It’s not hard to pinpoint the exact moment that everyone knew Nashville SC’s first ever MLS playoff game was going to go well.
It happened 14 minutes into the game as Randall Leal hammered home this ridiculous goal to put Nashville on top early:
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) November 21, 2020
That singular, spectacular goal helped set the tone for the night. A night in which Nashville SC cruised to a 3-0 win in front of 3,240 socially distanced (but quite loud) Nashville soccer fans.
“It was exquisite,” head coach Gary Smith said after the game. “Just exactly what you would want and need in a playoff moment.”
And after Leal’s moment, midfielder Hany Mukhtar created the next moment. Streaking across the 18-yard box, Mukhtar was fouled by goalie John McCarthy, giving him a penalty shot.
He pocketed the shot calmly into the back of the net, giving Nashville a 2-0 lead 24 minutes into the game.
Nashville held a 2-0 lead at halftime, owning ball possession on Miami, and working them hard in their end of the field.
But Nashville wasn’t done there.
In the 2nd half, Captain Dax McCarty made it 3-0 Nashville with another excellent shot in the 57th minute, this time from the top of the box. That goal was a crucial one, as it finally put Inter Miami’s hopes out of reach.
“I think we all felt that [Inter Miami] were going to do their very utmost,” Smith said. “And the third goal was going to be very instrumental in the way that this game moved and ultimately ended up.”
Nashville’s excellent defensive structure, led by MLS Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman, held Miami scoreless and set Nashville up for a trip to Toronto next Tuesday night.
Leal, Mukhtar, Cadiz too much for Miami
The story of the night was the three main attacking players for Nashville SC. Randall Leal, Hany Mukhtar, and Jhonder Cadiz were a constant problem for the Miami back line. Their speed and ability to pressure the Miami defense created several opportunities for Nashville to capitalize, but it also stifled their counter attack.
Incidentally, this is the first time those three have been on the field for Nashville SC all season.
Cadiz, who arrived mid-season on loan from Benfica, has only played in seven games prior to this, and Leal and Mukhtar have been dealing with nagging injuries.
Now that they’ve finally joined up, it’s clear what Nashville has with those three up front.
“When those three guys are on the field, there’s a synergy and a connection that takes the group to another level,” Smith said. “It’s taken some time and not by anyone’s doing. But surely, to get to this point, and seeing some rewards tonight, the guys did well under pressure.”
The other good news for Nashville is that those three were able to sub out relatively early in the game. This helps keeps them fresh for next Tuesday’s match with Toronto FC.
Toronto is the #2 overall seed in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket, so Nashville will need the help.
But if Leal, Mukhtar, and Cadiz can regain some of the magic they had tonight against Inter Miami, Nashville SC has a good shot of having their 2nd ever MLS playoff win.
— Featured image via Nashville SC —