Chris Mueller is quickly becoming the new king of New York City. The third-year attacker has been tormenting NYCFC for the past couple of years in much the same way former No. 1 overall draft pick Cyle Larin used to do.
That was on full display last night in Orlando City’s 3-1 win over NYCFC in the MLS is Back Tournament. Cash scored the fastest brace in club history with goals in the fourth and 10th minutes of the match and came within the width of the crossbar from netting the first hat trick since Larin notched one against each of the New York-based teams in 2015.
“I think that the first goal for sure was a great ball by João [Moutinho]. We kind of caught them sleeping a little bit on a set piece,” Mueller said after the match. “Dom [Dwyer] found me really nicely on the second goal as well and I brought it down and was able to find the back of the net again. Again, I think when you look at the overall importance of what we did in getting those six points moving forward in the tournament, it gives us a lot of confidence moving forward and I think that that’s the most important thing, regardless of my two goals.”
Mueller has played seven competitive games against New York City FC, scoring four goals, firing 12 shots, and getting six of those on target. Those are good numbers against any opponent, particularly a side with the quality NYCFC has shown the last few years.
Riding a three-game goal-scoring streak, the Money Badger has scored four times in the past three matches and is already just one goal shy of his single-season career high of five, set last season across 29 games (16 starts).
Mueller has become a known commodity among NYCFC fans, as evidenced in our discussion with Hudson River Blue Managing Editor Christian Smith on the Mane Land PawedCast earlier this week. When asked which Orlando players he was concerned about, this is what he said about Mueller:
“He is extremely fun to watch. He’s such a competitor. He is so scrappy. He always seems to find himself in the right positions…that kid’s a baller. If you can shut down Nani, Mueller is the next player who you’ve got to get rid of. I think you guys have got a very, very good player in that man.”
It took Mueller a few games to get the measure of the Pigeons. The Wisconsin product didn’t score in his first three matches against NYCFC, attempting only one shot, which wasn’t on goal. But since then he’s been giving the Cityzens nightmares. In his last four games against New York City FC, which includes three MLS matches and last year’s U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal, Mueller has scored four goals and fired 11 shots, getting six of those on frame.
His run of success against the Pigeons began March 2 of last year, when his 59th-minute goal began Orlando’s comeback from 2-0 down in an eventual 2-2 draw at Exploria Stadium. That draw could have become a win if an obvious handball on Maxime Chanot hadn’t been criminally ignored by both referee Baldomero Toledo and VAR Jose Carlos Rivero.
He didn’t impact the scoreboard in a 1-1 draw at Yankee Stadium April 27 of last year, but he bounced back in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals on July 10 of last year. His 61st-minute goal looked to be enough to see Orlando through to the semifinals until Maxi Moralez equalized at the death. That set the stage for the running of The Wall and Adam Grinwis’ heroics in the penalty shootout. Mueller fired four shots that night, with the one on target finding its way home.
Last night, Mueller sent five of Orlando’s 12 total shots toward goal and four of them were on frame, as the third-year man is in his most clinical form yet since entering MLS. The one that wasn’t on goal? It hit the crossbar. He also drew a free kick and a yellow card on Alex Ring in transition in the 52nd minute. It was a complete performance.
Chris Mueller: raw numbers for Orlando City in 3-1 win vs. NYCFC— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) July 15, 2020
5 shots (4 on target)
85% passing (17/20)
0 tackles, interceptions, blocked shots
0/0 accurate crosses
While it’s still early, it appears that Mueller may be taking a step forward in his development in 2020. He’s made his efforts to improve his mental approach to the game quite public on social media. Mueller, who hosts a virtual book club, has been reading voraciously, with an emphasis on books that inspire positive thinking and various aspects of mental focus. Those efforts appear to be bearing fruit under Oscar Pareja, a coach who Mueller said is helping him gain confidence in himself.
“When a coach manages the players so well and gives you confidence to go out and play your own game and show some personality on the field, I think that that’s all you can ask for,” he said. “I think that he’s done that really well, especially with me. I feel confident to go out and play my own game and just let the pieces kind of fall as they do and just focus on playing my game.”
While things are trending the right way for Mueller right now, it’s not the first time he’s started a season on a hot streak. He began a three-game goal-scoring streak in his fifth ever MLS match, netting three goals and assisting on another between April 8-21, 2018. He looked at that point like he’d be a shoo-in for MLS Rookie of the Year. He ended up as a finalist but did not score another goal until opening day of 2019 — against NYCFC.
Mueller looks confident, positive, poised, and motivated right now. Whether he can sustain that or not will be interesting to watch, and hopefully that question will fuel him to even greater heights. Seasons are marathons, not sprints – even pandemic-shortened ones. But Orlando City fans can, and should, enjoy what he’s bringing to the pitch to start 2020.
New York City FC fans, meanwhile, probably don’t like him very much.