FC Cincinnati topped its Leagues Cup group and they returned to action Friday night against a familiar Nashville SC side. This would be the third time, across all competitions, these two teams would match up. FC Cincinnati won the first two matches in convincing fashion. But it would be Nashville’s night Friday winning in a penalty shootout and delivering FCC its first home loss of 2023.
The game opened at a slower pace than typical matches FC Cincinnati matches. Whether it was the heat or fatigue from the competition, both teams felt their way into the match. Nashville’s reigning MLS MVP Hany Mukhtar was able to get into position to draw a pair of early free kicks from the top corner of the box. Neither attempt threatened the FCC defense much. On the opposite end, a stymie Nashville defense proved difficult to crack for FCC.
A hydration break in 29th minute appeared to have allowed the clubs to adjust and reorganize their attack. Nashville would have the best clear chances of the first half. A 32nd minute shot by Fafà Picault forced Alec Kann to push it away from frame. In the 42nd minute a Nashville corner led to Anibal Godoy getting onto a flick in. Again, Kann was there to prevent the chaos from leading to the opening goal.
Coming out of the halftime break Nashville resumed its full bunker mode style defense. Often having a five-man backline and four players sitting in or at the top of the box. In the 49th minute Aaron Boupendza’s shot from outside the box was indicative of how frustrating it is for attacks to breakdown such a defensive shape. FCC was sitting on a xG of 0.12 before that attempt. Nashville was simply allowing the orange and blue to hold possession and not make much of tight passing windows.
In the 55th minute Álvaro Barreal and Luciano Acosta connected with a lovely 1-2 ball to break between five defenders. Barreal would send it in to a waiting Brandon Vázquez who missed the frame attempting to find the lower right corner of goal. It was certainly a shot Vázquez would typically deliver a goal on.
At the 64th minute Nashville were awarded a corner from a comfortable save by Kann. The service from Mukhtar found an open Dax McCarty who headed a curling shot that Kann saved but Godoy was there to knock in the opening goal of the match. The way in which Nashville had elected to play the match, the goal felt like a dagger that would be very difficult for FCC to bring back level.
FC Cincinnati would have a couple of chances to crack the defense between the 70th and 80th minutes. In the 73th minute Acosta mishits a strenuous attempt to squeeze into the middle of the Nashville box. In the 79th minute Boupendza failed to deliver on a Bret Hasley cross. It was a shot Boupendza would send well over frame.
Time was running out on FC Cincinnati when in the 83rd minute Vázquez was shoved in the back trying to fight for a cross in the box. The match official quickly pointed to the penalty spot. Vázquez would be the player from FCC to step up and take the penalty. Nashville’s Joe Willis went left and Vázquez went right for FCC to bring the match level. The remaining match time would conclude, and we would have a penalty shootout for the second time in the Leagues Cup for FCC. This time with more at stake as the loser would be eliminated.
Nashville made a late substitution at Goalkeeper bringing on Elliot Panicco who presumably was a better PK keeper than Joe Willis. In the first 2 rounds of PKs, both teams sent up their respective top men all of which converted. In the 3rd round, Matt Miazga stepped up to the spot. Miazga elected to go with procession rather than pace picking out the lower right corner. However, Panicco was wise to this and with his long frame he was able to make the save. After a pair of successful PK attempts by both sides, Nashville’s veteran McCarty stepped up with FCC needing a save to continue in the competition. McCarty was able to find the inside of the right post and advance Nashville SC into the Round of 16 of the Leagues Cup.
CIN: Alec Kann, Álvaro Barreal, Ian Murphy (Nick Hagglund 90’), Matt Miazga, Yerson Mosquera, Alvas Powell (Bret Halsey 71’), Junior Moreno (Yuya Kubo 71’), Obinna Nwobodo, Luciano Acosta (C), Brandon Vazquez, Aaron Boupendza (Marco Angulo 80’)
Substitutes not used: Roman Celentano, Evan Louro, Joey Akpunonu, Arquimides Ordoñez, Malik Pinto, Ray Gaddis, London Aghedo, Ben Stitz
NSH: Joe Willis (Elliot Panicco 90+4’), Daniel Lovitz, Lukas MacNaughton (Jack Maher 77’), Dax McCarty, Fafà Picault, Shaq Moore, Walker Zimmerman (C), Sean Davis (Brian Anunga 77’), Joshua Bauer, Anibal Godoy, Hany Mukhtar
Substitutes not used: Ben Martino, Ethan Zubak, Laurence Wyke, Alex Muyl, Taylor Washington, Luke Haakenson
NSH – Lukas MacNaughton (Yellow Card) 59’
MLS League Play: Columbus Crew (A) August 20th; Apple TV+
US Open Cup: Inter Miami (H) August 23rd; Paramount+, GOLAZO