Nashville bowed out after missing all four of their spot-kicks in the decisive shootout, missing a chance to reach the Eastern Conference Final in just their second MLS season. Attacker Hany Mukhtar and midfielder Anibal Godoy each saw their penalties saved by Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake, while Alex Muyl and center back Walker Zimmerman each missed well wide of the target, allowing the Union to win despite getting only two successful conversions themselves.
Naturally, the Music City club espoused raw emotions post-game.
"It's not like you're sending out guys that are missing all week in training," Zimmerman said. "You're sending out guys who feel confident, they want to take the kick and they performed at training, so we felt good about that selection. I guess the one silver lining is when you all of you miss it, you're kind of like 'Wow, we all sucked together there. That was pretty bad.' It makes it a little bit easier to swallow, almost.
"We're in it together. We certainly try to lift each other up after each PK. We tried to get some kind of momentum that, again, when none of your four kickers in this situation can put one in the back of the net, you're never going to win. It's just trying to lift them up in the moment. Certainly everyone's sad and emotional afterwards, but trying to again commend those guys on the roles they had in getting us to this point and the seasons that they all had because they all had really, really amazing moments for us this year."
Nashville head coach Gary Smith agreed that it's important to maintain perspective about the bigger picture. Mukhtar and Zimmerman are two of MLS' best at their positions, while Godoy and Muyl were each valuable and experienced cogs in Nashville's midfield throughout the year.
"There really is nothing to say [to them]," Smith said. "The guys go up there and I said it already: You put Hany at the penalty spot, 99 times out of 100 he'll score. The fatigue, the pressure, taking it first getting us off on a good footing, he's more than capable, we've seen it before. That moment shouldn't blemish what has been an absolutely incredible season, not just for Hany, but for the many, many other players.
"Walker's been like Hercules at the back. He's carrying so much weight on his shoulders, he's a man amongst men. He's been immense for us this year. I'm not going to criticize him for skying his penalty."
While the defeat will linger, Smith maintained that there's plenty to be optimistic about looking ahead to 2022.
Nashville's entry into MLS has been a success by any measure, qualifying for the playoffs during their expansion campaign of 2020 and following that up with an even better 2021. They earned the East's No. 3 seed and went undefeated in the home confines of Nissan Stadium (9W-0L-9D in regular season + playoffs).
Smith hopes for another step forward in Year 3, using the sting of Sunday's defeat as a learning experience and motivation to fuel them until the next marathon begins.
"Of course I was disappointed as they are – we're all in this together. I would have loved nothing more than to see those players who put the energy and effort into the game that they did sitting here with big smiles on their face," Smith said. "But it doesn't always work like that. The only thing we can draw out of this is that there are many, many teams and individuals through the course of history that it hasn't gone for them immediately. There's a lot of good things to draw out of this, but in the pain, it should leave a scar that never heals and you'll just learn and you move on.
"We'll be here again. We'll be in this position again. And my hope is that a lot of these players are around again and we're better off for it. That's the only thing we can work towards."