Nashville SC got back into the win column with a 2-0 victory away at Exploria Stadium against Orlando City, thanks to Designated Player and MLS MVP winner Hany Mukhtar.
In a hard-fought win against an Orlando side that dominated possession 64-36, Mukhtar stepped up with an assist in the 28th minute and a goal in the 74th to get all three points for Nashville.
The 28-year came into the match having not scored in Nashville’s previous five. It’s safe to say that head coach Gary Smith was relieved that the German star opened up his 2023 account against an Eastern Conference rival.
“He needed to get off the mark somehow, some way,” Smith said. “The confidence of hitting the back of the net for forwards and creative players does them the world of good. So delighted, of course, he’s got himself on the sheet.”
Despite winning, Orlando outshot Nashville 18-7, with Designated Player Martin Ojeda leading the way with two on target and six in total.
Lining up in a 4-4-2, Nashville’s defensive block of two made it difficult for the opponent to get going offensively and maximized the counter-attacking potential of Mukhtar, leaving the German with little to no defensive responsibilities.
One of the benefits of the formation came in the 28th minute.
After getting fouled in his own half, Mukhtar picked his head up and instantly pinged a long ball over the top to an onrushing Picult, which saw him finish comfortably to get Nashville’s first goal of the evening.
“It’s pure inspiration from Hany,” said Smith of the goal.
“He’s a genius. If he was in any other walk of life, if he created new lightbulbs, you know, he’d probably [find] another way to create electricity or something. He’s just such an intelligent lad. He sees things quicker than a lot of other people.”
Smith also praised Picult for his pace and composure in front of the goal, which saw him slot it past Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese.
“He’s got so much to do, so much to do from there. Running at breakneck speed, a pace that none of us could even dream of, and he’s got to try and work it over the top of [Pedro] Gallese coming out with some sort of feeling. It’s a fantastic finish.”
As a South Florida native, Picult was especially happy to score against Orlando, saying that he’s developed a personal rivalry with the team during his time in the league.
“I think being a choir boy is not always going to do it in these games when you’re playing against Orlando,” Picult said after the match.
“They hate me out here, and I don’t really like them that much either when I play them. So, with all respect, this is a spot I usually score at, and it’s good to hear the crowd silenced and score here,” he continued.
“We’re great buddies off the field, which is amazing, and then on the field it shows and it helps,” the winger said.
“There’s a lot of football to be played and a lot of chemistry to continue to be built. And I think over the next few weeks and months, we’ll start to see that more and more and continue to grow. So I’m very excited, and I think it’s something that we can get behind it and continue to build on.”
Nashville will look to continue their winning ways this weekend as they return home to GEODIS Park in Nashville, Tennessee, to take on Toronto FC.