Three thoughts on Nashville SC spanking St. Louis CITY SC

On Saturday, Nashville SC raced away with a 3-1 victory over St. Louis CITY SC via another Hany Mukhtar hat trick. With 10 matches unbeaten, the Boys in Gold broke the club record for the longest unbeaten run in the club’s six-year professional history. 

Here are my three thoughts on the match. 

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More Mukhtar magic

In front of a sold-out crowd of 30,109 attendees, Hany Mukhtar put on yet another magical performance. 

Mukhtar delivered a hat trick of goals for the fourth time in his MLS career. He is the 12th player in league history to reach such a mark and is only two hat tricks away from tying the all-time record holder, Josef Martinez (6)

Mukhtar also became just the third player in league history to record at least 50 goals and thirty assists in a three-year span. With 82 goals and assists through two-and-half seasons, the German talisman sits only 10 goal contributions shy from tying Sebastian Giovinco’s record (92). 

At a certain point, I am going to sound like a broken record, but it is a point worth repeating. Mukhtar can no longer just be compared with his contemporaries. He warrants consideration among the all-time greats in league history. 

Odds are, Nashville SC will never have a player with a more dominant spell in the history of the club. It is easy to lose sight of that, especially for a young club and fanbase that has been spoiled by Mukhtar’s brilliance since Day 1. 

VAR from a legal perspective

On another day, one without Hany Mukhtar, the Video Assistant Referee becomes the lead story from this match. The first half featured two immensely consequential moments where the VAR stepped into the fray. 

The first video review came in the 7th minute after Jack Maher crashed into Nicholas Gioacchini inside the box. Head referee Nima Saghafi watched the sequence unfold 10 -15 yards ahead of him. On the field, he determined that no foul had occurred. Upon video check, the Video Assistant Referee, Carol Anne Chenard, recommended a further review of the incident. 

In my opinion, I think Maher fouled Gioacchini. Despite that, I believe Saghafi was correct in sticking with the call on the field after being summoned to the video board. While it appears to be a foul, the angles and frames shown do not provide sufficient evidence of a “clear and obvious error.”

While fans and broadcasters alike can spit out the phrase “clear and obvious error”, I find that many observers struggle to articulate what that means in practice. Being an attorney, my mind naturally drifts toward the legal standards of evidence that likely influenced the language used to formulate the FIFA Laws of the Game regarding Video Assistant Referee protocols. 

While many lay people are familiar with the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” thanks to an entertainment industry filled with police and legal procedurals, not many, outside the legal profession, are familiar with the “clear and convincing” evidentiary standard. 

“Clear and convincing” evidence must be highly and substantially more probable to be true than not and the person making such a decision must have a firm belief or conviction in its actuality.

By its nature, it is a harder standard to apply and naturally lands in a subjective gray area where reasonable minds may differ as to the probability of an event. 

I think that is exactly what occurred with Jack Maher’s possible foul on Gioacchini. Reasonable minds differed as to whether the evidence reached the threshold of being highly and substantially more probable than true. Sure, the Laws of the Game may articulate a standard. However, two or more people can and will weigh the same set of facts differently. For an on-field call to be overturned, two people, the head referee and the VAR, must both be convinced of the evidence of a “clear and obvious error.”  Even if the slow-motion replay looks more probable than not that a foul occurred, that determination is insufficient to meet the standard of review.

Based on the Laws of the Game and the evidentiary standard imposed, I believe Saghafi made the right decision not to overturn his call – even if Maher probably fouled Gioacchini. 

Moreover, I believe the second video review decision was correctly made, even if it went against Nashville. 

Crucially, the Assistant Referee raised his flag for offsides on Gioacchini. However, Head Referee Nima Saghafi did not signal for a handball on the field. That on-field refereeing decision dictated the burden of proof in the two-step review process. 

To overturn the offside call, the VAR needed to find a “clear and obvious error”, which they did by showing video evidence that the initial ball into the box never touched a CITY SC player. After it was established that Gioacchini was onside, Saghafi would have needed to see a “clear and obvious” handball for a goal not to be awarded.

The burden of proof lays with proving the existence of a handling infraction and not the reverse because it relates back to the call on the field. No handball call was made immediately following the sequence, so the default position was that no handball infraction occurred. Unless Saghafi highly and substantially believed with a firm conviction that it was more probable to be a handball than not, he had to stick with “no call” on the field. Based on the slow-motion video, Saghafi made the correct decision as the evidence certainly did not show a “clear and obvious error”.  

Ultimately, the original, on-field decision proved critical in both VAR reviews. FIFA established a high burden of proof for overturning such calls, and Saghafi correctly applied those standards to his decision after reviewing the monitor. 

Shaffelburg changed the game

I’m going to make this one quick. 

Jacob Shaffelburg entered at halftime and turned the game on its head. CITY SC found no answer for slowing down the speedy Shaffelburg as he routinely found space racing past their backline. 

Shaffelburg’s impact was noted both by Gary Smith after the match and by St. Louis commentators as well. 

The Canadian’s elite speed continues to pose massive problems for opposing backlines and unlocks another level to Nashville’s deadly counterattacking ability. 

Bonus thought

That Dax McCarty pass encapsulates exactly why there is still a place for him on this team and in this league. Even if he may have lost a step physically, his mind is operating a step faster than everyone else around him. 

Author: Chris IveyChris is a senior writer covering Nashville SC. His writings focus on the team at large and often navigate the complexity of roster building around the myriad of MLS rules. Outside of Broadway Sports Media, Chris resides in Knoxville and is a licensed attorney. Beyond NSC, he is always willing to discuss Tennessee football and basketball, Coventry City, and USMNT. Follow Chris on Twitter

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