Nashville SC ended its five-match homestand in style with a 5-1 win over a resurgent Chicago Fire FC on Saturday night. In the process, the team set club and league records in a very impressive outing.
Central attacking midfielder Hany Mukhtar set the MLS record with the fastest hat trick from kickoff with goals in the 10th, 13th and 16th minutes. It was also the second-quickest hat trick in league history in terms of the time between goals.
This was the first time in Nashville SC history that the team had scored a hat trick. Five goals also was the most goals scored in a match in team history, breaking the previous record of four, which was set last season in a 4-2 win over Atlanta United.
Nashville head coach Gary Smith continued his use of a 3-5-2 formation, with the only change being a first start for Dylan Nealis at right wingback. Nealis was brought over this offseason from Inter Miami CF.
The scoring started with a mistake by Chicago center back Johan Kappelhof, who was too flippant with the ball at the top of his own box, and Nashville striker CJ Sapong made him pay for it.
Sapong stole the ball and found Mukhtar waiting in the box to shoot toward the back post past Chicago goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
Two minutes later saw Sapong chase a ball into the corner and find Mukhtar again, but his shot was blocked. Less than a minute later, Nashville left back Daniel Lovitz ran the same play to success, finding Mukhtar at the penalty spot, who buried the goal after a few stepovers.
In the 15th minute, Kappelhof made his second and final mistake as he took down Sapong from behind in a Denial of an Obvious Goal-Scoring Opportunity (DOGSO), which resulted in a red card and his ejection. In the ensuing free kick, Mukhtar curled it into the top corner of the near post for his third goal.
“Amazing day for me. That won’t happen every time,” Mukhtar said in the postgame news conference, “but I’m working hard every day in training and will keep doing it. Of course, I am very happy, but we have to continue this way, and we have a lot of work in front of us.
“I think that from the beginning you could feel that we wanted to win, and we had to win. Obviously in our last home games we were always the better team, but we couldn't create our chances into goals. That is partially our responsibility. Me, CJ (Sapong) and Randall (Leal). We are offensive players. We need to score, and we need to create chances. It is very tough for us offensive players to get these chances because last year we didn't create these chances but also score those goals.”
With his three goals, Mukhtar is now officially in the conversation for the MLS Golden Boot, the trophy that goes to the player who scores the most goals in the season.
Mukhtar and four other players are tied with seven goals, while LA Galaxy’s Chicharito and Seattle Sounders’ Raul Ruidiaz are tied for first with 10 goals each.
In the 38th minute, Mukhtar tried to play Sapong into the corner, and the striker ended up hitting the post. In the next minute, Randall Leal hit the front post, and the rebound fell to Sapong, who finished for his third goal of the season and Nashville’s fourth of the first half.
The 10-man Chicago squad struggled in the first 45 minutes and looked thrilled to see the half end, but they came out firing in the second half.
In the 46th minute, one of Chicago’s halftime subs, Nnamdi Offor, dribbled in and took a shot that Jalil Anibaba blocked. The rebound came to Alvaro Medran, whose shot was also blocked by Anibaba, but the ricochet went forward for Przemyslaw Frankowski, who slotted a pass across the goalmouth for a wide-open Ignacio Aliseda to tap in Chicago’s goal.
Nashville was trying to weather the storm of a desperate Chicago team that, down three goals and a man, threw caution to the wind in an effort to claw its way back into the match.
That desperation led to two different breakaways for Mukhtar, one of which was straight to Shuttleworth. The other hit the post.
That shot off the post rebounded to Leal to the left of the goal. The Costa Rican walked back his defender before crossing to Nealis. The young wingback calmly sent a strong pass to the top of the box, where Brian Anunga hit it on his first touch for a rocket of a shot into the bottom corner of the goal. It was Anunga’s first MLS goal and Nashville’s fifth of the night.
“I felt good,” Anunga said after the match. “I’m trying to improve my game. I’m always trying to find the will to learn and improve with Dax (McCarty) coaching me and with our guys and Gary (Smith) and Steve Guppy, all the coaches and I are trying to improve my game playing forward. I guess something to tie in is also not forgetting the basics of what a player has to do to win the ball and help the team win.”
The rest of the second half looked very much like a strong team managing a game and a team at a disadvantage trying to get a leg up, but to no avail. The match ended at 5-1, much to the joy of Smith.
“Well, an electric 15 minutes from Hany (Mukhtar) and the front line,” Smith said after the match. “Really and truly set us up for what is a monumental win here against what I have to presume was a confident Chicago team coming into the game. Nine goals in three games, they’ve given certain concerns going into the game with the talent that they have and the ability that they have. I think we’ve proved yet again that this stadium and our home field is a device, that we’re producing some very very good football.
"Tonight, I think maybe we just got some of the reward that we’ve seen, not quite gone away or squandered in the past, certainly results that we’ve felt we’ve deserved. But tonight, we got what we deserved. We managed the game well. We went into it. Five goals is always a very nice feel.”
By the 73rd minute, Smith had made all five of his allotted substitutions, bringing out Sapong, Mukhtar, Leal, Anunga and McCarty. This was most likely because Nashville SC has two games in the next week with a visit to Columbus Crew on Wednesday before coming back home for a rematch with FC Cincinnati on Saturday.
At the end of the night, Nashville was tied for third place with Orlando City SC and CF Montreal with 22 points, each team with a game in hand on Philadelphia and New England, which sit second and first with 23 and 27 points, respectively.
New England plays Inter Miami on Wednesday and Montreal on Sunday, while Philadelphia plays Orlando City on Thursday and Inter Miami on Sunday.
Wins by Inter Miami this coming week would be a huge boost for the Boys in Gold, but the Ft. Lauderdale club is dead last in the league with only 8 points.