Twenty-eight matches, 19 goals, 11 assists.
Hany Mukhtar is having a career year for Nashville SC, and his hat-trick for the Coyotes in a 4-1 win over the Colorado Rapids has reignited his campaign for the 2022 Landon Donovan MLS MVP award.
"You guys know what time it is. It’s award season," midfielder Dax McCarty told the media Wednesday evening in a three-minute long stump speech that left Mukhtar requesting for McCarty to serve as his attorney. "I think it’s incumbent on myself to come up here as the team captain and talk about how important Hany Mukhtar has been to our club this year, and not just this year, but for the past three years."
Mukhtar = "irreplaceable"
It's hard to overstate just how important Mukhtar has been since arriving in Nashville for their 2020 expansion season. Signed as the first Designated Player in club history, the Berlin-born playmaker has stunned the league, fans and even Nashville's own staff by just how dominant he's been on the pitch.
Since 2020, he's played 79 league and Audi MLS Cup Playoffs matches, scored 43 goals and assisted another 27. His combined 70 goals and assists account for a whopping 53% of Nashville's total attacking output.
"If you break down what the most valuable player award means, I think it’s a guy who’s absolutely irreplaceable on his team," said McCarty. "I don’t think anyone’s going to sit up here and argue that this guy’s not irreplaceable for us."
Nashville head coach Gary Smith agrees. He's been beating this drum since last season.
"I thought last year there was no other person that should’ve got that accolade," he said on July 13, after a 1-0 win over Seattle Sounders FC in which Mukhtar scored the only goal. "I think he’s hitting the sort of standard and heights that he hit last year, and he was exceptional last year. If you’re talking about a player that means more to his team than he does to ours, I can’t think of one. I really can’t think of one. And that surely is what the trophy is all about."
And while some players avoid publicly speaking about individual awards, Mukhtar isn't shying away from the obvious.
"I want to be very successful with the team, but I’m not going to lie: I want to win also MVP. That’s my personal goal," Mukhtar admitted. "I just want to be successful here, and I want to give my best, my performance, and that’s what I do every training, every game. I give my best. I think that if I do that, I can achieve and I will achieve to be the MVP of the league."
WATCH: Hany Mukhtar with another hatty! Nashville SC’s star can’t stop scoring
Driussi vs. Mukhtar
With a hat-trick against Colorado, his fifth multi-goal game this season, Mukhtar and Austin FC's Sebastián Driussi are neck-and-neck at the front of the MVP race. Driussi has 20 goals to Mukhtar's 19 to stake a Golden Boot presented by Audi lead, but with seven assists compared to Mukhtar's 11.
The two spent plenty of time together at MLS All-Star Week in Minnesota, and while Mukhtar left an admirer of Austin's talisman, he's firmly focused on the job at hand.
"He's an amazing player," Mukhtar said. "But I just have to focus on me, because in the end I have to play my best game. I’m getting paid here. I’m getting paid here to perform and play [well]."
And playing well he is. Not just on an individual season level, but on a pace that's rarely been seen in MLS. Mukhtar recently became just the 15th player in MLS history to notch double-digit goals and assists in multiple seasons, joining a veritable Mt. Rushmore of MLS attacking talent. McCarty didn't shy away from the comparisons.
"In terms of MLS, he’s right up there, in my opinion. Guys like Robbie Keane. A guy I played with, Thierry Henry. Guys like Sebastian Giovinco. These guys were transcendent, not only on their teams, but in MLS as well," gushed McCarty. "There’s a lot of great players in this league, a lot of guys that are deserving of being talked about as MVP candidates.
"My favorite players in this league, guys like [Emanuel] Reynoso, Driussi, [Daniel] Gazdag, all these guys have fantastic résumés. But none of them come close to what [Mukhtar] has done over the last two seasons, and that’s inarguable."
The next chapter in the 2022 MVP race will be written in Music City. Mukhtar's Nashville takes on Driussi's Austin on Saturday at GEODIS Park (8:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), pitting the two MVP frontrunners head to head in a matchup with major playoff implications. Austin are comfortably second in the West, while Nashville have won three straight to reach fifth place.
For Mukhtar, it's just the next in a long series of hurdles on the way to the ultimate goal: raising MLS Cup on Nov. 5.
"We have goals in this club," he said. "We’re here to win something and to compete, and I think we’re on the right way. We’re by far not where we want to be, there’s no doubt. We have to be realistic enough. But I think we can achieve great things."