Mike Meredith/Club and Country
Tonight’s game was supposed to be a major showdown between two candidates – likely the top two candidates – for Major League Soccer’s MVP award. Hany Mukhtar and Austin FC’s Sebastian Driussi are widely considered to be separating themselves from the top of the pack. By the end of the evening, Mukhtar may have also separated himself from Driussi.
The German scored goals in the 82nd minute and the first minute of second-half stoppage time, complementing a Walker Zimmerman goal out of the locker room to give NSC a resounding 3-0 victory. With Driussi taking just three shots and notching one key pass, it was a statement on both the individual and team levels.
The first half didn’t provide much in the way of separation – and if anything, looked more likely to lead to a coronation for Driussi and Austin. The visitors took five shots to Nashville’s four, and had only a minuscule xG deficit in a stadium that Nashville SC spent much of the Summer trying unsuccessfully to put opponents away. Driussi’s two shots combined for an unimpressive 0.064 expected goals, but that was infinitely more than Mukhtar’s zero shots.
Just as Nashville has broken out of its summer slump, though, the Boys in Gold woke up in the second half. Zimmerman’s set-piece header from a Daniel Lovitz corner kick broke the deadlock in the 49th minute, and from there Nashville SC was able to play its game: possess with purpose, while also drawing the opponent forward to hit on the break.
Just as Mukhtar has led his team out of the June-August wilderness, he ensured that the margin in this one would be too great for Austin to mount a comeback. Alex Muyl forced a turnover in the 82nd, and threaded a throughball to Mukhtar, with a short-angle finish doubling the lead. Then Mukhtar added another, tapping home from the doorstep when Dax McCarty’s throughball led new signing Shaq Moore directly into an attacking area on the break, and the US World Cup hopeful made the smart pass to one of the league’s best players.
With the win, Nashville comes one step closer to sealing inclusion in the 2022 playoffs – a third trip to the postseason in three years in MLS would be quite the feather in a young team’s cap. It also went a long way toward giving Mukhtar the cushion he may need to pass Driussi for MVP. Given that NSC is unlikely to pass Austin in the table (Los Verdes maintain a five-point gap above No. 3 FC Dallas with a game in-hand, and Nashville is a point behind FCD), keeping a lead in individual goal-scoring – Mukhtar has 21 goals to Driussi’s 20, and has added six primary assists to Driussi’s five – will be crucial.
Nashville next takes the pitch Saturday afternoon at GEODIS Park with an opportunity to make another statement: LA Galaxy beat the Boys in Gold in Carson, Calif. earlier this Summer, and NSC will want to rectify that wrong – as well as take strides to seal a home playoff game come season’s end. It’ll also be another chance for Mukhtar to impress in a head-to-head battle with a major name: former Mexico International Chicharito Hernandez may not be in the race for the Golden Boot or MVP award this year, but the eyeballs that he brings to the TV broadcast should allow for a big stage to impress. The game airs on Univision, and kicks off at 2:50.
After that, a potential revenge game for Austin awaits in Texas’s capital the following weekend.
- 39′ ATX Yellow card – 14 Diego Fagundez (dissent)
- 45’+3 Half time
- 49′ NSH GOAL – 25 Walker Zimmerman (headed), assisted by 2 Dan Lovitz (in-swinging left-footed corner kick)
- 54′ ATX Yellow card – 18 Julio Cascante (foul)
- 55′ ATX Substitutions –
- On8 Alex Ring, off 33 Owen Wolff
- On 24 Nick Lima, off 23 Žan Kolmanič
- 65′ ATX Substitutions –
- On 2 Moussa Djitte, off9 Danny Hoesen
- On 77 Emiliano Rigoni – Off 13 Ethan Finlay
- 73′ NSH Substitutions –
- On 20 Aníbal Godoy, off 54 Sean Davis
- On 26 Luke Haakenson, off 14 Jacob Shaffelburg
- 75′ ATX Yellow card – 24 Nick Lima (foul)
- 78′ NSH Substitution – On 12 Teal Bunbury, off 17 CJ Sapong
- 78′ ATX Substitution – On 22 Felipe, off 14 Diego Fagundez
- 82′ NSH GOAL – 10 Hany Mukhtar (right-footed from tight angle), assisted by 19 Alex Muyl (throughball after turnover)
- 83′ NSH Yellow card – 10 Hany Mukhtar (excessive celebration, removing jersey, totally worth it)
- 87′ NSH Substitution – On 5 Jack Maher, off 19 Alex Muyl
- 90’+1 NSH GOAL – 10 Hany Mukhtar (right-footed on doorstep, first-time), assisted by 18 Shaq Moore (ground cross on counterattack) and 6 Dax McCarty (🚨TRIVELA THROUGHBALL🚨)
- 90’+4 ATX Yellow card – 2 Moussa Djitte (dissent)
- 90’+5 ATX Red card – 2 Moussa Djitte (second-yellow, hands to the neck of an opponent)
- 90’+5 Full time