After back-to-back winless results for Nashville SC, Hany Mukhtar guaranteed a three-point effort on Saturday, scoring a brace in a 3-1 victory at D.C. United that further fueled his Landon Donovan MLS MVP credentials.
It was his third match of the 2022 season with at least two goals and his eighth multi-goal performance since joining Nashville from Danish Superliga side Brønbdy for their expansion campaign. The Designated Player arrived in the Music City in 2020.
Despite tallying 16 goals and 12 assists in 2021, Mukhtar finished second in voting to New England Revolution midfielder Carles Gil for MVP honors, while finding himself three goals back of the Golden Boot presented by Audi pace set by NYCFC's Taty Castellanos. Saturday's brace gave him eight on the 2022 season, one back of San Jose's Jeremy Ebobisse and FC Dallas's Jesus Ferreira for the league lead.
In Nashville head coach Gary Smith's eyes, it's just the latest chapter in his star player's growth.
"His explosion onto the scene in Year 2 ... was phenomenal," Smith said after the match. "The strides that Hany made, not only in influencing our group, but influencing the way the team played, and of course the way he was received in the league from Year 1, was absolutely phenomenal."
While Mukhtar came to Nashville in an attacking midfielder role, he's evolved into an ever-dangerous forward alongside CJ Sapong, guided in part by assistant coach Steve Guppy.
"There's been a tremendous amount of hard work that's gone into his game, Hany being the main driving force behind that," Smith said. "The work that he puts in on the training field: astounding, and his relationship with Steve has been just as strong."
It's had a rising tide effect on his teammates, as well.
"I think it’s just a luxury to play with the guy," said defender Daniel Lovitz, who scored the opening goal at Audi Field Saturday. "He’s so dangerous anywhere he goes on the field and his freedom to move about and to create danger mostly through the middle obviously is where he does most of his work and he scores a lot of his goals.”
As for Smith, he made his feelings clear about where Mukhtar's hard work on the training ground, coupled with his on-field performance, places him in the MLS MVP ranks.
"I think the combination has given us a player ... that should be spoken about in any circles as one of the best players in the league, without a doubt," he said.
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