Chris Mueller has shown an ability to create from the midfield and provide opportunities for those up top. While this role is valuable for the Lions going forward, he plays another role that cannot be overlooked.
Anybody that has watched Orlando City play since the second year player out of Wisconsin was drafted has undoubtedly seen him waving his arms up and down, trying to provide a spark for the team. Following his free-kick goal against New York City FC Saturday afternoon, which got the home side back into the game, Mueller could once again be seen attempting to provide that emotional lift.
His actions when play stops is noticeable, but he also provides a lift while the ball is in play. From chasing opponents with the ball, to making long runs up the flank, the midfielder has a bigger influence on the atmosphere in the stadium and within the team than anyone else.
The first noticeable time Mueller’s energy showed its impact was early last season when the Lions were trailing against the Portland Timbers. After coming on late and missing a chance that should’ve been the Lions’ first goal of the game, the midfielder scored his first professional goal in the 80th minute. The team seemed resigned to the fact that all three points would be taken away by the visitors until the rookie provided the spark. The Lions ended up scoring three goals in the final 10 minutes to win 3-2.
As the 2018 season continued, Mueller made this contribution several times, usually after the team had scored a goal or he had come on as a late sub. His natural energy would provide a spark which resulted in a different team following his appearance.
Much has been made of the impact that Designated Player substitutes Nani and Dom Dwyer had once they had come on, and rightfully so. But Mueller’s attitude, especially following his goal that opened the scoring for the home team, can’t be overlooked as it helped to provide the necessary energy for the comeback.
While the midfielder is clearly skilled, he’s not the best striker of the ball or the most skillful on the team. Last season saw him make the mistakes that you would expect from a young player during his first professional season. But the energy he shows during each game and the spark he provides for the team when things are looking down make him an irreplaceable asset in James O’Connor’s 18-man team sheet.
Whether it’s goals from Dwyer or leadership from captain Sacha Kljestan, certain players have specific roles that make them invaluable, even if they’re not easily visible on the field. For second-year player Chris Mueller, no part of his game is more important than the energy and spark he provides the team when the situation appears down or the climb insurmountable. It’s the reason why he’s one of the team’s most important players and will be for the foreseeable future.