Nashville SC’s playoff hopes got a huge liftoff in Houston, with a breakout performance from Hany Mukhtar catalyzing a 3-1 win over the Dynamo.
Gary Smith raised some eyebrows with the starting lineup. Walker Zimmerman didn’t make the squad after coming off with an issue against Sporting KC last weekend. In the absence of a key player, Smith switched to a back five, giving second-overall SuperDraft pick Jack Maher his first start, and playing Taylor Washington and Eric Miller as wingbacks.
The lineup may have raised some questions, but the first half performance put those to bed.
Fifteen minutes in, Hany Mukhtar played a quick one-two pass with Abu Danladi in the center of the field. Nashville’s no. 10 took a quick touch around a defender, before tucking a composed finish in at the far post. It was Mukhtar’s first goal since the 4-2 win over Atlanta 32 days prior.
Four minutes later, Danladi added another. After some nice buildup play involving Mukhtar and Matt LaGrassa, Taylor Washington found himself in space on the left wing. The defender took a positive touch and whipped in a perfect cross to find Danladi, who headed home emphatically from close range.
Things got even better for Nashville in the 23rd minute. Again, Mukhtar was at the center. The midfielder drove at Houston’s defense, drawing a free kick just outside Houston’s box. Mukhtar took the set piece and curled an inch-perfect shot into the top corner, leaving Marko Marić completely stranded.
Watch it again. And again. And again. And again. pic.twitter.com/Nz23h6xKVd— Nashville SC (@NashvilleSC) October 15, 2020
At halftime, Smith brought off both Mukhtar and Danladi, replacing them with Derrick Jones and Randall Leal. Nashville continued to created, with Leal, Alex Muyl and Matt LaGrassa testing the goal.
Houston pushed numbers forward to find an equalizer, and although they had a couple decent efforts, they left plenty of space behind them, giving Nashville plenty of opportunities to isolate defenders on the counter.
Jhonder Cádiz got his first taste of MLS action, coming on in the 70th minute. The Designated Player nearly got the perfect start to his MLS career, getting on the end of a ball over the top from Washington, but taking a heavy touch that saw the chance go missing.
Houston pulled one back in the 75th minute. Substitute Christian Ramirez played a short pass through to Darwin Quintero, who found himself in a half-yard of space in the box. The winger controlled the ball before poking home a well-placed finish past Joe Willis to pull within two goals of Nashville.
Nashville was forced into a couple scrambles in their box late in the match, but were able to keep Houston from finding the net. The 3-1 win pushes Nashville into eighth place in the East, two points clear of the playoff line. The Boys In Gold will have a long recovery period, playing their next match at home on Tuesday, October 20 against FC Dallas.
With a congested schedule down the stretch, and some tough opponents on the horizon, the win will go a long way towards boosting Nashville’s chances at the playoffs.
“It’s extremely difficult in a season that’s been so unnatural to be perfect about a number that we need to hit,” Smith pointed out, speaking about his goal for the regular season. “But [26 points] seems like a benchmark for the group.”
“Tonight’s win puts us in a position we might not have expected to be in before we got on the plane.”
Shots: Houston 18 – 16 Nashville
Shots on goal: Houston 6 – 7 Nashville
Expected goals: Houston 0.85 – 1.09 Nashville
Goals: Houston 1 – 3 Nashville
Possession: Houston 63.2% – 36.8% Nashville
Yellow cards: Houston 2 – 1 Nashville
Red cards: Houston 0 – 0 Nashville