NASHVILLE - All season long, Nashville SC has been lauded for its organized approach.
On Friday night at Nissan Stadium, they added an unstoppable attack to complement their form as the Boys in Gold thrashed Inter Miami CF 3-0 in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs Play-In Round thanks to phenomenal finishes by Randall Leal, Hany Mukhtar and Dax McCarty.
Leal’s long-range strike in the 14th minute caught the attention of the soccer world. He lined up a hammered shot from more than 20 yards out, blistering the ball past Inter Miami keeper John McCarthy. Mukhtar’s perfectly-placed penalty 10 minutes later capped off a blistering start to the match for Nashville.
“I’m not sure it could have gone more to script,” Head Coach Gary Smith said. “An incredibly fast start and a great twenty minutes. An absolutely cracking goal from Randall Leal coming off of his international duty. To be honest, I thought it was a very good 20-25 minutes. We were able to reinforce that first goal and get ourselves in a very, very decent spot coming into the break. Dax’s goal had all the hallmarks of such a leader in the group, striding from the halfway line, aware of everything around him, finishing with the caliber and quality that we know he has. It was just a fabulous night and the moment we had to batten down the hatches and defend well, we did. I thought we showed all the qualities that were necessary to win a playoff game.”
A combination of injuries, fitness and a condensed schedule had prevented Nashville’s three Designated Players from playing together. That changed on Friday as Mukhtar, Leal and Jhonder Cádiz all started the match, playing 67 minutes before being subbed off together. The combination paid dividends. Beyond Leal and Mukhtar’s goals, the three linked up throughout the match, including passes through winger Alex Muyl that led to Mukhtar’s penalty. In the second half, the three DPs combined for a golden chance on the counterattack that just fizzled out on an errant touch in the box.
“I thought all three of them in the opening 20-25 minutes, in one way shape or form, were instrumental in us being two-nil up,” Smith said. “Jhonder’s physical presence and how he secures possession gives us an opportunity to get behind and beyond. Hany was involved in just about everything that went on in possession in the first 20-25 minutes. He did wonderfully well to earn the penalty, and of course Randall’s goal was exquisite. It was just exactly what you would want and need in a playoff situation”.
Now, Nashville SC faces a perennial contender in Toronto FC, who has appeared in the MLS Cup in three of the last four seasons. Captain Dax McCarty says Nashville won this match against Miami by sticking to the systems that had worked so well this season, and Tuesday’s match against Toronto should be no different.
“We did what we have been doing well all season,” McCarty said. “We stayed compact and we waited to hit them on the counter attack. Obviously in the second half I thought there were tons of openings for us to extend the lead even further. If you score three goals at home, especially with the way that our defense has played all year, you expect to win the game. I’m really happy with the performance and the result. Now we have to recover and get ready for one of the better teams in the league in Toronto.”
Nashville SC faces Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT at 5 p.m. CT on Tuesday, November 24. Catch the match on Fox Sports 1, and locally on ESPN 94.9 and El Jefe for Spanish radio.