In Nashville SC's 3-0 win on Saturday night at GEODIS Park, the 2022 Landon Donovan MLS MVP scored twice from the penalty spot and added a third in second-half stoppage time. Of his three hat tricks in MLS, two have come against the Fire.
"I watched the videos that Nashville posted of my hat trick three years ago," he chuckled after the match. "It's always good motivation."
Any talk of Mukhtar's slow start to the season has been greatly exaggerated. With six goals and five assists, Mukhtar isn't only tied with Daniel Gazdag (Philadelphia), Thiago Almada (Atlanta) and Cristian Espinoza (San Jose) atop the combined goals and assists table (11). He's four goals ahead of his pace in 2022, in which he went on to lead MLS with a spectacular 23 goals and 11 assists en route to Golden Boot presented by Audi honors.
Nashville head coach Gary Smith was unsurprisingly effusive in praising his star man after the match.
"There is no doubt, you need a jewel in any crown, and he's certainly that," said Smith. "He's been wonderful for us, and today I think typifies that. ... This is not just the result of somebody turning up at the weekend and using their talent to the best degree. He works very hard in the week."
It puts Mukhtar back in familiar territory, tied for the league lead in combined goals and assists after leading the category in both 2021 and 2022.
For Mukhtar, though, it's much too early to think about that.
"We all know it's 34 games in a season," said Mukhtar, who sported the captain's armband in Walker Zimmerman's absence. "It's always nice to start well, but in the end it's how you finish the season. We're 11 games in. It's still very early. We have to keep going."
For Smith, he's hoping this is the start of what's become a trend for Mukhtar. In 2021 and 2022, the German attacker overcame relatively slow starts to lead MLS in combined goals and assists. In better form to start 2023, Smith can't help but be optimistic.
"After a couple of weekends of saying he maybe takes a little while to get into gear, I'm hoping this weekend might be the weekend where he goes into third of fourth gear and keeps going, and pulls away," said the Englishman.