NASHVILLE, Tenn. – With the door to the USL Cup Playoffs opened wide for Nashville SC thanks to Louisville City FC’s victory earlier in the evening against North Carolina FC, the hosts at First Tennessee Park on Tuesday night appeared set to walk into their first postseason thanks to a two-goal lead fueled by second-half substitute Brandon Allen.
But as has been the case on occasion recently, Toronto FC II had other ideas with a tremendous comeback that saw Nashville’s recent winless streak on home turf extend to four games in a 2-2 draw that left the hosts just short of a place in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs.
“It's a game we should have won, no two ways about it,” said Nashville Head Coach Gary Smith. “In front of goal, even though we scored two, it should have been four or five easily. And uncharacteristically, we’ve conceded two at a very important moment. Still in our hands. The guys, as you can imagine, are dejected. They felt as though the job should have been complete, and it should have been. But we’ve not got long to turn around again and face the best team in the league.”
That Nashville was unable to claim its playoff spot on the same night as the New York Red Bulls II and Indy Eleven was in part down to a sparkling display in goal by Toronto goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell, who produced a 10-save performance that included a first-half penalty kick save to deny NSC’s Matt LaGrassa and numerous other key stops in either half.
But Nashville too was unable to take full advantage of the opportunities it created until Allen’s introduction in the 62nd minute. A minute after entering, Allen set up LaGrassa for a simple finish with a driving run into the left side of the penalty area that allowed him to cut a pass back to the top of the six-yard area to be struck home. Nine minutes after that he set up and finished off Nashville’s second of the night, getting on the end of Alan Winn’s low cross after having sent the winger down the left flank with a ball into space before making a beeline for the back post to get the return.
“When I came on I just tried to do the best that I could to work hard,” said Allen. “I have not played as much as I would want to in the last few games. I knew I had to put on a performance when I came on.”
Nashville SC's Brandon Allen (left) and Alan Winn celebrate Nashville's second goal on Tuesday night against Toronto FC II. | Photo courtesy John Wilkinson III / Nashville SC
Earlier in the season at First Tennessee Park that would likely have been curtains for Toronto, but instead the last-place side in the Eastern Conference continued its recent role as a spoiler for playoff contenders. After its victory 10 days prior against the Charleston Battery at MUSC Health Stadium, goals by Jordan Perruzzi and Jordan Hamilton – who continued to prove his talent with his eighth goal of the season – pulled the visitors level and continued Nashville’s recent home struggles.
NSC is now 0-1-3 in its last four outings at First Tennessee Park, with its last victory there coming on August 28 against the Richmond Kickers. With FC Cincinnati coming in on Saturday, that’s a worrying sign for a side that should it suffer a defeat could be out of the postseason entirely depending on results for Ottawa Fury FC and Bethlehem Steel FC elsewhere this weekend.
Despite that possibility, and the disappointment of Tuesday’s result, Nashville’s players were looking to stay upbeat as it takes on the 2018 USL Regular Season champion to wrap up its regular season.
“This is what people live for, pressured moments and coming down to it,” said NSC’s Taylor Washington. “Regardless, we’ve just got to get the job done. It’ll be good.”