Updated: Apr 3
After a heavy week in Nashville that saw a shooter take the lives of three staff members and three young students at The Covenant School, Nashville SC players took the field against Orlando City SC with black armbands to honor the lives lost and to stand up against gun violence. As much as I want to rant about this topic, I will stick to the football.
NSC got back to its winning ways after a two-match losing streak that saw the Boys in Gold lose at home to hated Cincinnati. Nashville defeated OCSC 2-0 at Exploria Stadium.
New signing Fabrice "Fafa" Picault was itching to get onto the scoresheet and nearly did early. A corner kick in the sixth minute saw Daniel Lovitz send a rocket in from outside the box which CJ Sapong redirected toward goal. The ball bounced off Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese and into the path of Picault who ricocheted his shot off the post.
Orlando would have a few chances, but in the 28th minute, Anibal Godoy, who finally returned to the starting lineup after dealing with a nagging injury, found reigning MVP Hany Mukhtar, who was immediately chopped down from behind for a free kick. Mukhtar quickly restarts and locates a STREAKING Fafa Picault down the middle of the pitch who lets it bounce and takes only one touch to chip his shot over Gallese and into the net as he was rocked by the defender, but the foul doesn't matter because Fafa opens his NSC account with a beauty. It was Mukhtar's third assist on the season, but he wasn't finished.
Nashville had a flurry of chances before the halftime whistle, but, while they added to the overall excitement, they did not add to the scoreline. Mukhtar had a beautiful chance and then a combination with Sapong, but the offside flag was up. Sapong tried a curling shot at the top of the box that veered off course. The whistle blew with Nashville leading, a position that favors them greatly as they are unbeaten in their last 32 matches (23-9-0) when leading at the half.
Perhaps the scariest moment for Nashville was a 63rd-minute pass from midfielder Felipe that was double-dummied by striker Ramiro Enrique and winger Ivan Angulo before finding left back Luca Petrasso. As Petrasso takes a touch, Enrique comes to the center of the box and Angulo drifts to the back post. Petrasso drives at goal but drops the ball off to Enrique who takes a one-time shot straight to Nashville goalkeeper Joe Willis. The ball bounced off Willis toward the waiting Angulo, but Willis was quick enough to smother the ball before his shot.
The dagger came in the 74th minute when living legend Dax McCarty fought off two defenders to feed the ball down the line to Shaq Moore. Moore sent a leading pass toward the backline allowing Mukhtar to overtake one of the defenders and take a shot toward goal. Mukhtar's shot popped off the foot of Gallese and bounced into the net to open the 2023 scoring account for the German phenom. it was Moore's second assist on the season.
Orlando gave Willis two more opportunities to flash his leather which Joe took with pleasure. Willis had six saves on the night in what would become his fourth clean sheet on the season. Nashville SC leads the league in shutouts with 4-of-6.
The next match pits the Boys in Gold against the Reds from the North. Toronto FC and Nashville SC have had some exciting matches for a non-rivalry matchup with the first meeting coming in the 2020 MLS Cup playoffs that saw Daniel Rios score the game winner in the 108th minute. The next time was June 2021 that was back and forth with TFC scoring first, young Jack Maher scoring his first MLS goal in the 62nd minute to equalize, and Toronto going back up in the 81st before Luke Haakenson's coming out party where he equalized in the 83rd and secured the bag in the 92nd. The Reds have won the last two matches 1-2 and 3-4. That first match saw current NSC winger Jacob Shaffelburg score the opening goal.
This season has seen Toronto take on tough clubs (Atlanta, Columbus, Inter Miami) and come away with five points out of a possible nine. They are not winning much (1-4-1) with their lone loss coming on opening weekend with a miracle comeback by DC United, but they are clearly a tough defensive team. They have scored eight goals on the season and only conceded seven compared to Nashville's six goals scored to two conceded. The danger men to watch are Canadian Mark-Anthony Kaye, who has a championship with LAFC last season, two goals this season with TFC, and the team's top rating of 7.74, and Italian winger Frederico Bernardeschi who has three goals and an assist already this season. For Nashville, will Randall Leal finally make his return to the lineup? Now that he's opened his 2023 account, will Mukhtar take over the scoring, or will he continue to be the facilitator? Nashville needs more scorers than just the MVP, so will Sapong or Bunbury step up? Can Nashville's suffocating defense handle the terrifying Toronto team's tactics? These questions and more will be answered this Saturday night at 7:30 at Geodis Park only on the AppleTV app.
(All media courtesy of Nashville SC)