Nashville SC have been known for their strong defensive work so far this 2020 MLS season, but it was their attacking ability that shined in Friday’s MLS Cup Playoff win over Inter Miami.
Randall Leal, Hany Mukhtar, and Dax McCarty all scored in a 3-0 shutout victory over fellow expansion club Inter Miami, Nashville’s first playoff win in club history. While Gary Smith’s side made it difficult for Inter Miami, getting off to a strong start was key in the elimination game.
“I’m really happy with the way we started the game,” McCarty said. “We started really brightly, got just a fantastic goal from Randall and that really gave us confidence, set us on our way.”
Leal’s blistering goal kicked things off for Nashville, who remained on the front foot as the match went on. Inter Miami goalkeeper John McCarthy was whistled for a penalty kick after taking down Mukhtar inside of the box, allowing the midfielder to double Nashville’s first-half advantage to 2-0.
Not only did Leal and Mukhtar shine in the opening half, but striker Jhonder Cadiz also frustrated the Miami backline of Nico Figal, A.J. DeLaGarza, and Alvas Powell from the opening whistle. The Benfica loanee battled it out with Miami’s defenders, winning five aerial battles and winning one foul.
Cadiz, Leal, and Mukhtar provided a nice spark for the first time starting with one another all season.
“The really important part is having your DP’s on the field,” Smith said. “And with Jhonder, Hany and Randall all on the field at the same time, there’s an air of expectation, there’s a different feel about the group.”
“The guys, I think, look at what we’re capable of and go into the game with far more vigor. And I think you saw that in the first 20, 25 minutes … looking back now, the game was won in 20 minutes, 20-25 minutes, and that’s real credit to the way the guys went about their business.”
McCarty’s sensational run and finish just before the 60th minute mark, capped off the performance and result for Nashville. Defensively, they pitched a first clean sheet since Oct. 27th and set up a date with Toronto FC in the next round, a team they did not face in the regular season.
“They’re a top side, and then when we start talking about elite teams in MLS, this Toronto team have to be spoken [of] in that category,” said Smith. “They’re well balanced, they’re competitive, they’re organized, they have pace, they have power, they have some terrific individuals who are capable of turning a game on its head in a moment. And it will be a very, very tough game.”
“But I think if you look at how we’ve adapted and how we’ve managed to evolve in our development, and as a team, we’ve gone away from home to some tough places and we’ve made not only competitive games but we’ve gone and scored goals. We’ve managed games well.”
Nashville finished 12 points behind TFC in the Eastern Conference standings, but will have plenty of needed confidence ahead of their trip to Rentschler Field on November 24th. Not only did they hold a talented team like Inter Miami in check, but they showed positive moments offensively to score three goals in back-to-back league wins.
TFC should provide a new test for Nashville and its improving system, but the team will aim to continue shocking teams in hopes of playing for a first trophy in MLS.
“The thing that I like about our group was, in the locker room after the game, we’re happy, we celebrate with each other. We’re like a family,” said McCarty. “But once we’re done tonight, we move on and we focus on Toronto, because I think that there’s more out there for us. I think that we can continue to surprise people and go deep into these playoffs.”