Orlando City struggled through the opening 45 minutes but played well after halftime, coming back from 1-0 down to draw Nashville SC 1-1 at Nissan Stadium. The Lions (8-4-7, 31 points) were a crossbar’s width from becoming the first visiting team to win in Nissan Stadium all season but had to settle for the team’s second road draw at Nashville SC (7-2-11, 32 points).
The split points keeps Orlando a point behind Nashville with a game in hand. However, with Philadelphia’s win over New York City FC, the Lions slipped to fifth in the Eastern Conference standings.
Antonio Carlos’ header in the second half canceled out a first-half goal by Lion killer C.J. Sapong, meaning the team to score first in this series has still never won the game (0-2-2). The teams are 1-1-2 against each other in the first four meetings.
“Good match. I think we recognized in the second half where we were missing in the first,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “We were losing some silly balls.”
With Nani questionable, Pareja didn’t risk the captain for this match and he wasn’t in the match day lineup. Mason Stajduhar once again started in net, backing up a defensive line of Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Carlos, and Kyle Smith. Joey DeZart got the start alongside Junior Urso in central midfield, with Mauricio Pereyra and Silvester van der Water facilitating the attack to Benji Michel and Tesho Akindele.
Orlando City was swarmed in the midfield throughout most of the first half and it allowed Nashville to get forward in transition. The first decent look came in the fourth minute when Hany Mukhtar got down the right and fired a shot that Stajduhar parried away.
DeZart struggled in the first half hour and his giveaway led to a chance for Randall Leal who fired just wide of the left post.
Van der Water forced Joe Willis into a diving save in the 11th minute with a nice effort from outside the area cutting inside from the right.
Nashville always seemed likely to score first with the Lions continually giving the ball away around the middle of the pitch. Tah Anunga fired wide in the 16th minute but the hosts opened the scoring minutes later. Unsure of his options, Moutinho telegraphed a back pass with numbers forward and Nashville easily read the play and took it away, breaking in 2-v-2 with Mukhtar and Sapong on Orlando City’s center backs. Sapong finished the play with yet another goal against the Lions and Nashville led 1-0 in the 23rd minute.
“They were playing defensively and getting some counters, which is very dangerous for us,” Pareja said. “The second half we were much better. We were smarter on containing those counters.”
Leal fired into outside netting in the 30th minute as Orlando continued to struggle against Nashville’s superior numbers in the midfield.
The Lions finally started to get something going in the final five minutes of the half. A heavy touch by Willis at the top of the box nearly became an easy goal for Akindele, who came in to nick the ball, but he couldn’t quite finesse it around the keeper, who was able to recover. Four minutes later, Moutinho and Urso combined to unlock the defense and Akindele laid off a ball to his left for van der Water. The Dutchman should have equalized but his shot skipped just wide of the right post in the 44th minute.
“I know I had a lot of chances and I need to score. But on the other side, I think we need to be happy with a point today,” van der Water said. “I think the mentality of the second half was much better.”
Akindele got his head to a good cross from Pereyra in first-half stopage time and hit it down into the wet turf. The ball skipped up and looked to be heading in but it was floating a bit and Willis was able to get a touch on it to keep it out with the last play of the half.
Nashville finished the first half with more shots (10-5) and shots on goal (4-2). Each team won one corner and the Lions held more possession (60.2%-39.8%) and passed more accurately (89.1%-82.1%). It was all about Orlando giving the ball up in bad areas and Nashville taking advantage on one of its opportunities.
Orlando City played a much better second half but the Lions still nearly saw their deficit doubled early in the second period. Jansson was forced to foul Mukhtar in a dangerous spot near the box to Stajduhar’s right. Mukhtar went for goal but could only catch the top of the crossbar near the far post as the young goalkeeper did well in playing his angle.
After a couple of misfires from Urso and Akindele in the next few minutes, the Lions seemed to finally get their legs under them in the match. Van der Water fired just wide of the left post in the 55th minute from the middle, just outside the area. Urso drew a foul on Anibal Godoy — one of several fouls the Bear suffered on the night — moments later, and Orlando made it pay off. Pereyra sent in a perfect cross from right to left and Carlos won the race to the ball, heading it back to the right and past Willis for the tying goal in the 58th minute.
Pereyra puts it on a platter!— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 19, 2021
A well-placed header from Antônio Carlos levels the score in Nashville! pic.twitter.com/ldPg8zv2p4
Carlos laughed in the postgame press conference, saying he was happy to be able to celebrate his second goal of the season after getting injured while scoring his first against Miami.
“Normally Antonio wins those balls in the air because of his size and his timing,” Pareja said. “He’s very dominant in the air. He needed to (get) some direction and improve his contact with the ball. And Josema Bazan, our assistant coach, is spending a lot of time with him. He’s trying to reinforce those actions and today they got rewarded by that beautiful goal, and important goal as well. So he’s not just making contact, but I think he’s now finding the net which is important for us.”
Stajduhar made what looked to be a sensational save on Alistair Johnston at the back post just two minutes after Orlando’s goal but the play didn’t count anyway as the flag had gone up.
Pereyra went for goal on a set piece in the 67th minute but couldn’t get his shot to dip and it sailed just over. A minute later, Michel smashed a shot just wide of the right post from the top of the box. Michel then won a couple of corners but the Lions couldn’t pay them off. Then Akindele headed a Moutinho cross off the front of Willis’ crossbar in the 75th as Orlando came within inches of taking the lead.
Nashville threw players forward in the final 10 minutes to go for the win and had a couple of opportunities, with Pareja making some subs that changed the shape and tactics. With more Nashville players forward, Orlando looked to absorb pressure and counter, putting four fullbacks on the field at one point, but Ruan played a forward position and Emmanuel Mas came on, pushing Moutinho further up the field.
Moutinho did well in the 80th minute to beat a Nashville player to a back-post ball and knock it out for a corner. Then there were a couple of late nervy moments when Nashville won some balls in the air and they pinged around the area but ultimately Orlando did enough to hang on.
Orlando completely turned around the shots totals, with each team registering 14 for the match. Nashville did get more on target (4-3). Each team earned three corners in the match, with Orlando holding more possession (56.1%-43.9%) and passing more accurately (86.7%-81.5%).
“I saw the team positioned better and be closer to their backs and creating options,” Pareja said of his team in the second half. “And when they wanted to come up from that pressure, they couldn’t, and that was the best part of the game — I think that probably 30-35 minutes in the second half was a highlight for us.”
“Playing away at Nashville is not an easy feat,” Carlos said through a club interpeter. “I was thrilled, once again, to be able to help the team, and we walked away with a well-deserved point but I believe that we could have even won the match.”
The Lions have another quick turnaround with the Chicago Fire visiting Exploria Stadium on Saturday night in a match that sure feels like a must-win game.