Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar scored his third hat-trick in NSC colors as Nashville went on to win 3-0 against the Chicago Fire. Nashville SC dominated this game from start to finish as they continued their hot streak of matches in the months of April and May.
Nashville goalkeeper, Joe Willis, collects his league-tying sixth clean sheet of the season. Tonight he can thank the defenders in front of him as he was only faced with five shots compared to Nashville’s 30.
Head Coach, Gary Smith, made a few changes to Saturday night’s lineup, which headlined centre-back, Walker Zimmerman, being completely absent from the lineup. This decision was probably made a bit easier now that Nashville has traded for Canadian centre-back, Lukas MacNaughton. MacNaugton made his debut since being traded by Toronto FC which saw former Nashville SC striker, CJ Sapong, going up north. Smith revealed after the match that Zimmerman experienced some soreness after training on Friday and wasn’t able to play tonight. I don’t expect Zimmerman to be featured Wednesday night either which would give the captain much-needed rest after the busy month of April which featured some USMNT caps as well as starts for the “Boys in Gold”.
Nashville SC started the game in the first half with much control and domination which hasn’t been unfamiliar in the six-match unbeaten run that they were on coming into the match. Nashville controlled the match by having nearly 60% of the possession.
It wasn’t a question of if that big chance was coming for Nashville, but rather when. That chance came in the 45th min after Dax McCarty was shoved in the back inside the box and drew the penalty. After that, everyone in the stadium knew who was getting the ball, and that was Hany Mukhtar who received the captain's armband for the second time in his NSC career. Mukhtar stepped up and rifled home his fourth goal of the season.
You obviously never want to give goals up in this league, but giving one up and quite cheaply like Chicago did can completely change the complexion of the game, and spoiler: that’s exactly what happened.
Nashville came out of the second half like they got the halftime speech of a lifetime from Smith. With numerous chances to double their lead, it looked like they just weren’t going to be able to put the final touches on this match.
That was until Jacob Shaffelburg who got his first start in nearly a month showed one of the better bursts of pace you are going to see. Shaffelburg picked the ball up about 20 yards before he got into Chicago’s side of the pitch and sprinted with the ball about 50-60 yards before he was taken down by Chicago defender, Kendall Burks. This granted Mukhtar the opportunity to grab his brace and get his 10th goal involvement (five goals and five assists), which he calmly did.
Although Mukhtar was causing problems for Chicago all night long, to me it seemed the most effective when he was moved up front after Teal Bunbury was subbed off. This is something Smith has started doing towards the end of games when counter-attacks seem to be more prevalent. This allows Mukhtar to go up against centre-backs who a lot of times are on an island. The centre-backs in Major League Soccer aren’t sure whether to defend Mukhtar by getting close or by backing off, and you see it week in and week out. That is of course when Hany grabbed his third and final goal after an initial shot from Nashville’s Fafa Picault, the ball fell right into the path of Nashville’s star player who knocked it home to seal all three points.
With the 3-0 win tonight, Nashville SC extended their unbeaten run to seven and continues to keep up pace with the leaders in the Eastern Conference as they are now at 21 pts (New England and Cincinnati both on 24).
Nashville SC has two games this week, one being at home against FC Dallas on Wednesday in the US Open Cup, and then go on the road for the first time in five matches as they take on DC United.
Patton Cook / WNSR Nashville SC reporter
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