Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Nashville SC: Final Score 1-0 as Lions Claim Game 1 on Wilder Cartagena’s Wondergoal

The Lions take Game 1 thanks to a worldie by Wilder Cartagena and a stout defense.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Alex Corrie

Midfielder Wilder Cartagena scored the goal of his life and the defense made it hold up as Orlando City defeated Nashville SC 1-0 at Exploria Stadium in Game 1 of the Lions’ first-round, best-of-three series in front of a raucous crowd of 19,744. Pedro Gallese came up big when needed but the defense did well to stifle the Nashville counterattack and the Lions officially won their first MLS playoff game (the 2020 match against New York City FC technically counts as a draw, advancing on penalties).

“I thought we had a good game, especially that first half where we we connected much more in the final third and then we created many options,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “We could probably have been more precise and opened the game earlier, and they may have a couple goals too. The game is tight, especially against Nashville. They place a lot of players in their final third and it was difficult for us to break it up and it is a test for us to accomplish and just be more precise in that last part of the field so we don’t need to suffer that much.”

Pareja’s lineup was the same as what he mostly used down the final stretch of the regular season. Pedro Gallese started in net behind a back line of Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Dagur Dan Thorhallsson. Cesar Araujo and Cartagena started in central midfield behind an attacking line of Ivan Angulo, Mauricio Pereyra, and Facundo Torres, with Duncan McGuire up top.

The Lions started brightly, getting an early flurry in the third minute. Torres and Angulo both saw scoring chances saved by Joe Willis. Torres cut inside in the sixth minute and curled a shot wide. Then, a minute later, Angulo passed up a shooting opportunity and laid off to Torres, who was double-teamed. The ball popped out to Cartagena outside the area but his long-range effort went just wide.

McGuire’s first chance came in the 17th minute but he was on the left and his left-footed effort was well off target.

Nashville should have scored in the 19th minute. A ball in from Jacob Shaffelburg found Sam Surridge all alone in front but the forward hit his point-blank shot over Gallese’s crossbar in a stunning miss.

Two minutes after the Nashville chance, Thorhallsson picked out McGuire in front but the redirection was partially blocked by Walker Zimmerman, allowing Willis to collect. McGuire tried a header off a menacing cross from Santos in the 26th minute but couldn’t direct it on frame.

Hany Mukhtar got a look in the 28th minute but his header was challenged well by Cartagena and he couldn’t put much power on it, allowing Gallese to pick it up.

Thorhallsson sent a curling effort over the bar from long range off a short corner play in the 30th minute as the Lions kept hunting for the opener. Five minutes later, Angulo had a shot blocked by the defense that may have found the corner had it not been deflected. Torres likewise had a shot blocked by Zimmerman in the 38th minute.

Cartagena put the Lions ahead on an absolute banger of a goal. Picking up a ball from Araujo in the middle, the Peruvian drove toward the top of the box. When nobody closed him down, Cartagena smashed a curling shot toward the right that caught the underside of the crossbar and went in, making it 1-0 in the 41st minute.

“It was a great goal. It was a beautiful goal,” Cartagena said through a club translator. “I think it was Cesar that headed it over to me and I found myself in a lot of space, and I decided to just hit it with a lot of confidence. And thankfully I hit it in a spot that was really difficult for the goalkeeper. I’ve been trying to do that the last couple of games and this one finally came off, and it was a great one.”

“I can tell you for me (Cartagena is) one of the most important players in our team defensively,” Thorhallson said. “He does all the dirty work, wins the first and the second ball, and makes other players shine. So, today he scored an amazing goal and I’m just really, really happy for him.”

Nashville nearly pulled the goal back three minutes later. Left alone from about 40 yards out, Mukhtar sent a rocket that got to Gallese before he was ready. The Peruvian international got a touch to it and knocked it off the crossbar to preserve the lead.

The Lions had the last chance on a corner kick that was knocked around the box in stoppage time. The ball deflected toward the back post, but Araujo did not expect it to get through and didn’t make a run for it, watching helplessly as it went out of play.

