Wednesday night saw Nashville earn a point against Orlando. While the result was good, the connection between their two designated players was even more encouraging. Randall Leal and Hany Mukhtar worked in tandem to create Nashville’s goal, with the former burying the finish after Mukhtar put it on a plate.
“I’m very happy,” Leal told reporters following the match. “I’m very happy but we will go home disappointed because we want to win. But it’s ok. Now we have four points in two games.”
Fans have been critical of Nashville’s DPs at times this season, who up until last night had combined for a single assist, and none from open play. Seeing Nashville’s two highest-paid players combine to create a goal was a welcome sight after flashes of potential without a tangible result.
“I don’t feel pressure, to be honest,” shrugged Mukhtar. “I have always had high standards for myself to get better. For me personally, I never played with this heat, so for me that’s the biggest difference, and the league is very physical. I need to get used to it. It takes sometimes time. But I will do everything that I can do to do my best and to get there – to where I see me, and where other people see me.”
Nashville have endured a torrid expansion season, and the condensed schedule has allowed for little recovery time in between matches.
“Personally, for the moment, the games are too quick,” admitted Leal. “I think we have no time to do special things outside of training. I think we just play, training, sleep, play training, sleep. For the moment, we have to take care. A lot of games too quick.”
“We need to do everything because we have so many games now in a short period of time. Actually, I can’t even remember when we had the last time a day off. But it’s also a good thing because we have a lot of time where we need to take chemistry, so it’s good for us now to have the games. For me personally, I need to work harder, and then everything will come with time.”
Nashville’s start to the match was sluggish at best, with Mukhtar and Leal easily contained by Orlando.
” In the first period, it was far too easy for their defensive shape and team organization to deal with two of our most creative players,” said head coach Gary Smith.
“Randall spent too much time in front of defenders, and in a position where he’s easy to mark… Slightly different to Hany. When we’re building out, he’s got slightly more license to overload areas, but he’s at his very best when he’s behind midfield players, in front of defenders, getting in those half-pockets and on the half-turn, and asking questions of the backline. In the second half, he did that more often.”
When asked how the two DPs have adjusted to MLS, Smith was quick to defend his players.
“I think you’re seeing not just the team, but individuals as well warming to stadium, the city, their teammates, the league, their opponents. They’re understanding more and more – maybe Hany and Randall, more so for Hany. He’s come from Europe where I doubt very much he’s experienced the type of humidity and heat that he has to deal with every day of the week now. It puts a huge demand, with the travel, on any individual.
“I’ll be the first to be critical if need-be. But I think you’re seeing a group of players slowly but surely that are showing good signs, and they’re starting to show some form of identity.”