Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – For more than a fleeting moment, it appeared Louisville City FC had proven the measure of its Major League Soccer opponent.
In the final account, it wasn’t to be.
An 89th-minute goal by Nashville SC’s Hany Mukhtar brought the curtain down on the perennial USL Championship contender’s run in the 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night as NSC took a 2-1 victory at Lynn Family Stadium and a place in the tournament’s Quarterfinals.
Brian Ownby had given LouCity the lead late in the first half, a potential harbinger after his game-winner when the side last upset an MLS opponent on home turf in the New England Revolution in 2018, but a quick reply by Aké Loba left the game level at the break before 2021 MLS Most Valuable Player finalist struck late, earning a contest against either Inter Miami CF or Orlando City in the next round.
LouCity had the measure of its former league rival for much of the first half with 17-year-old center back Josh Wynder among those that kept Nashville’s looks on goal to a minimum in the opening half-hour. By contrast, the hosts were able to probe in the attacking third against a similarly well-organized defense as Enoch Mushagalusa twice had chances saved by NSC goalkeeper Elliot Panicco.
There was little Panicco could do to keep LouCity from opening the scoring eight minutes before halftime, however, as Ownby delivered a perfectly-placed flicked header off an angled cross from the left by Amadou Dia into the bottom-right corner of the net for his first goal in this year’s Open Cup and the fourth of his career in the tournament.
Nashville response didn’t take long to arrive. Only two minutes later – and on the first official shot for the visitors – Luke Haakenson’s run in behind the Louisville defense onto a ball over the top allowed the midfielder to center for Loba, who tucked home from close range.
Even more quickly, LouCity almost regained the lead as Jorge Gonzalez fired a well-hit half-volley from 25 yards toward the left corner that Panicco parried away, while Mushagalusa also shot just wide of the right post from 20 yards in the final minute of the first half. The second half then opened quietly, but Gonzalez threatened again with a shot that flashed just over the crossbar just past the hour-mark as the hosts again looked for the lead.
The visitors began to come into the game further as the second half went on, however, and LouCity goalkeeper Kyle Morton had to be sharp to keep out a redirection on his own goal by Wesley Charpie off a low cross by Alex Muyl with 14 minutes to go. Five minutes later Morton was called on in more conventional fashion, getting down at his near post to deny Handwalla Bwana’s low shot from the right side of the penalty area.
With a minute to go, however, Nashville’s ace in the hole appeared. After Dax McCarty played C.J. Sapong toward the top of the penalty area the veteran forward rolled a pass to his right for Bwana. Mukhtar peeled into space in the right side of the area for Bwana’s pass and delivered a decisive shot to the bottom-left corner of the net, sending the visitors into the Quarterfinals.
LOU – Brian Ownby (Amadou Dia) 37’
NSH – Aké Loba (Luke Haakenson) 39’
NSH – Hany Mukhtar (Handwalla Bwana) 89’