Orlando City continued to struggle offensively at Exploria Stadium, falling for the second straight match at home in an underwhelming 2-0 loss to Nashville SC. The visitors got a cheap first-half goal by catching the Lions (2-2-2, 8 points) napping on a set piece from nowhere near the attacking third and then sat back until they could hit for a second on the counter. Orlando had chances to score but wasted them in another disappointing game against Nashville (3-2-1, 10 points).
City fell to 1-2-4 against Nashville in regular-season league play and 1-3-5 in all competitions, and the Lions have now gone eight consecutive meetings with the Tennessee club without tasting victory dating back to Aug. 26, 2020 — the first time the teams played.
“Disappointed being at home in front of our fans and not getting the result,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said about the game. “This is the most painful part. The analysis of the game, I thought we made a couple mistakes on the defensive phase that cost the game in terms of chasing it all the time. And in the other box we’re not fine. We were optimistic because we came off from a game we played very well, and today we were not fine in those two areas.”
Pareja used almost entirely the same lineup as he did a week ago in the win over Philadelphia, subbing Pedro Gallese in for Mason Stajduhar, but sticking with a back line of Luca Petrasso, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Kyle Smith. Cesar Araujo and Felipe manned the central midfield behind an attacking line of Ivan Angulo, Mauricio Pereyra, and Martin Ojeda, with Ramiro Enrique up top.
The opening minutes of the match were cagey, with both teams looking for an opening. Orlando had a good-looking attacking movement going in the fifth minute but it died when Smith’s cross was too easily blocked by the first defender.
Nashville got the first dangerous chance off a corner kick in the seventh minute. The cross squirted out to Daniel Lovitz outside the area. The shot back in was blocked just in front of goal. The rebound found Picault but he was offside.
The first Orlando shot fell for Pereyra at the top of the area in the 14th minute but the captain sent his shot well over the bar. Three minutes later, the Lions had a great buildup through the middle that Ojeda sent left for Angulo. The winger fired a shot that Willis saved and it went out for a corner.
Orlando played the corner short to Felipe who was fouled from behind. Ojeda sent the ensuing free kick over the bar.
The visitors struck in the 28th minute off a midfield free kick. After a foul by Felipe, Mukhtar played it quickly and the Lions fell asleep. Mukhtar sent a long ball over the top that Picault ran onto, splitting Jansson and Schlegel, and easily chipped Gallese to make it 1-0. It was Mukhtar’s eighth career goal involvement against Orlando City in seven games (three goals, five assists).
Orlando tried to get back into the match by applying some pressure, and while it unsettled Nashville’s back five a bit, the Lions couldn’t capitalize. Angulo blocked a pass from the goalkeeper but it deflected out for a goal kick rather than into the net in the 38th minute.
A minute later, Angulo stole the ball and Orlando had a series of shots blocked outside the area. As good as Nashville was defensively, a lack of taking the extra step to clear a shot was a problem for the Lions. The play fizzled when Araujo carried into the box and went down, losing his footing.
A fantastic curling ball put Mukhtar behind the defense but Gallese made a vital save. A second shot in was cleared off the line by the defense but the flag came up on the play anyway.
A late shot over the bar from C.J. Sapong ended the first half with the Lions down, 1-0.
Orlando City held more possession in the first half (60.3%-39.7%), as it usually does against the counter-attack-minded Nashville, but the Lions also had more shot attempts (6-3), although each team only got one on frame. Orlando had more corners (2-1), and passed more accurately (90.4%-80.3%).
Facundo Torres replaced Felipe in the lineup at the half, pushing Pereyra into a deeper-lying midfield role.
Schlegel was booked for fouling Mukhtar in the 48th minute and the Nashville striker nearly paid off the ensuing free kick which fizzed just wide of the right post and into the outside netting.
Ojeda sent a shot on target in the 51st minute but he didn’t get all of it and it was no trouble for Willis.
Five minutes later, Picault put the ball in again but the flag came up. It looked like offside in the buildup watching it live, and that call stood after a lengthy review by the video assistant referee.
Enrique fired into the shin of the defender in front of him in the 58th minute and Torres sent a low, hard shot from outside the area wide of the near post a minute later. Then, just past the hour mark, Orlando had a fairly reasonable penalty shout when Angulo touched the ball past a defender and then had his run held up with heavy contact, but referee Chris Penso wasn’t interested.
Regardless, Orlando should have equalized in the 63rd minute. A good through ball from Pereyra was barely touched by Angulo’s heel and fell into the path of Petrasso wide on the left. The left back sent a good pass into the box for Enrique, who took his shot quickly but stabbed it right at Willis, who made the save. The goalkeeper then recovered in time to pick it up before Angulo could get to the rebound.
Nashville put the game away in the 74th minute. Shaq Moore sent Mukhtar down the right side and the forward’s shot went in after perhaps deflecting off both Schlegel and Gallese to make it 2-0. It was Mukhtar’s first goal of the season and fourth career strike against Orlando.
“it cost us today,” Gallese said of the team’s few defensive breakdowns. “Those are things that we have to fix. We know that there’s games coming up that are going to be more difficult. There’s these next two weeks we’re sure to have time to analyze what happened and to try and correct those things moving into this game in two weeks against Minnesota.”
“I don’t think we had that much volume, but we had a couple of chances that (could have) allowed us to tie the game before the other mistake we made on the transition. And after that we just started moving desperately. I don’t think we were moving correctly. We were just trying to do things and then with them sitting low — they know how to do it — we lost connection there, and then we stopped creating more clear chances.”
Orlando had some half chances to at least get on the board but couldn’t pay them off. Angulo stepped into a shot in the 77th but it was nowhere close to goal. Ojeda sent a shot in through traffic moments later and it probably would have gone in had it not struck Zimmerman’s leg.
Ojeda smashed a shot in the 85th minute that Willis tipped over the bar. The Lions worked that corner for a second and second-half sub Duncan McGuire got his head to the cross. His shot was headed inside the right post but Willis was well positioned and made the save.
Mukhtar nearly added a third for the visitors in the 89th but sent a volley shot just over the bar.
Orlando couldn’t muster anything in the four minutes of stoppage time and suffered another home loss.
As is typical against Nashville, the Lions ended up with more possession (64.4%-35.6%), shots (18-7), shots on target (6-3), corners (10-2), and passing accuracy (88.1%-77.3%), but the league’s stingiest defense gave no room and the Lions couldn’t move Walker Zimmerman and Jack Maher the way they did to Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliott a week ago in Philadelphia. The one time Zimmerman did chase Pereyra outside the area in the second half, the captain was unable to get a ball into the area.
“I don’t think they created too many chances. They got in behind us a couple of times,” Smith said. “The first goal was off of a quick free kick. And then I thought we created a little bit more in the second half. We just couldn’t finish.”
“We can not lose our head,” Pareja said about his team reacting to tonight’s loss. “We were not the best team in the league after we beat Philadelphia. We’re not the worst tonight either. We have to keep our heads up. We need to be calm and the responsibility of the coach is just try to glue them together and see how we can use the chemistry and the players that we have. We have a good group and a group that I believe (in) too. We have to respond. The season is early. We don’t feel good just losing two games at home, i know, in front of our people, but we have to be what we are — professionals — and just keep moving forward.”
The Lions get Easter weekend off before heading back out on the road for a match-up against Minnesota United on April 15.