I don’t need to ask; I know you are entertained. Mike Meredith/Club and Country
Hany Mukhtar is the front-runner for Major League Soccer’s MVP Award in 2022. In all honesty, the Nashville SC attacker deserved more attention for the honor in 2021 (when he finished a distant second to New England’s Carles Gil). After a hat trick against a Colorado Rapids team fighting for its playoff life, there should be no question that Mukhtar is not satisfied to simply be in the mix.
His teammates wouldn’t be happy with that, either. NSC captain Dax McCarty – who played a grand total of 26 “team leading by two-plus goals” minutes in the win – insisted on stepping into the postgame press conference to lend the gravitas of one of the most respected voices in the league to Mukhtar’s MVP race. Nashville head coach Gary Smith is not prone to hyperbole, but noted in a preview of Saturday’s matchup against Austin FC and top-notch attacker Sebastian Driussi, “I feel my guy is in the better spot for the MVP race.” Only various Philadelphia Union attackers scoring the team’s fifth, sixth, and seventh goals against ten-man opposition (as happens on a weekly basis – you’ll hear no arguments in this space that anyone other than Philly coach Jim Curtin is the coach of the year) have much of a say that Mukhtar is less than the best player in the league almost every week, much less over the course of the entire season.
When Mukhtar scores on a penalty kick – as he did in the 29th minute, on a PK earned by Randall Leal – it feels automatic, despite last year’s narrative that he couldn’t convert from the spot. When he tacks on goals in the 54th (from a delightful throughball by Leal, with the shot taken from the top of the penalty area) and 75th (a looping header from a rebound after a Leal shot on the break, as he was undercut by an opponent) minutes, it feels inevitable. Not just that Nashville SC is going to win – which feels odd to say after the team’s six-game winless streak through late July and early August – but that Mukhtar will be the man to make that happen.
Colorado’s possession dominance in the first half, and even the Rapids’ equalizing goal from Gyasi Zardes in the 35th? They feel just as irrelevant as Hany does inevitable. Even Nashville’s own Jacob Shaffelburg who scored the team’s third goal of the evening is going to go down as a side note to a coronation.
Nashville’s 4-1 victory keeps the team in fifth in the Western Conference, ahead of Real Salt Lake on tiebreakers (namely, the second one of goal differential). With Austin coming to GEODIS Park on Saturday evening, the Boys in Gold suddenly – after he mid-season swoon – have a real opportunity to make a play for a home game in the postseason.
Whatever happens from today until the end of the regular season, it’s fair to say that the performance of the best player in the league – and the runaway favorite for MVP – will be crucial.
- 29′ NSH GOAL – 10 Hany Mukhtar (right-footed penalty kick to right side), penalty earned by 8 Randall Leal
- 35′ COL GOAL – 29 Gyasi Zardes (right-footed volley), assisted by 33 Steve Beitashour (right-footed cross)
- 41′ COL Yellow card – 6 Lalas Abubakar (foul)
- 45’+1 – Half time
- 54′ NSH GOAL – 10 Hany Mukhtar (right-footed), assisted by 8 Randall Leal (throughball to top of penalty area)
- 59′ NSH Yellow card – 8 Randall Leal (time-wasting)
- 61′ NSH GOAL – 14 Jacob Shaffelburg (right-footed to left corner, from rebound of CJ Sapong shot)
- 64′ NSH Substitutions –
- On 6 Dax McCarty, off 20 Aníbal Godoy
- On 19 Alex Muyl, off 14 Jacob Shaffelburg
- 70′ NSH Yellow card – 6 Dax McCarty (dissent)
- 71′ COL Yellow card – 21 Bryan Acosta (dissent)
- 75′ NSH GOAL – 10 Hany Mukhar (headed, from rebound of Randall Leal shot)
- 76′ COL Substitution – On 15 Sam Nicholson, off 7Jonathan Lewis
- 80′ NSH Substitutions –
- On 11 Ethan Zubak, off 17 CJ Sapong
- On 26 Luke Haakenson, off 10 Hany Mukhtar
- 82′ COL Substitutions –
- On 8 Max, off 21 Bryan Acosta
- On 77 Darren Yapi, off 29 Gyasi Zardes
- 88′ NSH Substitution – On 15 Eric Miller, off 18 Shaq Moore
- 90′ COL Substitution – On 97 Ralph Priso, off 13 Felipe Gutiérrez
- 90’+1 COL Substitution – On 26 Collem Warner, of 11 Diego Rubio
- 90’+6 Full time