New year, same combination.
After netting a total of 45 regular season goals and assists between them in 2021, CJ Sapong and Hany Mukhtar linked up for the first time this season on Saturday night in Minnesota. Mukhtar’s assist set up Sapong’s opening goal in the 5’ minute in a 1-1 draw against Minnesota United FC.
The initial service on the play came from Dax McCarty in the midfield. The Nashville captain lofted a long pass to the back post, where Mukhtar lunged to knock it over to the front of the net, where Sapong was waiting to bury it.
Sapong said his positioning on that play helped cap off the wonderful sequence with a goal.
“I wanted the original ball from Dax, but ultimately as a forward you want to keep moving towards the ball and keep putting yourself in a position to score,” Sapong said. “Hany [Mukhtar] did well to kick the ball in. After that my job was easy, just put it into the net.”
Mukhtar, Sapong and winger Randall Leal were responsible for nine of Nashville’s 12 shots on the night. Despite the pounding rain and adverse pitch conditions in the second half, the team took seven of its 12 shots in the second half.
Head Coach Gary Smith praised Mukhtar and Sapong’s collaboration on the night, while also giving credit to Leal for his contributions.
“Some really decent play,” Smith said. “Great to see the pair of them working together and putting themselves in such a positive position. CJ’s got off the mark, wonderful. I’ve got to say I thought Randall [Leal] was very, very bright tonight. He looked a real threat; he was a thorn in their side for pretty much most of the evening.”
After two matches on their season-opening road trip, the Boys in Gold have earned four points, their largest point haul through two matches in club history. Sapong says that the start is something to build on, even as the team finds its footing in the new season.
“I think we’ve helped ourselves, and we’re in a formation I don’t think a lot of teams have seen us in,” Sapong said. “We had some very good plays and very good opportunities that you can tell are missing a little bit of sharpness and a little bit of timing. To be able to be in the position where it's not quite firing on all cylinders but still have four out of six points, two away games, knowing that when the summer comes it's going to be a heavy home schedule, it gives us more confidence and opportunity to keep working on getting that sharpness.
“That means that ol’ Nashville SC home park will be nice and sharp and make it nice and fun for the fans there.”
Nashville SC’s season-opening road trip continues this Saturday at FC Dallas at 7:30 p.m. CT. Click here for broadcast information.