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MLS Weekly Review 23- Nashville continue to exceed expectations!

MLS is a bit hit-and-miss at the moment with a lot of teams missing key players due to World Cup qualifying. The league doesn’t stop for anybody though and it followed on from a dramatic Heineken Rivalry Week with more action regardless. From a fiery clash between Nashville and NYCFC in music city to the meeting of so-called trophy contenders Orlando and Columbus, here is MLS weekly review 23!

Nashville SC 3-1 NYCFC

Nashville are still relatively new to MLS and that shows given that this was the first ever meeting between them and NYCFC. That wasn’t evident though given how fierce a game it was. Both sides won 2-0 last time out in MLS, NYCFC beating the Revs courtesy of a Taty Castellanos brace whilst Nashville picked up their first win on the road this season, Atlanta the victims. A number of players for both sides including James Sands, Maxime Chanot, Randall Leal and Walker Zimmerman all missed this one due to World Cup qualifying with their various nations.

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 03: Nashville SC midfielder Hany Mukhtar (10) and Nashville SC forward C.J. Sapong (17) celebrate a goal with salutes to the crows during an MLS match between Nashville SC and New York City, September 3, 2021, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN – SEPTEMBER 03: Nashville SC midfielder Hany Mukhtar (10) and Nashville SC forward C.J. Sapong (17) celebrate a goal with salutes to the crows during an MLS match between Nashville SC and New York City, September 3, 2021, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Hany Mukhtar was causing Sean Johnson issues, forcing him into one save before, shortly after, beating him for the opener. The German held off Tinnerholm well and then fired Nashville into the lead. One quickly became two as Daniel Rios’ cross was deflected home by NYCFC defender Latinovich. He scored in his first start against ATL but this one wasn’t going to go down in his name. 2-0 all the same! NYCFC tensions rose throughout the game, Jesus Medina picking up a yellow for a foul on Washington that’ll see him miss the upcoming clash with Atlanta. Talisman Maxi Moralez is another player who will be absent for that one after he got into a scrap with Dax McCarty, there were a number of offenders but it was the two men involved in initiating it all that saw red. Hany Mukhtar continued to thrive at 10-vs-10 and even though he had a goal ruled out for offside, CJ Sapong played Mukhtar in and he did the rest. Taty got a consolation goal at the death thanks to a neat-chipped ball from Alfredo Morales but it was too late to spark anything further. This was the perfect game to advertise what MLS has to offer.

Houston Timbers 0-2 Portland Timbers

Times are tough for the Dynamo who are now on a record-breaking run of fifteen games without a win. Portland were the visitors in Houston for this one having made up for that recent 6-2 Cascadia Cup humiliation last time out, beating Seattle 2-0 courtesy of goals from Blanco and Felipe Mora. Meanwhile, a Hunou brace for Minnesota continued to pile on the misery for Tab Ramos’ Dynamo. To make matters worse, Maynor Figueroa and Ariel Lassiter were two of five players absent due to World Cup qualifying.

PORTLAND, OR - AUGUST 07:  Portland Timbers forward Felipe Mora (9) points at his assister, midfielder Sebastián Blanco, to celebrate Portland's third goal during the MLS match between Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers on August 07, 2021, at Providence Park in Portland, OR. (Photo by Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OR – AUGUST 07: Portland Timbers forward Felipe Mora (9) points at his assister, midfielder Sebastián Blanco, to celebrate Portland’s third goal during the MLS match between Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers on August 07, 2021, at Providence Park in Portland, OR. (Photo by Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Felipe Mora scored last time out but his header from a Blanco cross was saved well. That wasn’t the end of the pressure though as Chara of the Yimmi variety beat the lax defenders to the rebound, poking home the opener after fifteen minutes. Houston’s misery, at this point, showed no sign of letting up. Just moments later, goalkeeper Nelson fouled Mora in the box. The Chilean forward got up and sent Nelson the wrong way, making it 2-0. At this point it looked as if the Timbers could run away with this one but in classic MLS style, anything could happen. Houston had sights of getting back into the game through Tyler Pasher and Fafa Picault but 2-0 was how it finished at BBVA Stadium. How much longer until Tab Ramos is shown the door?

Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Austin FC

Lucas Cavallini and Maxime Crepeau are two key players for Vancouver at either end of the field but the pair were both absent from this one due to their place in the Canadian national team set-up. Austin FC on the other hand were one of three teams in MLS not to lose a single player to the international break. This is something they needed from the looks of their last game, losing 5-3 in a tense Texas derby filled with drama against FC Dallas. Meanwhile, the Whitecaps came into this one fresh off a 4-1 win over RSL, both Marc Dos Santos and Freddy Juarez having departed their respective roles at the helm of the two clubs prior to that meeting. It is worth noting that Vancouver won 2-1 at Q2 a couple of weeks back when these two teams last met.

VANCOUVER, BC – SEPTEMBER 04: Deiber Caicedo #7 of the Vancouver Whitecaps celebrates his goal against Austin FC by removing his jersey at BC Place on September 4, 2021 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Christopher Morris – Corbis/Getty Images)

Sebastian Driussi and Tomas Pochettino looked lively early on for Josh Wolff’s Austin and it was the former who made the breakthrough. A Dominguez cross was met by Driussi who headed it in, beyond Hasal, via the ground. Stuver contributed a great couple of sequences just after the break to maintain Austin’s advantage, furthering his argument for the best goalkeeper in MLS this season in the process. He wasn’t able to hold out for much longer though, a deep Dajome cross being headed home by defender Erik Godoy, 1-1! Austin came close to restoring their lead after some neat interplay from Alex Ring but it was the Whitecaps who found a winner, making it two wins in two under the new man in charge. Caicedo came close as his chip over Hasal was cleared off of the line but he was then on hand to convert as Gauld’s original shot was parried by Stuver, the Austin keeper unable to get it out of the danger zone. It has been an interesting first season in MLS for Austin and a loss to Vancouver doesn’t make them any happier.

