Orlando City in top form ahead of playoff series vs. Nashville SC

Orlando City have been the best team in MLS regular-season play since the start of July, but they will face a difficult challenge in continuing that momentum in their MLS Cup Playoffs first-round series against Nashville SC.

Orlando and Nashville start the series on Monday in Florida. They’ve drawn four of their eight regular-season meetings since Nashville joined the league in 2020, and Nashville owns a 3-1 playoff win in 2021, the teams’ only postseason meeting.

But never has Orlando come into a postseason in this kind of form, having won its last four in the league and 11 of its last 15.

On the final day of the regular season, Orlando City won 2-0 at Toronto FC through Duncan McGuire’s 12th and 13th goals of the season, despite already knowing they had locked in the Eastern Conference second seed.

“It was a moment for us, just being qualified in the second place, to take care of some players but also make sure that we are doing the right decisions,” coach Oscar Pareja said. “So we’re very proud of the players like always. They are the ones who make this happen. We keep growing and we will keep being consistent and being prepared for what is coming.”

In seventh-seeded Nashville, the Lions are facing a team that has already experienced plenty of knockout competition success this season.

Nashville SC won two U.S. Open Cup matches before being eliminated in the round of 16, and then advanced all the way to the final of the Leagues Cup before falling on penalties to Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami following a 1-1 draw.

“We have some very nice experiences in what can be cast as a win-or-bust game each time,” coach Gary Smith said. “There has to be a result, and I think that affects the mindset of not just myself and obviously Oscar in the way that he prepares his group, but obviously in the players’ minds.”

However, Nashville SC have lost some momentum, scoring in only one of their last five league matches. Hany Mukhtar, who won the 2022 MLS MVP, again led the team with 15 league goals but scored only two in his last 16 league fixtures.

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