Hany Mukhtar and Nashville SC extinguished the Chicago Fire with a dominating 3-0 victory. The aforementioned Mukhtar scored all three goals for the Coyotes, his third hat trick in MLS and his second against Chicago.
Here are my three thoughts on the match.
Hany Mukhtar, the reigning Most Valuable Player, delivered another masterpiece against Chicago. For the second time, Mukhtar notched a hat trick against the Fire.
At a certain point, you start running out of superlatives to describe Mukhtar. His performances are the stuff of legends. Mukhtar should conjure up debate as to his place among league icons and not just comparisons to his contemporaries.
For all Mukhtar’s greatness, last night was just as much about his growth as a player.
Mukhtar was a dreadful penalty kick taker in his first few seasons with Nashville. At this time one year ago, I wrote about Nashville’s penalty problem.
As of April 2022, Muktar had missed four of his six attempts from the penalty spot with Nashville. A 33% conversion rate was not going to cut it.
To his credit, Mukhtar briefly ceded penalty kick duties to Randall Leal, which resulted in the Costa Rican making history books as the first Nashville player to score in GEODIS Park.
After the spell away from the spot, Mukhtar altered his penalty kick approach. His footwork appears more deliberate and his eyes are more focused on the ball rather than the keeper.
Since resuming penalty kick duties, Mukhtar has a perfect record from the spot – eight goals from eight attempts.
It is this type of growth as a player that impresses me most.
No Walker, no problem
Saturday’s team sheet delivered quite a shock. Walker Zimmerman’s name was missing entirely from the lineup.
As clarified after the match, Zimmerman sustained a small knock in training on Friday. Accordingly, he was held out of the match in what Gary Smith insisted was a precaution.
In Zimmerman’s absence, Lukas MacNaughton made his Nashville SC debut.
The defender arrived in Tennessee less than two weeks ago as part of the C.J. Sapong trade. Following the season-ending injury to Nick DePuy, it was imperative that the Coyotes add experienced depth to the backline. MacNaughton was the answer to that problem.
While MacNaughton arrived with less-than-glowing reviews from those in Toronto, he proved to be a capable backup against Chicago.
It’s easy to look competent in a new team when the other ten players around you have committed to the defensive system as a whole.
After another brilliant defensive performance against Chicago, Nashville SC has continued its record-setting pace for the fewest goals conceded in a season.
A long-term tactical plan?
A lot has been made of Nashville’s recent foray into a 4-4-2 diamond. We have highlighted it here at Broadway Sports Media, and it has been dissected by every other NSC outlet, podcast, and message board for the past two weeks.
After a third-straight week of Gary Smith deploying a diamond to start a match, I can’t help but wonder if we are seeing Nashville slowly transition to its new long-term tactical plan.
Perhaps Nashville’s already identified summer transfer window targets fit this tactical evolution.
It would not be the first time that Nashville tipped its hand. Last year, Nashville began shifting away from a three-center-back formation to a traditional four-man backline prior to Shaq Moore’s arrival.
Moore was a long-time target for Mike Jacobs. Moore was identified as someone who could allow Gary Smith to return to the four-man backline that he has long preferred. Moore made his Nashville debut on July 30th last year. However, Smith began the switch to a four-man backline in early June. For the next two months, Nashville toggled between the two different formations in anticipation of Moore’s arrival.
If Nashville has identified transfer targets that the coaching and technical staff believe will usher in a new tactical era, Gary Smith may be sowing the seeds for that switch.
The counterpoint to this speculation is the common thread since the LAFC match. Sean Davis has not started the last four matches.
With Nashville’s most active defensive presence in the midfield unavailable, Gary Smith may have compensated by sliding Muyl into the midfield. The diamond adds an extra body to congest the center of the park helping to replace the lost defensive work without Davis.
Personally, I am fascinated to see if this setup continues and what it means for Nashville moving forward.
It was great to see Nashville’s players stick around the pitch for the Special Olympics Unified Team match.
Having volunteered for several years with a similar event in Knoxville, I have seen firsthand how much it means to the participants to have their sports idols there supporting and encouraging them along.