2021.10.27 @ FCC-104

Sometimes, even the best laid plans can go awry. 

When that happens, it takes a championship mettle to power through it.  

That’s exactly what happened on Wednesday night in Cincinnati when Nashville SC overcame 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to beat FC Cincinnati 6-3 and clinch a berth in the 2021 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs for the second year in a row.  

After a slow start thwarted Nashville’s gameplan, Head Coach Gary Smith saw his side rattle off five unanswered goals to earn the victory.  

“Plenty of times we’ve seen good fighters come back from a beating in the opening rounds to win the fight with a knockout late in the fight,” Smith said. “I use that analogy because we started off poorly. They were better than us and looked brighter than us. But we’ve shown incredible character to win the game the hard way. The easiest way would have been to keep a clean sheet, to have started a little bit stronger, and to have warmed into it and maybe overpowered Cincinnati. But it wasn’t to be. What we’ve seen again tonight is that this side has a lot more to it than just the industry and determination and balance that we know we have.” 

An own goal, a penalty and a goal off a turnover saw Nashville SC down 3-1 headed towards the halftime break. Right before the whistle, Randall Leal hit a clean volley from the top of the 18-yard box that sailed into the back of the net to cut the deficit to one goal. That strike helped carry momentum into the second half when the Boys in Gold poured it on, scoring four more goals to turn the tide of the match.  

Four different goal scorers combined to net the six goals for Nashville: Leal, CJ Sapong, Aké Loba and Walker Zimmerman. That kind of team-centric attacking mindset was at the forefront of Smith’s plan, which came to fruition despite the twists and turns of the match.  

“There were two important factors tonight,” Smith said. “The first one was that we win the game, and we’ve done that. The second one was to change the shape a little bit, add a more of an attacking look to it to try and be more aggressive. In doing so, we opened the game up a little more. In the end, it served us well. It just didn’t come about in the right way. There’s always going to be some difficult results, some strange results and some up-and-down performances due to pressure or people peaking and dipping at the right and wrong times. There’s just so much leading into the postseason. We can only concentrate on ourselves. We found a new way to win a game, and I’m delighted.” 

With only a couple matches remaining in the regular season, Nashville SC is on its way to the playoffs. The next two matches will determine where the Boys in Gold finish in the standings, and whether they host a playoff match at home.  

For Smith, this achievement demonstrates how far the club has come in just two seasons in Major League Soccer.  

“To have clinched for our second year, two seasons, the history of the club looks good already,” Smith said. “The foundations are strong. The progression of this group has been great, and we can be excited about what comes next.” 

Nashville SC’s march to the playoffs continues Sunday with a matchup on the road at Orlando City SC. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. CT on Univision, TUDN and Twitter.

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