Nashville SC crumbles in penalty shootout to Philadelphia Union in Eastern Conference semifinal

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  • Walker Zimmerman
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  • Hany Mukhtar
    Hany Mukhtar
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  • Andre Blake
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  • Jack Elliott
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  • Aníbal Godoy
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PHILADELPHIA — With a stadium full of Philadelphia Union supporters, waving their team flags just behind the goal, Nashville SC missed four consecutive penalty kicks, succumbing to the Union 1-1 (2-0) in Sunday's Eastern Conference semifinal at Subaru Park.

"It's kind of a cruel way to lose," said Nashville center back Walker Zimmerman.

Hany Mukhtar, Anibal Godoy, Alex Muyl and Zimmerman missed their attempts. Union goalkeeper Andre Blake saved the first two and was rewarded with teammates Jack Elliot and Jack McGlynn converting their kicks from the penalty spot.

In regular time, Nashville's Mukhtar scored in the 38th minute, followed by Philadelphia's Daniel Gazdag equalizing in the 47th minute.

"Quite honestly, I felt as though we carved out and created enough, what we would class as half-chance moments," Nashville coach Gary Smith said. "But on the day, we were unable to find the right craft to win the game inside 120 minutes.

"But the final few comments (to the team) from me were, whilst we won't feel it now, incredibly proud of what the guys have achieved this year, what they've done for themselves, the development that we've seen in the team."

Nov 28, 2021; Chester, Pennsylvania, USA; Nashville SC midfielder Hany Mukhtar (10) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the first half against the Philadelphia Union in the conference semifinals of the 2021 MLS playoffs at Subaru Park. Mandatory Credit: Mitchell Leff-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 28, 2021; Chester, Pennsylvania, USA; Nashville SC midfielder Hany Mukhtar (10) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the first half against the Philadelphia Union in the conference semifinals of the 2021 MLS playoffs at Subaru Park. Mandatory Credit: Mitchell Leff-USA TODAY Sports

How the penalty misses happened

Smith said he knew a penalty shootout was imminent during halftime of the 30-minute extra period. Smith also knew Nashville was about to enter a shootout without two of its more skillful penalty takers.

Captain and central midfielder Dax McCarty began to cramp after 105 minutes, requiring Alex Muyl to replace him. Randall Leal, on a yellow card, was a worry for Smith, as suspension for the next round loomed if Leal earned another.

Nevertheless, Mukhtar went bottom left with his right foot. Blake dived and snagged the shot. Godoy elected to go right with his left foot. Blake leaped and punched the ball out in midair. Muyl and Zimmerman's shots soared into the Union's supporters' group stands behind the goal.

"I guess the one silver lining is we all missed it, so it's kind of like, 'Wow, we all sucked together. That was pretty bad'," Zimmerman said. "It kind of makes (the loss) a little bit easier to swallow almost. But we're in it together."

Season ends in heartbreak

In its second season in Major League Soccer, Nashville was knocked out of MLS Cup contention for a second time. It fell to eventual champion Columbus Crew SC one year ago, losing 2-0 in extra time in Columbus.

In a quiet locker room, Smith said he was short in his post-match message.

"There's really nothing to say (to the players)," Smith said. "You put Hany on the penalty spot, 99 times out of 100, he'll score…that moment shouldn't blemish what has been an absolutely incredible season, not just for Hany but for many, many other players.

"Walker's been like Hercules at the back," Smith continued. "He's carrying so much weight on his shoulders. That's not to others are not doing the job around him, but he's a man amongst men. He's been immense."

Philadelphia advances to face the winner of the New England Revolution and New York City FC on Dec. 5.

Hany Mukhtar gets 19th goal of 2021

Fullback Eric Miller sent the perfect pass to Mukhtar in the 38th minute.

Miller placed the ball too high for Union center back Elliot to head the ball out of danger, but too short for Alvas Powell – who was trailing Mukhtar – to block the incoming shot. Falling to the turf, Mukhtar headed the ball low and into the bottom left corner for the 1-0 score.

The opening goal marked the 26-year-old Mukhtar's 19th on the year and his third during the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Nov 28, 2021; Chester, Pennsylvania, USA; Nashville SC midfielder Hany Mukhtar (10) celebrates after scoring a goal during the first half against the Philadelphia Union in the conference semifinals of the 2021 MLS playoffs at Subaru Park. Mandatory Credit: Mitchell Leff-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 28, 2021; Chester, Pennsylvania, USA; Nashville SC midfielder Hany Mukhtar (10) celebrates after scoring a goal during the first half against the Philadelphia Union in the conference semifinals of the 2021 MLS playoffs at Subaru Park. Mandatory Credit: Mitchell Leff-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia equalize in style

Daniel Gazdag's overhead swing with his right foot upped Nashville's total to 13 set piece goals conceded this season, just seconds before the halftime whistle.

Jamiro Monteiro's corner kick bounced off a cluster of players inside the 18-yard box to Gazdag. Nashville's Alistair Johnston blocked Gazdag's first attempt, which fell back to Gazdag a few yards behind him. Before the ball could hit the turf, Gazdag acrobatically swiped the ball with his right foot, with his back to the goal and scored.

"If I could pick one thing that's been frustrating this year, it's probably going to be (defending) set pieces," Zimmerman said.

"Everyone's sad and emotional afterwards, but trying to again, commend those guys on on the goals that they had in getting us to this point and the seasons that we all had."

For stories about Nashville SC or Soccer in Tennessee, contact Drake Hills at DHills@gannett.com. Follow Drake on Twitter at @LiveLifeDrake. Connect with Drake on Instagram at @drakehillssoccer and on Facebook.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nashville SC falls in penalty shootout to Philadelphia Union in playoffs

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