It took a connection between two big-game players to take the lead.
It took a full team effort to lock it down.
Nashville SC defeated CF Montréal 1-0 on Saturday night thanks to a Walker Zimmerman headed goal on the end of a Hany Mukhtar cross in the 66’ minute. The win vaulted Nashville to sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference and 11 points above the Major League Soccer Cup Playoff line.
Head Coach Gary Smith lauded Zimmerman’s leadership and capabilities in a crucial match against another playoff contender, especially after two weeks in U.S. Men’s National Team camp.
“His presence alone lifts others around him,” Smith said. “He’s an organizer, he’s a leader, and the example he sets is just such a high one. He looked composed on the ball, he looked a threat in the air and was physically dominant. And let’s keep in mind he traveled with [the USMNT], he’s not had any football and his preparation time will have been limited. So to come in here today and play 90 minutes at the level he has – and, in fairness, win the game – has been monumental for us. Again, just underlines his importance to the group.”
With an assist on Zimmerman’s goal, Mukhtar put himself atop the league in combined goals and assists, passing Sporting Kansas City’s Dániel Sallói. Mukhtar has a goal and/or assist in each of the last six starts, including a pair of goals last weekend against New York City FC.
Smith said Mukhtar showed his full range of abilities Saturday night in Montreal alongside a new midfield pairing behind him.
“Hany has the capability of not just getting on the ball, but controlling the pace of the game,” Smith said. “And there were spells in that first period that the industry of [Matt] LaGrassa, and [Brian] Anunga was complemented with Hany’s technical ability. We’re seeing an individual who’s more and more confident.”
After the goal in the 66’ minute, Nashville SC’s defense locked in to preserve the result and goalkeeper Joe Willis’ league-leading 10th clean sheet of the season. The Boys in Gold blocked or saved four Montréal shots after the Nashville goal, in addition to three missed shots by the home side.
Smith praised his team’s tenacity to see the result all the way through.
“When these guys are asked to roll their sleeves up and to really put their bodies on the line, I feel you start to see the true value of this group,” Smith said. “There are other things that we’ve done well, but the core determination of this group came through tonight, and we needed that. There were some pressurized spells, and we saw some very, very good defending.”
Nashville SC’s road spell rolls on this Saturday night when the Boys in Gold travel back to Canada to take on Toronto FC. Catch the match at 6:30 p.m. CT on MyTV30 and NashvilleSC.com/stream.