Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Nashville SC: Five Takeaways

What did we learn from Orlando City’s 1-0 win over Nashville SC in the first game of the playoffs?



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City rode its luck at times, but was largely in control of its first game of the 2023 playoffs. The Lions vastly outshot Nashville SC but couldn’t find a second goal following a spectacular opener from Wilder Cartagena. Regardless, OCSC got the win and now holds an important 1-0 advantage in the best-of-three, first-round series. What follows are my five takeaways from Orlando’s first playoff win in regulation time.

Early Chance Apiece

The two teams traded big chances inside the opening 20 minutes. The first one fell to Orlando City when a ball pinged around in the box and fell to Facundo Torres. It ended up on his weaker right foot though and he could only fire directly at Joe Willis. Nashville’s came just inside 20 minutes as Sam Surridge was left all alone on the doorstep but could only manage a weird touch on the ball that sent it over the bar. They were two signs that the game had goals in it, and the Lions displayed some worrying defending on the Surridge chance.

Cartagena Comes Up Big

“Wilder Cartagena” and “prolific goalscorer” aren’t a combination of words you often see in the same sentence, unless they’re separated by the words “is not a”. It was the Peruvian who provided the breakthrough though, and he did so in some style. As the clock ticked over 40 minutes, the ball fell to him around 30 yards from goal, and as he strode forward with no one contesting him, he unleashed a curling, dipping missile that left a diving Joe Willis completely helpless. It was a goal that was well deserved and brought back memories of Sebas Mendez’s absurd, dipping half-volley against CF Montreal on Decision Day of the 2021 season — another important and magnificent goal from an unlikely source in defensive midfield.

Second Goal Won’t Come for Lions

During the second 45 minutes, OCSC continued the statistical and on-field dominance that the team displayed in the first half. The Lions dominated possession and kept getting the ball into dangerous areas and putting in crosses and shots left, right, and center. They were unable to find the all-important insurance goal despite a close call from Rodrigo Schlegel, and good chances for Ivan Angulo and Mauricio Pereyra. It made for an increasingly stressful finish, as the visitors were able to do some dangerous things with the ball when they did have spells of possession. Around the 85th minute OCSC shut up shop and looked to just keep the ball and run the clock, but if the Lions had been more clinical it wouldn’t have mattered, particularly when considering the home team finished with 25 shots, five of which were on target. Some credit should go to Nashville, who blocked a whopping 11 efforts, but on the whole, the game didn’t need to be as close as it was in the end.

Pedro Plays His Part

The razor-thin margins meant that it was always likely that Pedro Gallese would have a big part to play in the game and that proved to be the case. He foiled Hany Mukhtar twice, starting in the first half when the German uncorked a wicked drive from distance that El Pulpo was just able to tip onto the crossbar, although he paid the price and needed attention from the athletic training staff for his left index finger. He again stopped Mukhtar in the second half after Dagur Dan Thorhallsson turned the ball over in a bad area, and the Peruvian saved OCSC’s bacon once again. His best trick of the night came on a play that ultimately didn’t count, as he stonewalled Surridge in the 80th minute before the big striker was eventually called offside roughly 10 minutes later. El Pulpo remains immense for this team, and he was cool and calm when it came to commanding his box as the clock ran down.

Clean Bill of Availability

There were moments of injury-related concerned sprinkled throughout the match. There was Gallese’s finger in the first half, Cartagena was substituted after going down with what looked to be a muscular issue, and Duncan McGuire went off after suffering cramps. Despite those scares, everyone seemed to end the game healthy as Cartagena was able to walk off under his own power and was moving well after the game ended. With the second match in Nashville not taking place until next Tuesday, that gives anyone carrying little knocks plenty of time to get healthy.

The Lions also mostly kept their noses clean when it came to discipline. Cesar Araujo and Rodrigo Schlegel both picked up yellow cards, but played smart and controlled in order to avoid picking up additional bookings.

Those were my five big thoughts from a hard fought win over Nashville SC. What did you notice in this one? Be sure to have your say down in the comments.


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