Hany Mukhtar: “We can be a very dangerous team”

Could things be looking up for Nashville SC?

Seven games into the 2024 MLS season, they’re in 14th place in the Eastern Conference with just one win. Only four teams out of the league’s 29 clubs have started the year with fewer points. Nashville have struggled to defend at their usual standard, and their attack hasn’t been able to lift them past the two-goal deficits they’ve often found themselves in.

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Injuries have been brutal. Daniel Lovitz, Lukas MacNaughton, Randall Leal, Sam Surridge, Hany Mukhtar, Tyler Boyd, Shaq Moore and Walker Zimmerman, all first-choice names on Gary Smith’s team sheet, have missed a combined 32 matches due to injury in 2024. That’s hard for any team to overcome.

The Coyotes had last week off, a much-needed bye week after Concacaf Champions Cup crowded their calendar early in the year. With the squad rounding into health, there’s a chance Smith could have his best team available for the first time this season.

For Smith, that can’t come soon enough.

“If you look at the way that we have the ability to maneuver off the bench, for example, I think we’ve seen goals go in late in games more often than we’ve seen before,” he said in the team’s matchday-minus-two media availability. “Make no mistake, the medical department have been under more pressure than they have been before to get these players back.”

The good news for Nashville is that their key players should be back quickly. Tyler Boyd missed the last two matches with an unspecified hip injury, while Randall Leal has missed the entire season after re-aggravating a hamstring issue on international duty. Since the start of the 2023 season, Leal has played just 24.3% of possible minutes for Nashville SC. With Walker Zimmerman and Shaq Moore also closing in on a return, Nashville should have a much different look.

“You guys know me. I like to be high up the field in the last third of the pitch,” said Hany Mukhtar. “I think now with Randall coming slowly back and Tyler Boyd coming back to the team, that we find our way that me and Sam [Surridge] can stay a little bit higher, being more effective higher up the field, and getting the balls from our midfielders in the attacking third to create chances and score goals.”

Certainly Mukhtar has been forced into deeper positions this season, simply because Leal and Boyd’s absences have deprived Nashville of a real connector. They haven’t had a consistent way to get Mukhtar the ball close to goal, and so Mukhtar’s sacrificed his preferred position near goal in order to find the ball. As a result, the attack has looked stagnant.

Surprisingly, though, Mukhtar’s numbers aren’t far from his normal level. In fact, he’s had his second-best start to a league season, contributing a solid 0.76 goals and assists per 90 minutes played this season. Through seven games, he’s only bettered that once.

“In the past I’ve never had the fastest start of the season,” he laughed. “I think it’s very important how you how you finish the season. I had a small injury beginning of the season and I was not fully fit. Now I’m getting back and I feel much better. I feel very healthy now.”

There’s been a lot of pessimism around this Nashville SC side, and rightly so. They haven’t been good to start the season, and the defensive issues are worrying for a side that has been so consistently elite at the back, regardless of which players are on the field.

But for all the concern, there are a few strands of hope fans can grab onto. If Mukhtar can continue the trend he’s established over the last four seasons of getting hot late in the spring and into the summer, combined with what should be the most complete group of complementary attackers he’s ever had finally healthy and on the field, things could change quickly.

“It’s so important to have a couple different players who can score goals,” he said. “And yeah, I have to get back to scoring goals.”

“I think with Randall, with Tyler coming back, with a little bit more creative power, we can be a very dangerous team.”

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids. Mastodon

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