The Friday Night Lights weren’t too bright for Hany Mukhtar.
Nashville SC’s Designated Player shined at Nissan Stadium on Friday, scoring a brace en route to a 3-1 win over New York City FC. His efforts were rewarded with Major League Soccer Player of the Week and Team of the Week honors.
The victory put the Boys in Gold four points clear of NYCFC in the Eastern Conference standings, sitting tied on points for second place in the conference with Orlando City SC. With 12 matches remaining in the regular season, Nashville is 11 points clear of the playoff line.
It was a performance that Head Coach Gary Smith says he’s come to expect from his Number 10.
“He’s electric at the moment,” Smith said. “Absolutely electric. When you see creative players in the sort of form he’s in, as much as I’m looking at it as a coach and as a manager of the group, I’m as excited as the fans when he gets on the ball. It looks like things are going to happen, and you can sense that feel around and the expectation from the fans. And he’s created that.”
Mukhtar’s goals both required outstanding individual efforts and pinpoint link play with his teammates. In the 30’ minute, Dax McCarty lofted a perfect pass over the top of the defense to Mukhtar, who shook off a tough challenge from NYCFC defender Anton Tinnerholm and slotted the ball into the low corner with his right foot.
His second goal came on the back of a brilliant series of passes with forward CJ Sapong in the 68’ minute. Mukhtar laid a clean pass forward for an open Sapong to run onto. The forward played the ball back to Mukhtar in the middle, where he finished to the lower left corner past NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson.
Mukhtar says he’s developed a rapport with Sapong that has led to their success this season.
“CJ and I are good friends, we have a good chemistry,” Mukhtar said. “It is a great combination between power and [speed]. He’s fast and he’s strong. I am playing around him, and I love that position. I think [Gary Smith] knows that. We try to work together because we know that with this shape, it is most likely that we are the guys that need to create chances and score goals. [Sapong and I] try to find each other, and it has gone very well in the last weeks and months.”
With his brace on Friday, Mukhtar leads Nashville SC in goals with 10 on the season. Combined with his eight assists, he’s tied for the league lead in combined goals and assists. Smith says Mukhtar’s recent form is a testament to his hard work over the last year and a half.
“He looks so bright at the moment,” Smith said. “He’s so confident. When you think about his development over the course of 18 months, he’s moved into another gear. I’ve got to say, the work that [First Assistant Coach] Steve Guppy does with him behind the scenes, there’s a lot of time and effort looking at footage, a lot of individual work on the field, a lot of confidence-building. When things weren’t going well last year, and it sometimes takes that patience and that connection to get the very best out of someone. And he’s certainly playing at a wonderful level at the moment.”