In a match that had it all, terrific atmosphere, late second-half goals, VAR, penalty kicks and so much more Nashville SC defeated Club America 6-5 via penalty kicks. On two separate occasions, Nashville looked down and out for the count, once in stoppage time when Club America’s Julian Quinones converted his penalty kick and after Jack Maher’s penalty was saved, only to have it retaken and scored after a VAR check.
There were many questions for Nashville SC’s manager, Gary Smith, and how he would set up after his vintage setup and execution against Cincinnati. He said before the match that he wanted to find the happy medium between his team's style of play versus Cincinnati and Toluca. With Toluca, his team was far too open at the back, but against Cincinnati, they were too defensive. Looking at the result and the fact that Nashville SC advances you’d have to say he got it right tactically. The other big question was in regards to what capacity would the new signing for Nashville SC, Sam Surridge, play in this match. Surridge ended up coming off of the bench and having a dream start to his Nashville SC career.
The first half was a stalemate that didn’t see much action, however, the second half and penalty kicks would make up for it 100x over. Nashville SC’s Walker Zimmerman would get the party started in the 61st minute after his header from a corner kick flew into the back of the net to make it 1-0. Zimmerman had a very cool celebration to signify the arrival of his baby girl who is expected to be born in the coming days. Due to this, it was unknown whether or not Zimmerman would even play tonight. After this, it seemingly looked like it was going to be another masterclass from Gary Smith whose plan seemed to be right on track. However, Club America wasn’t going to go down that easy after a substitute for Club America, Diego Valdes, came on to tie the game 1-1 in the 78th minute. The real drama would start ramping up when a lengthy VAR check went underway at the beginning of stoppage time to look at a possible handball in the box against Nashville SC’s Lukas McNaughton. As time went on and each replay saw the ball clearly strike the hand of McNaughton, it became more likely the call would be reversed, and that is exactly what happened. This would allow Quinones to score his penalty kick in the 94th minute which if you think would be enough to put away Nashville, think again. In the final attack of stoppage time Nashville SC’s Dax McCarty plays a 45-yard pass to Hany Mukhtar who then plays the inch-perfect cross to Nashville’s new striker who heads it home and ties the match at 2-2 which sends the match to penalties.
Smith once again went with Nashville SC’s Elliot Pannico to be the goalkeeper instead of Joe Willis, a move that worked out last time out against Cincy. The biggest moment of the match was when in the midst of Club America’s celebration thinking they had won the match via penalty kicks, yet another VAR check stopped them in their tracks. This time looking at whether or not America’s game-winning penalty save was illegal due to the goalkeeper not staying on the line. The correct call was made giving Maher another try which he buried. After this, you just knew with the momentum that Nashville was going to find a way to grab the victory, and Daniel Lovitz’s penalty did just that.
Patton Cook / WNSR Columnist
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