Hany Mukhtar photo by Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country
Nashville SC signed a defense-first winger several games into the 2020 season. It turned out… pretty well!
Other editions: No minutes and gone • No minutes and back • Jimmy Medranda • Brayan Beckeles • Handwalla Bwana • Jack Maher • David Accam • Alan Winn • Matt LaGrassa • Eric Miller • Derrick Jones • Jhonder Cádiz • Taylor Washington • Abu Danladi • Jalil Anibaba • Dominique Badji • Daniel Ríos • Tah Brian Anunga • Alex Muyl • Hany Mukhtar • Aníbal Godoy • Alistair Johnston • Randall Leal • Dax McCarty • Dan Lovitz • Walker Zimmerman • Dave Romney • Joe Willis
Mukhtar entered the year with high expectations. As the club’s first designated player (though Randall Leal would later join him with that status), a lot was asked of him in terms of creating Nashville’s offensive production. Scoring free-kick goals and adding a bit of scoring punch from the run of play was going to be a nice bonus, but it was primarily about providing service for others.
As a DP, the bare minimum expectation was that he’d lead the team in goal contributions (goals and assists – with an emphasis on the latter), and that he’d be integral to basically whatever NSC did in the offensive third when he was on the field. Anything that he could provide defensively was going to be a nice bonus. Though important in Gary Smith’s system, it’s not the main task of a central attacking midfielder.
18 appearances • 1468 minutes
5 goals, 41 shots (4.74 xG), 15 on-target
3 assists, 29 key passes (1.98 xA)
466/601 passing (77.5% • 79.5% expected)
9.5% of touches on-field
+0.15 Goals added per 96 minutes versus replacement central attacking midfielder
|Hany Mukhtar 2020|||||||||
|Dribbling G+||Fouling G+||Interrupting G+||Passing G+||Receiving G+||Shooting G+|
As with a couple of his teammates, the main issue plaguing Mukhtar’s overall grade was his availability. While he only missed six games entirely, he was limited in some others during injury recovery, playing just a small portion of the contest. In a year of adjustment to a new league as a global pandemic (with a respiratory illness!) ravaged the season, that stuff is less worrisome going forward, but this is a results-based charting service.
When he was actually on the field, Mukhtar’s production was very good (though you’ll hear/read “the underlying numbers weren’t what you expect from a DP,” but I can’t say I agree with that). Among midfielders who played more than 1000 minutes, he was top 10 in xG+xA per 96 minutes played, and actually slightly outperformed his expected numbers – within the range of random chance – as well. When the dudes ahead of you have names like Diego Valeri and Nico Lodeiro, you’re in pretty good company.
Mukhtar missed one penalty kick, which at the time felt like it would mean NSC would go its entire inaugural season without hitting one (he rectified his earlier error in the playoff drubbing of Inter Miami). That’s a downer, but one of the few true downside of the time he was actually on the pitch.
So the “disappointment” of Mukhtar was pretty much exclusively based around a couple different factoids: that he was limited in his minutes, and that basically all of his production was crammed into the back half of the season (he didn’t score a goal until Nashville’s 4-2 win over Atlanta United in September, and didn’t even get an assist until the late-October draw with Orlando City). So what’s the likelihood that either of those persists?
For starters, I would not expect the global pandemic to affect Nashville’s – and his – season in the way it did last year. With games spaced out a little more reasonably, he should be able to get the needed rest to be more of an every-game player. His adjustment period to start last season made sense: he was in a less-physical, more-technical league in Denmark, and adapting to MLS took time. The hope has to be that he’s fully adjusted, and that going forward a more league-appropriate (and officiating-aware) style is the move.
Beyond that, it’s about growing chemistry with his teammates, both old and new. He truly seemed to hit his stride with Randall Leal and Jhonder Cádiz as the regular season drew to a close and the playoffs progressed. Continuing that, building a rapport with Rodrigo Piñeiro, and figuring out the way to get maximum production from the beginning of the season has to be the move.
He’d surely be disappointed in his grade for 2020, much like he was likely a little disappointed in how the season itself turned out. But he could be poised for a breakout campaign if he stays healthy.