Nashville SC slides by Orlando 3-2

Purple smoke bombs and goals within the first 20 minutes Sunday at Exploria Stadium  was as close to fireworks as it got between Orlando City and visiting Nashville SC. It was a match full of drama that lasted until the final whistle. 

On Decision Day in MLS, visiting Nashville (8-7-8, 1.32 points per game) came from behind twice for  a 3-2 win on a goal by Jhonder Cádiz in extra time. The win moved Nashville SC up one spot to seventh place in Eastern Division of the MLS.  

Nashville claimed a play-in round match against No. 10 seed Inter Miami CF on Nov. 20 at Nissan Stadium. In the other play-in round match, No. 8 New England will host No. 9 Montreal Impact. The winner with the lower seed will play the Philadelphia Union in the first round and the higher seed will face Toronto FC.

Nashville tied the game at 1-1 after left back Dan Lovitz sent a rocket into the top left corner in the 20th minute on a corner kick rebound, eclipsing Orlando forward Daryl Dike’s low laser in the 4th minute. After Nani’s free kick made it 2-1 in the 61st minute, Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar headed in Alex Muyl’s cross in the 88th minute.

From a free kick in the 93rd minute, Mukhtar sent a cross into 18-yard box, finding Cádiz amidst the clutter, heading the ball passed goalkeeper Brian Rowe.

Nashville became the first team in MLS to beat Orlando this season on its home field.

Orlando forward Chris Mueller nearly scored in the 2nd minute, if not for Nashville center back Dave Romney sliding in the ball’s path to block the shot. Two minutes later, Mueller was involved once more in the opening goal.

In the 4th minute, Mueller led a counter attack of he, Nani and Dike, after a Nashville turnover caught center back Walker Zimmerman out of position. Mueller exploited the 4-versus-3 attack, lay the ball off to Dike on his right, who took two dribbles away from goal, yet was able to send a low laser passed Joe Willis, kissing the post on its way into goal.

Nashville responded in the 20th minute. Winger Randall Leal sent an out-swinging corner kick from the right flank, into the middle of the scrum inside the 18-yard box. Dike cleared a header that fell to Lovitz, who stood 20 yards away from goal. The fullback’s first shot was blocked by Ruan. Adjusting to clutter of defenders, Lovitz switched the ball to his weaker right foot and whipped the ball just under the crossbar for the goal.

Cádiz did not start. Instead, the designated player replaced fellow striker Daniel Rios at halftime. Mukhtar entered the match as a substitute as well in the 88th minute. 

It took awhile for Nashville to break the Orlando pressure. But Muyl’s stepovers created space on the right flank and he whipped the ball into Mukhtar for the goal. But Mukhtar’s impact was only just getting started.

Nashville drew a foul near the right-side touchline, some 30 yards away from goal. In a similar spot to Nashville’s first MLS goal Feb. 29 against Atlanta, Mukhtar sent a lobbing pass into traffic, but the 6-foot-3 Cádiz rose above the rest and headed in the game-winning goal.

Mukhtar concludes his debut MLS regular season with four goals and four assists, while Cádiz scored his second goal after arriving in Nashville in September.