Orlando City 3-2 Columbus Crew

With Gyasi Zardes injured, Miguel Berry continues to lead the line for Columbus and he got them out of a hole against rivals Cincinnati last time out. His brace saw them escape with a 3-2 win in the Hell is Real game, the true joys of MLS. Other absentees for the Crew were Jonathan Mensah and Liam Fraser due to international duty whilst Matan started, Kevin Molino having sadly injured his ACL once again. Goalkeeper Pedro Gallese and Jhegson Mendez were the two national team players for Orlando and so Oscar Pareja fielded a strong attack including Nani, Chris Mueller, Daryl Dike and van der Water.

ORLANDO, FL – SEPTEMBER 04: Orlando City Darel Dike (18) strikes first and scores a goal during the MLS soccer match between the Orlando City SC and Columbus Crew SC on September 4, 2021 at Explorer Stadium in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Premier League are you watching? The first goal of the game came courtesy of Daryl Dike showing once again what he is about. First he used his strength and then he patiently waited for the chance to fire past Room, that being exactly what he did. A Van Der Water cross was dummied by Mueller which left Eloy Room dumbfounded as Orlando took a 2-0 lead. It was a freak own goal that gave the Crew a lifeline, Antonio Carlos rising above Berry only to head beyond his own shot-stopper. It didn’t take long for Caleb Porter’s men to strike again either, Zelarayan to Etienne who played in Berry. Berry hit his shot into the ground and over a helpless Grinwis in only his sixth MLS appearance to take his recent tally to three-in-two. Orlando did the right thing and settled the game after that, biding their time and Junior Urso drilled home the fifth and final goal into the bottom corner after Dike laid it off to him. What a night at Exploria Stadium, Urso with the decisive touch, making up for a Tesho Akindele miscue in the process.

Real Salt Lake 3-2 FC Dallas

From one 3-2 to another and this one was equally as crazy at Rio Tinto Stadium. As previously mentioned, Freddy Juarez left his position as RSL manager prior to that 4-1 defeat to the Whitecaps and he is now said to be a Seattle assistant. Brian Schmetzer lost Gonzalo Pineda to the Atlanta United head-coach role just a few weeks ago. Franco Jara led the line for FC Dallas with Ricardo Pepi choosing to represent the USMNT whilst Justin Meram was the only player away on international duty for RSL. Four homegrowns and four draft picks for FC Dallas in the starting XI chosen by Luchi Gonzalez!

SANDY, UT – SEPTEMBER 4 : Albert Rusnak #11 of Real Salt Lake shoots the ball over a wall with Franco Jara #29, Nkosi Tafari #14, Ryan Hollinshead #12, and Matt Hedges #24 of FC Dallas during their game September 4, 2021 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

Jara didn’t take long to step up in Pepi’s absence, poking the opener beyond Putna in the home goal with twenty minutes on the clock. RSL came close to an instant response a couple of times and they did find a leveller before the break. Aaron Herrera’s cross found Justen Glad in newfound space and he was never going to miss from close range. 1-1 at half time! The game turned on its’ head when Jonathan Menendez put RSL ahead. A powerful deflected shot troubled Phelipe and Menendez was on hand to convert the rebound. Matters didn’t get any better for the Brazilian goalkeeper as Albert Rusnak’s shot from the top of the box bamboozled him. It was nothing special- he made his save only for the ball to bounce off and over him and into the net. Brian Rodriguez’s first goal in that 3-3 El Trafico last weekend was something special, what we are used to in MLS basically, and Jesus Ferreira was trying to recreate it. Ferreira cut in-and-out, in-and-out before firing high at the near post to give Luchi hope with ten or so minutes remaining. Dallas pushed but were unable to find that elusive third, they only had two shots on target in the whole game after all…

Player of the week- Hany Mukhtar

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 03: Nashville SC midfielder Hany Mukhtar (10) celebrates scoring his second goal of the game during an MLS match between Nashville SC and New York City, September 3, 2021, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN – SEPTEMBER 03: Nashville SC midfielder Hany Mukhtar (10) celebrates scoring his second goal of the game during an MLS match between Nashville SC and New York City, September 3, 2021, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It is back to the music city for the player of the week and not for the first time this season in MLS, it is a certain German star. Hany Mukhtar was fairly quiet for large parts last year but has grown along with his Nashville team this time around. The inclusion of a striker like CJ Sapong has clearly helped him and the pair have developed a harmonious relationship. He scored twice in this one, had the ball in the back of the net a couple more times and came close to adding to his assists tally too. We see in MLS that a number ten that can do it all is the sign of a great team, whether it be Carles Gil in New England, Nico Lodeiro in Seattle or Maxi Moralez for NYCFC. Mukhtar is starting to show he is exactly that and he was already my player of the week prior to his second goal in the win over Moralez and co of NYCFC. What a player and what a season he’s having. Could he be an MVP candidate?

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