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Hany Mukhtar

Nashville SC midfielder Hany Mukhtar checked one item off his 2022 to-do list on Sunday, and he could soon check off another.

The 27-year-old German ended the year with 23 goals, edging out Austin FC’s Sebastian Driussi and Philadelphia Union’s Daniel Gazdag, who each tallied 22, for the 2022 MLS Golden Boot award, given annually to the top scorer in Major League Soccer. 

Mukhtar also added 11 assists, giving him 34 goal contributions — two more than Gazdag, who finished with 32. His 23 goals are the most in a single season since Carlos Vela totaled 34 in 2019.

He’s the second Nashville SC player to win a major performance award, joining Walker Zimmerman who won consecutive MLS Defender of the Year honors.

“I feel amazing, it’s a big honor,” Mukhtar said after Sunday’s 1-0 win over LAFC. “I’m very grateful to my teammates, the coaching staff and the whole organization. It’s a big achievement for me and I’m very proud of it. It was a very good season for me, now I’m looking forward to the playoffs because that’s where it counts.

Added NSC coach Gary Smith: “To have the league’s top goal scorer is an incredible achievement for the club, it’s a wonderful achievement for the player, and I think he’d be the first to say the support from the group around him is tremendous. It’s enabled him to show some of the fantastic quality that he has.”

In addition to claiming the league scoring title, Mukhtar also has quite the case for league MVP.

He’s accounted for 44 percent of Nashville’s 53 goals this year, and of the top 10 scorers in MLS, he had the third-highest goals average over 90 minutes (0.73). Additionally, Mukhtar scored an MLS-best 11 goals since Aug. 1, including 10 goals in his final 10 matches, and he had the second-most goals on penalty kicks (6) in MLS. 

Mukhtar also led the league in shots (126) and shots on target (65).

“I have said before, [Mukhtar] should be backing up the Golden Boot with the MVP award,” Smith stated. “That for me is a given, he’s been wonderful this year and has been the difference by far for our group I would say more than any other player in any other group.” 

“It’s a big honor to be a contender for the MVP,” Mukhtar added. “For me personally, it’s a bigger honor to win the MVP than to win the Golden Boot and I tried everything I could to make my case. I can just give my best every game and Gazdag and Driussi had good seasons, but I’m a sportsman, and I respect all of them, but of course in the end I want to win it. I had a great season and I think I deserve it.”

While Mukhtar’s individual success was paramount on Sunday, Nashville SC became the first team to shut out Supporters Sheild winners LAFC at Banc of California Stadium this season with its 1-0 win.

The win locked up the No. 5 seed for Nashville, which is making its third straight MLS Cup Playoff appearance since joining MLS three years ago. The club reached the conference semifinal the previous two years.

“We have had a wonderful season,” Smith added. “Tied for fourth, beaten on a tiebreaker and it’s yet again underlining the fact that this group never gives in, there’s always something left in the tank to try and find an opportunity to find a way forward. Yet again, they’ve found a way to do that.”

Nashville will travel to Los Angeles on Saturday to face the No. 4 seed LA Galaxy at 2 p.m. CST. 

“It will be tough coming back to LA to take on the Galaxy,” Mukhtar said. “We had a tough game there earlier in the season, but we are capable of beating them.”

Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_