See too:"Nashville SC has all the makings of a 2023 contender: Back in the Eastern Conference, the Nashville team opens the 2023 regular season this week."
If you live in Nashville,There are a few things you probably already know about Hany Mukhtar. You probably know that he is the best player for Nashville SC, that he won the 2022 Major League Soccer MVP award, and that he salutes the crowd after his goals. You should know that in 2021,Der Tennesseenamed him Sportsman of the Year despite living in the same state as Derrick Henry. You should know that he is at least as important to NPCs as Henry is to Titans. Last season, Hany scored or assisted on 34 of NSC's 53 goals.
You probably don't know much about Hany as a person. Here are two short stories to remedy that.
many races mixedwill tell you that to be part of two things means not to be whole of either. But south Berlin is made up of parts so diverse that young Hany Mukhtar - born to a Sudanese father, Abubakr, and a Polish-German mother, Ursula - has always had a sense of belonging.
The south of Berlin is where refugees moved after the Second World War, where Erasmus children are most likely to rent apartments. A disused airport looms over the Tempelhof district, where the Mukhtar family still lives. The Nazis built it as a symbol of their empire, but since its decommissioning it has served as a hub for Syrian refugees. Today, the site is a public park where families have barbecues, immigrants play soccer, people fly kites and take care of community gardens – cultural and personal expression in a dark setting. When Hany left the house to go to the playground, he walked through the streets smelling of spit-up kebabs and Turkish sweets.
Hany joined the football department of Hertha BSC at the age of 6. His parents drove him around Berlin for an hour to practice, and when he got older, he rode the subway himself. Abubakr, the immigrant, was the father who pushed Hany to fulfill his potential.
"Whatever you do," he told his son, "do it right. Whether it's football or cleaning hotel rooms.”
Growing up in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, Abubakr wanted to play football professionally. "There's no money in Sudanese football," his father advised him. “Get good grades.” Abubakr listened. In fact, he got top grades and got a scholarship to a university in Berlin, where he did his doctorate. There in Berlin he met Ursula.
As a child, Hany was able to understand the contours of his father's story, the work he put into creating opportunities for his family. Hany felt that his life was easier because of Abubakr. He didn't want to waste the chance his parents offered him. "I didn't do anything [special] to grow up in Germany," he says. “I had the privilege.” The immigrant's desire to leave that grindset was something his father overlooked. "It's in my DNA," says Hany.
Where Abubakr pushed and molded, Ursula soothed. In her soft, melodious German with a Polish accent, Ursula chanted her son's name.Hello Ha-ny!Her flat was a cozy place, a place where the kettle flickered and a hearty breakfast – prepared by Ursula – was on the table alongside fresh bread from the local bakeries. Showing up for dinner with the family was non-negotiable.
During Hany's first season at Nashville in 2020, he struggled with injuries. Watching Hany play his first year at the Nashville Soccer Club was like reading a great writer's first novels - a clever line or metaphor here, a cool paragraph there, but it's all in fits and starts.
He is talentedpeople whispered,but inconsistent.
That year, Hany called his father several times. "You made that choice," Abubakr reminded him. "Work hard. Stay focused. It will work for you."
Several times in his adult life, Hany traveled back to Khartoum with Abubakr. He describes the experience as "humbling". As Hany walked around Khartoum and saw how people lived compared to Berlin, his father's decisions seemed more immediate and tangible. Hany understood what it took for this to happen, how Abubakr put his dreams aside so that one day his children could fulfill their own.
On May 1st of last yearKickoff at Geodis Park was approaching on a cloudless, windless afternoon - the kind of spring day this city can be forgiven for scorching summers. A hiss flashed across the scoreboard and Johnny Cash's voice blasted through the speakers like tires on gravel.
You can go on for a long time
Keep walking for a long time
Sooner or later God will bring you down
Sooner or later God will bring you down
Fireworks shot from the field, the fans cheered and the referees, away team and golden boys came out of the tunnel. More smoke, more screams. Hany came out last. He jumped on his toes, he prayed. On most game days, he looks to his left and finds Ashley Gowder, his fiancée, in the family area. If he doesn't see them when the teams leave, he will find them during the game.
