Welcome to your match thread for a Tuesday night playoff match-up between Orlando City (13-9-12, 51 points) and Nashville SC (12-4-18, 54 points) at Exploria Stadium. It’s the fourth meeting of 2021 between the two sides, the third in Nashville, and the first-ever match-up in the postseason.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of the match.
The Lions are 1-1-4 in the all-time series and 0-0-3 in Nashville. Oddly, the team scoring first still has yet to win in the series.
The last time the teams met came on Oct. 31 in Orlando and ended in a 1-1 draw after referee Allen Chapman initiated the Halloween Heist by chalking off Andres Perea’s apparent stoppage-time winner. The referee’s excuse for overturning the goal was an imagined foul on Daryl Dike, who, if anything, was the fouled party. The decision was both inexplicable and indefensible and could have cost the Lions a playoff spot had they not beaten (or at least drawn) CF Montreal on Decision Day. As it was, the Lions finished with 51 points rather than 53, while Nashville finished on 54 instead of 53. Orlando would have ended up third in the East (due to the wins tiebreaker) had sanity prevailed that day. Hany Mukhtar scored for Nashville to equalize in the second half after Dike’s first-half goal.
The teams last met in Nashville on Sept. 29 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 Mukhtar — scoring off the rebound of his own saved penalty — and Randall Leal, but a penalty by Dike and a stoppage-time own goal by Brian Anunga turned the game around. On Aug. 18 the teams finished in another 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 teams met on Decision Day of 2020 at Exploria Stadium, 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 and Chris Mueller also scored for the Lions.
This is Orlando City’s first ever road playoff game including the USL era. The Lions hosted both of last year’s MLS playoff games and were the No. 1 seed in the USL in 2011, 2012, and 2014. Orlando was the second seed in 2013 but top seed Richmond was upset in the postseason.
Orlando City enters the postseason on a high note after a well-played and hard-fought win at Montreal, but it would be difficult to carry that momentum through more than two weeks without a match. The Lions showed a great deal of mental fortitude in shrugging off the Chapman decision against Nashville and showed a great deal of focus against CF Montreal in the season finale.
The Lions will need to be just as focused in this match, because Nashville is one of the toughest outs in MLS, losing only four times all year (none at home) and managing 18(!) draws. Orlando City went 5-7-5 on the road in the regular season, but one of those wins came against Toronto at Exploria Stadium. Nashville ended the season 8-0-9 at home.
Orlando finished the season strong, losing only once in the final eight games (3-1-4). Nashville lost only once in its last 10 (thanks again, Chapman), going 2-1-7 down the stretch.
This year’s Nashville SC team has continued to play excellent defense, with the fewest goals allowed (33) 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 five teams in MLS have scored more than Nashville’s 55 goals. Mukhtar scored 16 goals on the season while Sapong had 12 and Leal had eight to pace Nashville. Mukhtar also led his club with 12 assists, while Leal had nine on the season.
This is likely to be an intense match. With this being the fourth meeting of the year — and the third since Sept. 29 — it could be a chippy affair. If Orlando is going to advance, the Lions must take their few chances when they come and must be patient and focused to create those chances, avoiding a tendency to force things and create a potentially dangerous counter from Mukhtar, Sapong, and Leal, who work brilliantly together in transition. That’s how the Lions played at Montreal and they’ll need to be that sharp and that patient again.
The back line and central midfield must contain the potent Nashville attacking trio, while not fouling. Nashville has 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.
“I know we have some challenges in front of us, Nashville being the first, but I see the players very convinced and very focused on accomplishing that objective,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said in his pre-match press conference. “We’ve overcome many challenges this year and when you see the whole picture, I think overall we’re proud and we have a team to compete with anyone in the league. We’re focusing on the one game against Nashville and the players have been working hard. We’re optimistic, we’ve had good games against them both here and there and we feel very competitive against them.”
Orlando appears to have everyone available except David Loera (lower body), who is listed as out. No one else appears on the injury report in the game notes. Nashville lists center back Dave Romney (calf) as questionable and Daniel Rios (ankle) as out.
Mandatory Match Content
- Our Intelligence Report provides a look at Nashville SC from senior writer Ben Wright from Broadway Sports.
- Our most recent PawedCast includes our key match-ups and predictions for tonight’s game.
- Our Ben Miller selected three Orlando City players who must perform well against Nashville.
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: Benji Michel, Daryl Dike.
Bench: Mason Stajduhar, Kyle Smith, Rodrigo Schlegel, Uri Rosell, Andres Perea, Silvester van der Water, Nani, Alexandre Pato, Tesho Akindele.
Nashville SC (5-3-2)
Goalkeeper: Joe Willis.
Defenders: Daniel Lovitz, Jack Maher, Walker Zimmerman, Eric Miller, Alistair Johnston.
Wingbacks/Midfielders: Randall Leal, Anibal Godoy, Dax McCarty,
Forwards: C.J. Sapong, Hany Mukhtar.
Bench: Bryan Meredith, Jalil Anibaba, Taylor Washington, Luke Haakenson, Brian Anunga, Alex Muyl, Ake Loba, Jhonder Cadiz, Abu Danladi.
Ref: Ismail Elfath.
AR1: Cory Richardson.
AR2: Corey Parker.
4th: Guido Gonzales Jr..
VAR: Kevin Stott.
AVAR: Andrew Bigelow.
How to Watch
Match Time: 8 p.m.
Venue: Nissan Stadium — Nashville, TN.
TV: FS1, FOX Deportes.
Radio: FM 96.9 The Game (English) and Acción 97.9 FM, 810 AM (Spanish).
Streaming: The match can be streamed on FOX Sports GO.
Enjoy the game. Go City!