blocks. Pedro Gallese also came up with seven saves in the match, his most since the 5-0 loss to New York City FC in July. Mukhtar managed to beat Gallese and the defense to equalize, but it was still a good effort from the Lions. Left back Emmanuel Mas in particular had a great performance with 93 touches, 58 completed passes, and six interceptions. He wasn’t perfect, as he was unsuccessful on all three of his crosses, but it was still a solid outing and he’s become a great addition to the roster since joining this summer.
Mueller Bags Another Assist
In quite possibly his last game at Exploria Stadium, Chris Mueller had a game of ups and downs. The 25-year-old had his sixth assist of the season with a great cutback pass into the box after Nani sent him a good ball into space. However, both of his shots were sent high into the stands as he hunted for a goal. He wasn’t the only Lion to miss the mark in this match by any means, but his aim was off. Mueller has certainly been active in recent weeks, with 12 of his 36 shots this season coming from the past five games. Of those 12 shots, only three were on target.
While he hasn’t replicated his success from last season, Mueller’s done well in his last home games for Orlando as the season winds down. He came up with the dramatic assist on Orlando’s late winner against D.C. United, scored against Montreal, and his assist in this match helped the Lions take a lead early on. He’ll head to Scotland after this season, but Mueller’s magic isn’t over just yet for the Lions with a crucial game remaining on Decision Day and a possible postseason run.
The Iron Bear
One of the great underrated performances of the day came from Junior Urso. The Bear revealed after the match that he’s been bothered by a knee injury in recent weeks but you wouldn’t have known it from the Nashville match. Urso came within inches of a goal with his half-bike kick on a set piece that hit the right post. That was one of his two shots in the game, although he should have done better with his second attempt off a Nashville turnover (his reaction in the feature photo above says it all). Urso finished with a key pass, a dribble, a free kick won, and a 91.8% passing accuracy on 75 touches. Three of his four long balls were accurate, as well. He chipped in a tackle and two interceptions on defense. He also teamed up nicely with Sebas Mendez in central midfield to shore up the middle of the pitch that had been overrun the prior game during his absence last Wednesday against Columbus. He fought a fierce battle all day with Anibal Godoy and held his own against the Panamanian international. Nashville often had to work down the flanks rather than finding any joy up the middle. The Bear went the full 90 for the 13th consecutive appearance and hasn’t been subbed off since Aug. 8 at Cincinnati.
The ending of the match will dominate discussion, but what else did you gather from yet another draw with Nashville this season? Make sure to let me know in the comments below!