Nashville SC is one of the top teams in Major League Soccer, so it’s only fitting that the club had a finalist in three of the league’s six performance-based year-end awards.
Hany Mukhtar is in contention for league MVP, while Walker Zimmerman and Joe Willis were each recognized by MLS as one of the top three at their respective positions.
Mukhtar is one of five finalists for the Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable player along with New York City FC’s Valentín Castellanos, New England Revolution’s Carles Gil, Seattle Sounders’ João Paulo and Sporting Kansas City’s Dániel Sallói.
The 26-year-old German led MLS in goals plus assists with 28, and his 16 goals are tied for the fifth-most in the league. Castellanos is the only other MVP finalist with more goals. Mukhtar also has the second-most shots on target (43), fourth-most assists (12) and fifth-most shots (94) in the league.
Along with Seattle Sounders’ Yeimar Gómez and Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson, Zimmerman is one of three finalists for MLS Defender of the Year, an award that he won last season when Nashville had the best defense statistically of any expansion club in MLS history.
This year, Zimmerman played 2,041 minutes over 25 matches, ranking fourth on the team with three goals while accumulating the fifth-most shots (24) and fourth-most shots on target (10). He also served as a captain of the U.S. Men’s National Team during World Cup qualifying.
Zimmerman is the anchor of a Nashville defense that tied the New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders for the fewest goals allowed (33) and lowest goals against average (0.97) in 2021. Nashville is also tied with the Philadelphia Union for the fewest goals allowed over the last two seasons (55).
Willis is one of three finalists for the Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year, joining Philadelphia Union’s Andre Blake and New England Revolution’s Matt Turner. Willis is tied for the most clean sheets (13) and fewest losses (four) in MLS, and he is tied for the second-lowest goals-against average (0.97) and sixth-most wins (12) among goalies to start 25 or more games.
Surprisingly, Gary Smith was not one of the three finalists for Coach of the Year despite leading Nashville to a 12-4-18 record and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Under Smith’s guidance, Nashville is just the fifth team in MLS history to qualify for the playoffs in each of its first two seasons in the league. And NSC tied the MLS record for fewest losses in a single season.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_