For Nashville SC, the season’s ride may end on Tuesday.
Game 2 of the MLS Cup first-round playoff series between hosts Nashville SC and Orlando City SC (8 pm CT, Apple TV),
Orlando, the second seed in the Eastern Conference, took the first game 1-0 on October 30. Nashville, the seventh seed, must win to extend its season.
Should Nashville win, the series will return to Orlando’s Exploria Stadium for a third and deciding game on Sunday (4 pm CT, Apple TV).
Here’s what to watch for Game 2, along with a score prediction:
First playoff game at Geodis Park
Nashville has won just two of its last 11 games since a 4-0 loss to Atlanta United on Aug. 26, its first game after the League Cup final. The Boys in Gold have lost four times and drawn five times in that time and have been shut out seven times.
But Nashville has played its best football at home this season. It’s 14-5-6 at Geodis Park in all competitions, compared to a 4-9-7 mark on the road.
Geodis Park, which opened in May 2022, has never hosted a playoff game. But Nashville hosted playoff games at Nissan Stadium in 2020 and 2021 and won both, including a 3-1 victory over Orlando City in 2021.
“I have a good feeling the atmosphere is going to be one of the best games we’ve played in so far,” midfielder Dax McCarty said.
The return of Dax McCarty
Tuesday will be McCarty’s first game since Oct. 14. He missed Nashville’s 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls on Oct. 21 due to an accumulation of yellow cards, and he injured his ankle in practice the day before Game 1 against Orlando.
Although McCarty is still on the roster, Nashville coach Gary Smith chose not to start or bench him. Smith described McCarty as “very disappointed,” but said after Game 1 that he didn’t want to put McCarty at risk of injury and being out for an extended period of time.
With McCarty at 100 percent, compared to the “85 to 90 percent” he had last week, the Nashville stadium is nearing full strength. The 18-year MLS veteran has started 23 games this season, is third on the team in steals and ranks third among Nashville starters with an 85.4 pass completion percentage.
Nashville is looking to move Hany Mukhtar
It’s hard to go anywhere but down after a 23-goal season, and it’s impossible to complain about Hany Mukhtar’s production in 2023. The reigning MLS MVP has done it all in Nashville offensively, and his 15-goal total is far ahead of the next. -closest partner.
Perhaps the most important part of that statistic is how much of it came in at the start of the season. Mukhtar is tied for fifth in MLS in goals despite scoring just two goals in a league game since June 17. In total, the designated hitter has found the net just four times in his last 24 games and is on a seven-game scoreless streak.
In Game 1 against Orlando, Mukhtar played close to the court at times to help Nashville hold the ball, unlike his usual position up top. McCarty, however, thinks he and his teammates need to get Mukhtar higher up the pitch, where he has better scoring opportunities.
“Hany is such a good player that he can adapt to whatever the game demands,” said McCarty. “… When we are at a high level, he is at a high level. He is close to the goal, he gets chances. … We have to make sure that we let him do his thing. I don’t think anyone is worried about not scoring many goals. I think Hany when the pressure is high, we have seen that he will step up again he will contribute and he will be the boy.”
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Game prediction 2
Nashville 1, Orlando City 0: Buoyed by a raucous home crowd and the urgency of having their backs against the wall, Nashville found the back of the net in the first half and went on to defend the lead in the second, using their stout defense to take the series back to Florida.
Jacob Shames can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Jacob_Shames.