Orlando City-Nashville SC Preview
Oscar Pareja has told his Orlando City SC players to stick to their usual game when they face Nashville SC in round one of the MLS Cup Playoffs on Tuesday.
The Lions sealed their postseason spot with a 2-0 win at Montreal CF on the final day of the regular season, ending a run of four matches without a victory.
Eastern Conference rivals Nashville are unbeaten in 18 home league matches and finished three points better off than their opponents.
Rather than head to Nissan Stadium with the aim of keeping things tight, however, Pareja wants his players to have faith in themselves coming away with a victory.
"I cannot come right at the end and tell the players differently," he said. "I think they wouldn't accept that.
"They hear all the time, 'we're going to be ourselves, we know who we are, we're going to be protagonists, we have to go look for those three points'. "Every game, it's the same. Now we have to go to Nashville with that same mentality. We are aiming for the big prize and are focused on accomplishing that objective."
Nashville booked their place in the playoffs with a couple of games to spare and have lost just four of their 34 league matches in 2021 - the fewest defeats of any side in MLS.
All three previous meetings with Orlando this term finished level, however, and head coach Gary Smith knows the importance of his side turning up on the day if they are to advance to a semi-final with Philadelphia Union.
"One-off games are very different than the consistency of the season," Smith said. "Yes, we have the ingredients [for playoff success], but there is a reliance on the individuals to have a good performance.
"In a one-off game, there are things that can go wrong. The referee's choices, there are mistakes in every game and let's not forget Orlando have match-winners in the team."
Nashville SC - Hany Mukhtar
Mukhtar's fine form showed no signs of slowing towards the end of the regular season as he contributed to three goals and two assists in his most recent four appearances.
Indeed, the former Germany Under-21s international has been involved in an MLS-high 28 goals this campaign (16 goals and 12 assists).
Orlando City SC - Daryl Dike
Nashville need no telling of just what Dike is capable of, the United States international having scored five times in five appearances against them.He has not scored more than twice against any other opponent in MLS, while no other player has more than two goals against Nashville in their MLS history.
- Four of the six all-time meetings between Nashville and Orlando City have ended in draws (W1 each), including all three meetings this season. All three contests in Nashville have also ended level, while neither team has managed to keep a clean sheet in any of the six games.
- Nashville and Orlando both made their playoff debuts last season, Nashville in their first MLS season and Orlando in their sixth. Nashville beat both Inter Miami and Toronto FC in last year's playoffs and could become the first expansion team in MLS history to win at least one round in each of their first two years of existence.
- Nashville tied an MLS record with just four defeats this season while also becoming the seventh team in league history to go unbeaten at home (W8 D9). More than half of Nashville's matches this year ended in a draw (18/34), equalling the Fire in 2014 for the most draws in a single regular season in MLS history.
- Orlando won two of their last three away matches to close the season, after going winless in their previous nine away from home (D4 L5). Those wins came at Montreal and Cincinnati, as all five of the Lions' away wins this season came at teams that missed the playoffs. Orlando totalled just three points in eight away matches against playoff teams, though two of those points came in draws at Nashville.
- Mukhtar has been involved in at least one goal in each of his last nine home matches (10 goals, five assists) dating back to early July, including scoring in his last four matches at Nissan Stadium. The only player with a longer home scoring streak in 2021 is Johnny Russell (six straight entering playoffs).
Updated November 22, 2021