A rivalry was revived in the Round of 16 of the 2022 US Open Cup when MLS’ Nashville SC took the trip north for their first competitive match against Louisville City FC since their time in the USL Championship in 2019.
LouCity, who was coming off an uncharacteristic two-loss streak, found the back of the net first in the 37th minute. The excited Kentucky crowd was quickly silenced by an Ake Loba goal less than two minutes later. The home team had the edge, having greater possession and more shots, but as the likes of USMNT’s Walker Zimmerman and 2021 MLS MVP runner up Hany Mukhtar entered the match, Nashville’s quality began to prevail. Mukhtar scored the deciding goal in the 89th minute with an expertly placed shot to the far post to give Nashville a 2-1 win.
With the win, Nashville reaches the Quarterfinals of the US Open Cup for the first time in club history, and become just the second Tennessee-based club in the 107-year old history of the tournament to reach the Round of Eight (1998 Nashville Metros, A-League, Div. 2 pro). They will travel to Florida to take on Orlando City SC in the next round (June 21-22).
Louisville aggressively started the match. Only nine minutes in, Corben Bone had a great opportunity in front of Nashville’s goal that he failed to make proper contact with to send it goal-bound.
Less than 20 minutes later, LouCity’s Enoch “Matiti” Mushagalusa took a dangerous shot at the near post that Kentucky native Elliot Panicco stopped. Their offensive pressure paid off in the 37th minute with an aerial cross from Amadou Dia that was headed past the keeper by Brian Ownby. The jubilation of the purple-clad fans didn’t last as a quick start from Nashville caught the two-time USL champs on the backfoot, ending with a goal from the designated player, Ake Loba.
The second half was a more even affair with a number of substitutions made to try to break the 1-1 deadlock. Notable substitutions include Louisville’s Wes Charpie in for an injured Josh Wynder in the 51st minute, Nashville’s Walker Zimmerman in for Jack Maher in the 69th minute, Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar in for Ake Loba in the 77th minute, and former Nashville striker Cameron Lancaster in for LouCity’s Wilson Harris in the 70th minute.
The Nashville changes overwhelmed Louisville and the second half statistics began to drift in the visitor’s favor. Mukhtar was the difference-maker. Tired legs gave him too much space, and he took advantage. In the 89th minute, he slotted it in the goal and helped his team to advance to the next round of the Open Cup.
“Obviously it was a difficult way to end the match,” said LouCity head coach Danny Cruz. “I told the players that a couple mistakes cost us. You give that level of opponent a half-chance, and they take it. They had four shots on the night. We had more possession. But ultimately, what matters is the result. I’m proud of the mentality on the night, but mistakes cost us.”
Goal scorer Brian Ownby echoed Coach Cruz’s thoughts: “We are disappointed. That game was for the taking for us. We gave up cheap goals, and they cost us.”
With that win, Nashville SC has advanced and will have an away matchup in Exploria Stadium against Orlando City SC after they triumphed over Inter Miami CF in penalties. In the meantime, Nashville will continue their MLS campaign on the road against the Colorado Rapids.