Nashville SC’s MVP candidate Hany Mukhtar is a star tailor-made for MLS

Quick Hits
  • Nashville SC’s Hany Mukhtar is lighting up MLS right now, with 12 goal contributions in his last six games
  • With his well-rounded attacking skillset and his ability to drift into different spaces, Mukhtar is incredibly difficult to stop in the attack
Sep 3, 2022; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville SC midfielder Hany Mukhtar (10) raises his fingers in celebration of his goal in the second half against Austin FC at Geodis Park. Mandatory Credit: Casey Gower-USA TODAY Sports
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As the final seconds ticked away in stoppage time at GEODIS Park on Saturday, Nashville SC hunted, looking for their third goal. Shaq Moore slid the ball across the box to Hany Mukhtar, who slotted his shot past Brad Stuver and Austin FC. 

For Mukhtar, it was his second goal of the game…and his 12th goal contribution in his six matches. He’s making things look easy week in and week out in Major League Soccer and is leading the charge for Nashville as they march towards the postseason.

Mukhtar arrived in Nashville ahead of the 2020 season as a relative unknown from the Danish Superliga but has quickly emerged as one of the most dominant players in MLS over the last two seasons. He’s spearheaded Nashville’s rise as one of the top teams in the Western Conference and has evolved individually in that time as well. With 16 goals and 10 assists in 2021, he was seen as a very real contender for the MVP award but came up just short. 

This season, though, he is back in the conversation. And really, he might be the conversation.

A box-to-box midfielder in his early years overseas, Mukhtar now thrives as a dynamic attacker, whether that be as a second striker, winger, or playing in behind as a No. 10. In many ways, he’s the perfect player for MLS in how he interprets space in the attack, carves up opponents, takes on defenders, and finishes at a consistent rate.

Mukhtar’s well-rounded skill set has unlocked his full potential in MLS. He can play direct soccer in Gary Smith’s often vertical system, using his passing and dribbling to progress the ball upfield and to create chances in the final third. 

He has an incredible ability to glide past defenders on and then open up a line-breaking pass. Even without a star No. 9 teammate, those passes have still created dangerous chances for Nashville this season. He’s not afraid to finish, either. Mukhtar has an innate ability to find the back of the net, and even from the most impossible angles, he regularly finds the perfect spot to slide the ball past goalkeepers.

Nashville head coach Gary Smith has set up the team in a number of different shapes since coming into the league in 2020, but there’s been a role for Mukhtar in just about all of them. In a nominal 4-2-3-1, he’s given lots of freedom underneath the striker, as he looks to connect the play from the midfield to the center forward while also chipping in goals. However, he’s been at his best when playing as the second striker in a 4-3-1-2, often lining up in an attacking constellation alongside Randall Leal and CJ Sapong. In that shape, Mukhtar’s job is to find any space he can in the pockets and drive towards goal. 

In an attacking system built around Mukhtar’s strengths, Nashville have been firing on all cylinders, racking up 18 goals in their last six matches.

The numbers

Statistically, Mukhtar leads the league in several categories. Not only is he the current Golden Boot frontrunner with a staggering 21 goals in 29 matches this season, but he also has more goal contributions than anyone else in the league. 

According to American Soccer Analysis, Mukhtar leads the league in shots (111) and shots on target (61), and does so by a significant margin. He has racked up his 21 goals from an expected goals tally of 18.2, scoring a number of low-probability shots. He averages 4.96 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes, which is among the best in the league, and completes an average of 9.54 progressive passes per 90, according to FBref. Those numbers place him in the 96th and 99th percentiles, respectively, among MLS players.

As Nashville prepare for the playoffs this fall, Mukhtar certainly has his eyes on a strong individual finish to the season and an MVP award. Right now, he’s the frontrunner. A hungry and confident Mukhtar is an incredibly dangerous player, and he is exactly what any MLS team would dream of.