Coming into their Week 18 match on Wednesday night, Nashville SC had scored just three away goals all season. Thanks to Designated Player Hany Mukhtar, they doubled that total in a resounding 3-1 win over the Houston Dynamo.
The three points pushed the expansion side above the playoff line and into 8th place in the East, while giving them a desperately needed morale boost after a four-game winless run.
“It goes without saying that first off, display was absolutely sensational from the group," said Nashville head coach Gary Smith after the match. "And when you take into consideration the amount of changes, the changing team shape — but the output and the professionalism to give that sort of display with just two days of preparation is remarkable. You know, these guys for me tonight are absolute heroes. They put so much into that."
Highlights: Houston Dynamo 1, Nashville SC 3
For a team that started 1W-4L-1D, Nashville are coming on strong going 4W-2L-5D since, steadily gaining points and climbing up the standings.
To qualify for the postseason in their inaugural season is no longer feeling farfetched. Nashville even have a magic number in mind.
“The analytic background work that has been done — of course is extremely difficult in a season that is so unnatural to be perfect about any number — that we need to hit but that [26 points] seems to be a bit of a benchmark for the group,” Smith said.
With performances like Mukhtar's on Wednesday, you can't blame them for dreaming big. The German attacker was Nashville's marquee signing when he joined last August and in Houston he logged what was arguably his strongest performance since arriving at the club, finishing with two goals on the night.
WATCH: Mukhtar's incredible brace
“I'm happy that I could help the team with the first goal," said Mukhtar after the match. "And the most important is that we are coming close to the playoffs spots. And I think for us as a team, it's very important that we see that we are able to score goals and be able to play attractive football.”
NSC will now head home for four of the next five matches and they hope to have Walker Zimmerman back in the starting XI after he missed Wednesday night's match. One player Gary Smith knows he will have is Jhonder Cadiz, after the new Designated Player striker made his first appearance against Houston.
"Once he gets a little sharper and more up to speed you can see he’s got that trick and disguise to go beyond someone and turn the pace," Smith said. "Everything that we all saw in Jhonder, I think he’s soaring in very small doses there and he’s obviously he’s not fully fit athletically, but it’s great to see him in the group.
"Again a really big lift for all the other guys out there around the team and you can imagine the fellas in the locker room tonight are absolutely bowled over with their performance and excited for what comes next now.”