Nashville SC and Orlando City were fit to be tied in their three regular season meetings, but that won't be the case in Tennessee on Tuesday with a spot in the Eastern Conference semifinal at stake.
Unlike the 1-1 and 2-2 draws in Nashville and the 1-1 tie in Orlando this season, the first-round, single-elimination game will produce a winner. If the match is tied after 90 minutes, there will be two 15-minute periods of extra time. If it's still tied, penalty kicks will determine which team advances to play at the Philadelphia Union on Sunday.
Nashville (12-4-18, 54 points) earned the No. 3 seed on the strength of being the seventh team in MLS history to have an undefeated season at home (8-0-9). Overall, they equaled the MLS record with 18 ties in 34 matches.
No. 6 seed Orlando (13-9-12, 51 points) will try to contain Hany Mukhtar, who had 16 goals and 12 assists this season.
In 2020, Nashville became one of seven expansion teams in league history to qualify for the playoffs in their first season. They won two matches prior to losing to eventual MLS Cup champion Columbus.
Nashville has higher expectations this time.
"There's not a single team this year or last year that I look at in the league and I go into the game saying, 'There's no way we can win this,'" Nashville goalkeeper Joe Willis said. "When we're playing well and we're at our best, we can beat anyone in the league."
Orlando also made its playoff debut last year, but it took the Lions six seasons to get there. They beat New York City but were defeated by New England in the other conference semifinal.
Orlando has been inconsistent but won their regular season finale vs. CF Montreal to end a four-game winless streak.
"Carrying that momentum is important," Orlando coach Oscar Pareja said. "We hope we can go to Nashville with that commitment and that we can overcome that challenge."
--Field Level Media