After a year of waiting to announce himself to the MLS world, Hany Mukhtar finally received his All-Star moment.
Tied 2-2 with the best of LigaMX, Mukhtar struck the crossbar and scored a victory for Team MLS in the All-Star Skills Challenge.
This week was a coming-out party for Mukhtar on a national stage in a pair of made-for social media events.
A year ago, Muktar was shockingly not selected for the 2021 version of MLS’ All-Star festivities. Mukhtar, undeterred, finished the year with 16 goals / 12 assists and second in the league’s MVP vote.
On the field, he established himself as one of the league’s premier players. But off the field, it still felt like Mukhtar never received the credit he deserved.
There are a variety of factors that go into that perception. Like the Music City’s other football star, Derrick Henry, playing in a smaller-sized media market means national media will tend to gloss over his accomplishments in favor of players and teams from Los Angeles, New York, and other big coastal cities.
More unique to MLS, Mukhtar didn’t arrive with the same level of fanfare as many of his All-Star counterparts. He never played for one of the world’s biggest clubs and only featured a handful of times as a young player in the Bundesliga. Mukhtar came to Nashville by way of Brøndby IF of the Danish Superliga, where he picked up Player of the Season honors in 2018. I’m a binge soccer watcher, and even I cannot tell you what streaming service, if any, has the Danish Superliga broadcasting rights in the United States.
Mukhtar also hasn’t had the benefit of national team appearances to boost his Q-Rating. Teammate Walker Zimmerman’s profile has dramatically raised since arriving in Nashville, becoming the USMNT’s first-choice center back during that time. It exposes a player to a national audience that may not always tune into a regular season MLS match not featuring their favorite team.
Mukhtar probably won’t ever get that chance. The Berlin-born playmaker, while immensely talented, will not garner consideration for the German National Team. Mukhtar has flirted in the past with representing Sudan, his father’s homeland, but has yet to accept a call-up. Even then, representing the Sudanese would do little to boost Mukhtar’s profile here in the United States.
Without the benefit of a big market, flashy arrival, or national team platform, Mukhtar has flown under the radar relative to his skill level and raw statistics. He led MLS in goal contributions in 2021 and is on pace to challenge for that crown once again. Barring an unfortunate injury, Mukhtar will become just the fifteenth player in MLS history to compile multiple 10 goals / 10 assists seasons, joining a who’s who of players like Diego Valeri, Sebastian Giovinco, Thierry Henry, and Preki. It is genuinely rarefied air among MLS stars of the past.
With Mukhtar’s performance this week, albeit in a pair of light-hearted competitions, he may finally start receiving the same accolades and adoration as other elite MLS players of both the present and the past.
Last night in the MLS All-Star Game, Mukhtar featured for 30 minutes. In his time on the pitch, he connected the MLS attack progressing the ball forward to spark a few dangerous sequences. In the 54th minute, he slipped in a perfectly waited ball to FC Cincinnati’s Brandon Vázquez, who in turn found Paul Arriola alone in the middle of the box to slot home the would-be second goal.
The goal was eventually disallowed; Vazquez had narrowly strayed offside. But regardless of the offside flag, it was another moment on the national stage for Mukhtar to flash his vision and creative ability to unlock an opposing defense.
While his play on the field does plenty of talking for itself, a shout-out from color commentator Taylor Twellman helped to further boost the narrative around Mukhtar. On ESPN‘s broadcast, Twellman was effusive in his praise of Mukhtar, stating:
What a signing he has been for Nashville. Mike Jacobs deserves a ton of credit. Less than $3 million dollars to bring in a player that for the last two years has 29 goals and 20 assists. When you look at what you get for the dollar that you pay, Hany Mukhtar has been a top-five signing in this league, and he has delivered in a variety of ways. During the skills competition, Walker Zimmerman, his teammate in Nashville, was talking about the impact he has on the field. He surprised a few people with I think how well he has been in the final third, but a great signing for Gary Smith and Nashville.
It’s lofty praise from perhaps the league’s most influential and recognizable voice. But it’s also completely deserved. As Nashville supporters have long known, Hany Mukhtar is an elite MLS attacker capable of dissecting opponents in a variety of ways. After Mukhtar’s All-Star moment in Minnesota, the rest of the league appears finally ready to crown him as one of the elites of MLS.