This afternoon - the first home game innew team stadium– When Hany was looking for Ashley, he saw Abubakr and Ursula who had come from Berlin. Abubakr wore a gold No. 10 shirt with "Mukhtar" splattered on the back. Catching Hany's eyes during the warm-up, he raised his fist and smiled. Abubakr grew up in Khartoum and dreamed of becoming a football player. Perhaps Abubakr could have envisioned Hany's life as his own - the No. 10 shirt, the MVP award, a city that holds your breath every time you touch the ball.
But Abubakr got something just as good. He gave his son a chance to live this life.
Emthe fall,Hany opened his own football academy for Nashville youth. Not long ago, he was one of them, attending camps and learning from members of Hertha BSC's senior team. He always thinks about the opportunities he had as a kid, the opportunities his parents gave him, and he wants the kids of Nashville to have them too. He enlisted a local trainer, Pete Kipley, to help him grow. Ashley left her job in the music industry in August to help set up the academy. Ursula flew to Mukhtar Academy's first camp in Nashville, where she enrolled children at the front desk. On Thanksgiving, around 9 pm, the academy received a shipment of 500 Puma balls for the camps the next morning. When Pete showed up at the facility, he found Hany, Ashley and Ursula pumping them.
In October, Hany, Ashley and Pete drove to the Lipscomb Academy to see some Academy players in the regional quarterfinals against Hutchison, a team from Memphis. Hany gave the pre-game speech for the Lipscomb Girls. He is a reluctant speaker, but will do it when it matters.
"I know you've worked hard to get here," he said. “And this is an important game for you. Just go out there and expose everything.” He gestured to her seat. "I'll cheer you on next door."
Lipscomb won the only seed and they were favorites to go through. But the first half was goalless. Then the second. The longer Hutchison put up with the game, the more restless the crowd became. The sun went down and the field lights came on. The first half of extra time was scoreless. Then the second. Penalties would decide the game. Hany and Ashley had been hanging out with young players all day and Pete was sure they would leave. But there was Hany, holding on to the bottom of his seat.
Hutchison fired first. The standard five laps passed and the teams remained deadlocked. The sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth rounds passed. At that point, kids who didn't volunteer had to face penalties. It was painful to witness the worst moment of a 16-year-old's life. Relief flooded each girl's face after seeing her shot hit the net. In round 10, Hutchison scored his penalty. The Lipscomb player has come the long way from midfield to point. She had to score to extend the match. She approached the ball and sent it across the bar and into the night.
The Lipscomb girls fainted. Hutchison screamed and ran across the field - the bus ride back to Memphis would be a movie. For the Lipscomb seniors, it marked the likely end of their careers. Hany turned to Pete and Ashley, eyes shining.
"I need to talk to them," he said.
When Hany was 19, he left Berlin to sign for Benfica, a team from Lisbon, the most traditional club in Portugal. Benfica played regularly in the Champions League and Hany dreamed of playing on the game's brightest stage. The move didn't work out and Hany didn't play much. He lived in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, but he couldn't speak the language. He was alone, away from home for the first time, missing the warmth of Ursula and Abubakr's south Berlin apartment.
This summer he played for Germany at the 2015 U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. In the quarterfinals, Germany won 1-0 against Mali. They won a penalty in the 56th minute and the team chose Hany to take it. Last summer he scored the decisive goal in the final of the UEFA European Under-19 Championship. But the lost season in Lisbon weighed heavily. He was wrong. Mali equalized two minutes later and won, eliminating Germany on penalties. By this time, Hany had been replaced.
So he knew how the Lipscomb girls felt. And he decided to share with you the story of one of his worst moments. Less than a minute after the end of the game, Hany crossed the field with determination. As he approached Lipscomb's bench, the girls lay desolate on the grass, awash in an ocean of their own tears. "I know what it's like in person," he told them. "At the most important time, I missed a penalty in the Under-20 championship."
“But in football there is always another option. There is one more day.”
Now, nothing could have fixed what happened. But months later, some of these girls are still talking about that speech.
About a week later, Hany won the 2022 MLS MVP award, for which he gave an acceptance speech. As he descended from the pulpit, he found Ashley.
"It was nothing," he said of the speech, "compared to the girls at Lipscomb Academy."
Nashville SC has all the makings of a 2023 contender
Back in the Eastern Conference, the Nashville team opens the 2023 regular season this week