MVP battle, Round 2: Hany Mukhtar again “instrumental” against Sebastian Driussi

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The 2022 Landon Donovan MLS MVP race continues to be razor tight.

Facing off for the second time in two weeks, frontrunners Hany Mukhtar and Sebastián Driussi each made their mark, scoring for their respective sides as Nashville SC and Austin FC played to a 1-1 draw Saturday evening at Q2 Stadium.

While both players found the back of the net, Nashville head coach Gary Smith, who has endorsed Mukhtar as the league’s MVP this year, felt his player was the better of the two on the evening.

“I’ve got to say, I’m focusing on my team first-and-foremost, therefore I can tell you that I thought Hany was terrific,” Smith said during his post-game press conference. “Yet again, he’s been instrumental in us earning points. Anything that was good through the middle of the field, for sure he was involved in. And he’s on his nerve and showing exactly what he’s capable of.”

“I saw Driussi in the other group produce some nice moments," Smith continued. "… He’s made a difference for them as well, so maybe it’s honors even today, but I honestly thought that Hany was the more productive individual on the day for us in the way that the game unfolded. But you wouldn’t expect anything less though would you from me?”

Mukhtar helped the visitors open the scoring in the 56th minute, first winning a penalty on a blistering counter-attack before stepping up to the spot and converting for his league-leading 23rd goal of the season. The German attacking midfielder leads all MLS players with 34 goal contributions (23 goals, 11 assists) and has either scored or assisted on 68% of Nashville’s goals this season.

After his two-goal performance in Nashville’s 3-0 win over Austin on Sept. 3 at GEODIS PARK, it’s an aggregate advantage to Mukhtar.

But to his credit, Driussi refused to go down without a fight. Five minutes after Mukhtar’s opener Saturday, the Argentine midfielder drew Austin back level. Off a corner kick, Driussi brought the ball down at the back post before beating Nashville ‘keeper Joe Willis.

The goal was the 26-year-old star’s 21st of the season, as he trails Mukhtar by two goals for the top spot in the Golden Boot presented by Audi race heading into Week 33. Driussi had gone a rare three-game stretch without scoring.

"He's able to find goals, he's able to contribute in a lot of ways," Austin head coach Josh Wolff said of Driussi. "I was glad that the got his goal tonight. For him, that's a long dry spell."

With two matches still to play, there is still much to be decided as both players will make their final push in their case to capture their first MVP award. Several players from the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union, including midfielder Daniel Gazdag and goalkeeper Andre Blake, are in the conversation as well.

Following the September international break, Driussi and Austin visit a surging Vancouver Whitecaps FC side on Oct. 1 (10 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), while Mukhtar and Nashville play host to Houston Dynamo FC on Oct. 2 (8:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).

Driussi's Verde & Black are into the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time and have a home game locked up, while Mukhtar's Coyotes are on the verge of a third-straight postseason trip.