Orlando City finished the half with more possession (66.1%-33.9%), shots (16-3), shots on goal (3-2), corners (4-2), and passing accuracy (87.2%-76.6%).

The Lions were a little more careless with the ball in the second half, turning the ball over cheaply a few times, but the visitors couldn’t make them pay for it. Nashville came out of the locker room looking to quickly get back in the game and controlling the first 10 minutes or so.

Schlegel conceded a corner early in the half and then moments later was forced to take a booking for a tactical foul to stop Mukhtar. The foul gave Nashville a dangerous free kick opportunity but Mukhtar’s shot hit the wall and Orlando escaped the danger.

The Lions appeared poised to double the lead in the 53rd minute but Angulo’s shot was deflected at the last second and went out for a corner. There were shouts for a handball on Zimmerman but play continued without Armando Villarreal going to the monitor.

Schlegel had a chance in the 57th minute off another corner kick but he couldn’t generate enough power on his shot and Willis made a sprawling save.

Two minutes later, Thorhallsson had a chance to pass the ball centrally to an open teammate but instead spun outside and was dispossessed. Mukhtar ended up with the ball and Gallese made a big kick save on the deflected shot to keep Nashville off the board in the 59th minute.

Cartagena went down after the play and the trainers came on to check on him. He was subbed off for Junior Urso after a spectacular hour of work. After the match, Cartagena said he felt some pain but he was able to walk without it and he will get further evaluation, but he indicated that he didn’t believe it’s a serious issue.

Pereyra could have doubled the lead in the 66th minute when he got onto the ball in front of Willis, but the midfielder took an extra touch in the box and that allowed Daniel Lovitz to close him down and block the shot.

Lovitz then served up a beautiful cross in the 75th minute to substitute Teal Bunbury, but the veteran striker couldn’t direct it on target.

Orlando began looking for more opportunities to counter with Nashville chasing the game and holding a bit more possession and it nearly worked. Angulo fired a shot in the 77th minute that was blocked in front of goal by the defense. A minute later, Thorhallsson got in close and fired a shot that deflected just wide of the top right corner off a deflection.

Pareja made a triple substitution that spanned the 78th and 79th minutes, with Antonio Carlos, Ramiro Enrique, and Kyle Smith coming on for Pereyra, McGuire, and Santos. The Lions went to a five-man back line to see out the final 10 minutes.

Gallese made a big stop on a deft Surridge flick in the 80th minute but the forward was offside anyway.

Three minutes later, a frustrated-looking Mukhtar fired well over the bar from outside the area.

Orlando had one more good chance to try to put the game away in the 85th minute. Torres sent Urso down the right side of the box, but the midfielder had a tough angle to shoot from and his sliding effort was blocked by Willis.

Nashville threw more subs on, including Fafa Picault, and the visitors started trying to take advantage of the winger’s pace against Smith on Orlando’s left side. It worked in the 89th minute when Picault blew past Smith and won a corner. However, Nashville could not do anything with the set piece.

From there, the Lions saw out the final seconds and seven minutes of stoppage time. Araujo had one final shot attempt deep in stoppage time but it was well off target.

The final stats didn’t change much from the halftime numbers. Orlando City led in possession (58.4%-41.6%), although Nashville closed the gap somewhat when the Lions took a more defensive posture over the last 20 minutes. The Lions also finished with the advantage in shots (25-7), shots on target (5-3), corners (9-4), and passing accuracy (85.9%-79.8%).

“I think today we were the more aggressive team,” Cartagena said. “We pressed a lot. We were very incisive with our passing. Obviously, they’re a great team that defends really well, and it’s really difficult to to enter the area against them. But I think we’ve got players that are really unbalancing in the way that we like to play the game, and so we were able to create a lot of opportunities and then finish one.”

“Second half I thought we controlled the game,” Pareja said. “We have a couple options too, a few options that could have given us more peace just to control the game and not finish with the game that tight. But we recognize that Nashville were throwing bodies up front. And that line of five in the end just gave us energy. So, happy for this first playoff (win) but we have to get ready for the next one.”

These same two teams will get after each other again in Nashville next Tuesday, Nov. 7, at 9 p.m.


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