An early attacking onslaught, across nine first-half minutes, put the visitors up nearly as soon as the match had started, dooming Colorado to their first regular-season loss at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park since April 24, 2021.
“I thought the first half was sensational,” said Nashville head coach Gary Smith. “I don’t think we could have achieved an awful lot more than we did in that first period.”
The loss puts Colorado on the wrong side of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line, albeit with plenty of time to turn things around. Manager Robin Fraser’s side stunned MLS by winning the Western Conference’s regular-season crown in 2021. And while they have a clear structure and vision in place, the lack of significant offseason moves (combined with departures) raised questions about their ability to repeat.
Nashville are heading in the other direction. They kept their heads above water during their eight-match road trip to start the year, have turned home games into points at brand-new GEODIS Park, and navigated a brutal stretch of eight games in 28 days to push up to fifth place in the Western Conference table. It was also the first match back in Colorado for Smith, who won the Rapids their sole MLS Cup in 2010.
The Coyotes’ recent resurgence has coincided with that of Hany Mukhtar. The 2021 Landon Donovan MLS MVP runner-up has scored six goals and assisted another two in his last six matches across all competitions, showing just why he’s one of the most dangerous attackers in MLS.
“I think he’s getting back into that groove that we saw last year,” said Smith. “Having Hany firing on all cylinders is really the tipping point for the group."
Mukhtar’s partner in crime isn’t to be outdone, either. CJ Sapong scored the opening goal in Colorado and shows no signs of slowing down after finding a second wind in Music City.
The MLS veteran scored 12 goals after signing with Nashville last offseason. He’s scored six in all competitions so far in 2022, seemingly on his way to breaking his streak of not scoring double-digit goals in consecutive years.
Sapong has formed a special partnership with Mukhtar. The duo have set each other up to score 13 times in their season-and-a-half together, one of the most dangerous frontlines in Major League Soccer.
“Those two, when they’re working together and things are clicking, look as good as any frontline in the league,” said Smith. “Hany’s capable of creating something out of nothing. CJ’s abilities and industry make him a constant threat. He’s a tremendous team player but has found this wonderful connection with Hany. They’ve been incredibly important to where we’re going. We’ve seen it in the past and I’m sure we’ll see it in the future as to what we achieve.”
Just as Mukhtar and Sapong have displayed their electric connection, the Coyotes have shown flashes of their potential. With a home-heavy schedule remaining, a formidable defense and an MVP-caliber attacker, the sky could be the limit for Nashville SC.