It's a sight worth getting used to. The pair will continue to be the club’s cornerstones as they debut at the new stadium, after all.
Nashville SC announced contract extensions for Mukhtar and Zimmerman on Friday, just two days before the club play their first match at GEODIS Park vs. the Philadelphia Union (4 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes). The deals run through the 2025 season and Ingram couldn’t have been more delighted.
“One of the things important to me was that I wanted to build something sustainable, not just a flash in the pan,” Ingram told the media at a press conference. “I don’t know how you build something sustainable if you don’t keep your best players.”
Mukhtar was signed as Nashville’s first Designated Player from Denmark's Brondby and was a finalist for the 2021 Landon Donovan MLS MVP award. Zimmerman was acquired as their defensive anchor in a blockbuster trade from LAFC and has won MLS Defender of the Year in both his seasons with Nashville. The pair were MLS Best XI picks last season.
“I wanted to stay here long term, this is where I belong,” Mukhtar said. “I’m here to help the team, we’re built to win, I’m here to win silverware.”
Mukhtar, 27, has 22 goals and 20 assists in 54 regular-season matches with the club, leading them to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs (and wins in the playoffs) both seasons. He has two goals and four assists this campaign.
Zimmerman, 28, is regarded as the best defender in the league, making 55 regular-season appearances for Nashville as he's become a mainstay with the US men's national team. He was a crucial cog in a successful World Cup qualifying campaign and seems a lock for the USMNT's plane to Qatar.
With the pair as driving forces under manager Gary Smith, alongside a core of Dax McCarty, Anibal Godoy, Dave Romney, Randall Leal, Daniel Lovitz and others, Nashville have experienced immediate success in MLS. They set a record for the fewest goals allowed per game by an expansion team in 2020, then last year became one of a few teams in MLS history to remain unbeaten at home all season. Both seasons have ended with a playoff run.
“I think we’ve had a lot more success than people would have thought,” Ingram said. “Usually an expansion side is supposed to take their whoopings and just be happy to be there, but we’ve given more than we’ve got.”
Zimmerman’s deal will make him a DP, a rarity for defenders in this league; the USMNT defender is just the fourth center back to be given this roster status. The vast majority of DP spots typically go to attackers, but the club showed Zimmerman just how much they value him.
“It’s incredibly humbling that they’d commit to me in that way,” Zimmerman said. “You look at the league and the amount of attacking talent, you’ve got to have guys who can stop them, right? I’m proud to have this deal done as a center back, I don’t take that lightly. Hopefully other defenders can see this and have hope.”
“I don’t know anyone who better deserves to be a DP than (Zimmerman),” Ingram added.
At the press conference Friday, occasionally an answer would get briefly interrupted by noise coming from Zimmerman’s baby boy Tucker, causing the trio on stage to break seriousness with a smile. Mukhtar’s fiancée was sitting next to Zimmerman’s wife as well. That feeling of family and comfortableness underpinned most of what Zimmerman and Mukhtar said about why they jumped at the chance to pledge their futures to the club and city.
With their futures set, Zimmerman and Mukhtar insist the work is just beginning. They’re hungry for more, specifically trophies.
“We’re not going to get complacent,” Zimmerman said. “I know Hany, I know his mentality. We’re not saying we made it. No, this is just the beginning. I’ve always felt a responsibility to Nashville to deliver and that’s only increased now.”