The countdown to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs is officially on.
Nashville SC ended the regular season on Sunday by overcoming an early deficit to claim a 1-1 draw against New York Red Bulls in front of 26,913 fans, the largest crowd of 2021 at Nissan Stadium. The point secured the third seed in the Eastern Conference for Nashville and a home date with Orlando City SC in the First Round of the playoffs on Tuesday, Nov. 23.
With the draw, the Boys in Gold became the seventh team in Major League Soccer history to finish the regular season with an unbeaten record at home.
Nashville pressed for a winner in the second half, owning 60.8% of second-half possession and taking three shots on target to Red Bulls’ one.
Head Coach Gary Smith says he made changes during the second half with the goal of earning a second goal and the win.
“We had a multitude of attacking players on the field,” Head Coach Gary Smith said. “We were trying to win the game. I think they were happy with a point; they knew that a point was going to take them into the postseason. I really wanted to finish on a positive note, and I would’ve loved to have won the last game for the fans and for the group.”
The Boys in Gold scored their goal in the 37’ minute when Hany Mukhtar boldly took a shot on goal from a tight-angled free kick at the edge of the box and fired it past goalkeeper Carlos Coronel.
Smith says the free kick was the latest example of Mukhtar showing his brilliance in a moment when the team needed it most.
“He’s such a talented individual,” Smith said. “He works tirelessly at those dead-ball situations. That’s not an easy finish from that angle: he’s a hell of a lot to do. It’s those inspirational moments that have really given us some terrific opportunities this year.”
With the goal, Mukhtar finished his 2021 campaign with 16 goals and 12 assists, good for the league lead in combined G+A. That 16-goal scoring output quadrupled his 2020 total. Mukhtar said Smith tasked him with being the focal point of the offense.
“I was a more connecting player, I was more a link player, that’s how I was before I came here,” Mukhtar said. “My strength was more to overload the midfield, to have more passes. At our old club, we had a lot of ball possession, and I was more a midfielder. But [Smith] said to me, ‘Hey Hany, you are here to make decisive things and to decide the games."
With the playoff bracket set, Nashville SC can now look forward to a matchup against Orlando in the First Round at Nissan Stadium. First, however, Smith said he’ll take pride in finishing the regular season unbeaten at home.
“It was never going to be an easy fixture here, but the most important thing is there is a [playoff] fixture here,” Smith said. “And at home, we’re unbeaten in our regular campaign, which is a very proud statistic that we’ll all take with us, and will not leave the history books now, which is wonderful for the fans, for the players, for the organization.”
Click here to get your tickets to Nashville SC’s home playoff match against Orlando City SC on Nov. 23.