0827 NSH sider

On August 14, Nashville SC dropped a 2-1 decision to Minnesota United FC, a sixth-straight non-winning result for the Boys in Gold.

After claiming just three of a possible 18 points in that span, Nashville suddenly have the look of a group that may be putting the pieces together with the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs looming.

With a 3-0 win over 10-man Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday evening at BC Place, the Music City side, in search of a third playoff trip in as many seasons in MLS, currently sit in 5th place in the Western Conference on 39 points, having won their last two matches by a combined scoreline of 7-0.

"I would say [it's] one of the results of the season at a very important time," Nashville head coach Gary Smith said. "The first half was one of the best first halves I've seen from the team away from home. Of course the goals make a difference, but the way we controlled good periods of the game, frustrated Vancouver, and [had] some terrific displays...was wonderful to see."

Two of Nashville's three goals came from an unlikely source: Jack Maher. The former US youth international entered the evening with a single goal in his professional career, but finished the night with a brace.

And as unexpected as Maher's brace may have been, Hany Mukhtar, as usual, made his presence felt in the Nashville attack. The Landon Donovan MLS MVP candidate recorded a pair of assists on the evening to give himself double-digit helpers for the campaign while becoming just the 15th player in MLS history to total at least 10 goals and 10 assists in multiple seasons.

"He is absolutely all-in on chasing down this MVP award, and also, I think more importantly, getting us above the line and into a challenging position, or maybe a more appreciative position in the league, when we can make the most of any playoff situation we might get into," Smith said of Mukhtar, mentioning the German was "distraught" when coming off the pitch in the 66th minute.

Clicking at the right time

Meanwhile, Nashville's recent offensive surge, and the fact they've recorded clean sheets in back-to-back matches for the first time this season while holding their last two opponents without a shot on target, appears to be a sign of the team finally being rewarded after coming up short in previous games.

"I think whenever we look back at our performances and we didn't quite get the results, we were playing very well," Maher said, reflecting on Nashville's past struggles. "And I think that now we're starting to get some of the bounces, and it's good fortune, good luck, whatever you want to call it. But it came at the right time."

After a return to GEODIS Park on Wednesday to host the Colorado Rapids (8 p.m. ET, MLS LIVE on ESPN+), Nashville have Supporters' Shield-leading LAFC, a pair of matches home and away to second-place Austin FC and playoff hopeful LA Galaxy in their final six matches.

Smith, who said in July a playoff berth would be NSC's "biggest achievement" since his arrival in 2018 to manage the then-second division club, expressed little doubt his team would remain grounded in the stretch drive of the regular season.

"The guys, if you like, have got the bit between their teeth," Smith said. "They can see these final games are going to be a challenge, no doubt about that...I think we're in a position, and maybe for the first time in a little while, in a place of confidence and positivity that the players will be looking forward to these challenges now."

"Honestly, with a veteran group of guys, we always knew how good a soccer team we are," added Maher. "Having made the playoffs the past two years, it gives us that understanding of what we need to do, the output we need to put in every single training session, every single game, and that hasn't wavered.

"We've been consistent in that tough time and we realized the bounces weren't going our way...Now it's good to be trending in the right direction again."