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2021 Orlando City Season in Review: Chris Mueller

The Money Badger regressed in his fourth and final season with Orlando City.

MLS: Playoffs- Round One-Orlando City SC at Nashville SC Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City used the No. 6 overall pick in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft to bring in Chris Mueller from the University of Wisconsin. The Schaumberg, IL native was the Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2017, an All-Big Ten selection, and a USC Second Team All-American. Orlando City exercised his option at the end of the 2020 season, but did not sign him to a new contract during the summer. With an offer from Scotland and the ability to leave on a free transfer after the season, it all but ensured he played his final season for the Lions in 2021.

Let’s take a look at the forward’s 2021 season.

Statistical Breakdown

Mueller played in 29 matches, started 18, and logged 1,646 minutes. He scored three goals — equaling his career low from his rookie season — and added six assists on 36 shots, with 11 of his attempts on target. He was called offside three times. Mueller passed at an 81.8% rate, completed 17 long passes and 20 crosses, and made 32 key passes.

Defensively, he made eight clearances, 15 blocks, 14 tackles, and eight interceptions. He won 74 of 165 duels (44.8%), and 17 of 41 aerial duels (41.4%). Mueller committed 31 fouls, suffered 37 fouls, and earned six yellow cards.

His final appearance for Orlando City was the playoff match against Nashville SC. He started the match, and played 80 minutes. He contributed no goals or assists and passed at a 73% rate. He made two tackles, one clearance, committed one foul, and suffered two fouls.

Mueller started at right wing in Orlando City’s Leagues Cup match against Santos Laguna, which the Lions lost 1-0, and played 59 minutes. He attempted one shot, which was on target. He made two tackles, won 37.5% of his duels, and committed a foul.

Best Game

Mueller’s best match was the Lions’ 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls on July 3. He played 84 minutes and scored Orlando’s only goal of the match in the 59th minute of play. Daryl Dike stole the ball just outside the Red Bulls’ box and shifted it to Mauricio Pereyra, who squared it to a wide open Mueller for the goal.

That goal came on three shots. He also made two crosses, and one key pass. He had one tackle while suffering one foul, and committing one foul. Defensively, Mueller contributed one clearance, and passed at an 84.2% rate. He did all the little things he typically does in Oscar Pareja’s system, but he also made two goal contributions. When you combine the little things with the big things, you get all the things.

His performance earned him consensus Man of the Match in our Player Grades and on The Mane Land PawedCast.

2021 Final Grade

Mueller’s production fell off from his 10-goal, seven-assist 2020 campaign despite playing more minutes. How much of that was the delay his move to Hibernian affecting him mentally, and how much was natural regression, is unknown. We can say that with Orlando City having Dike on loan, and Alexandre Pato injured, his lack of offensive production didn’t help in 2021. The Mane Land staff gave Mueller a final grade of 5.5 for 2021. This is down two full points from his 7.5 rating for 2020, and half a point from the 6 he earned in 2019 and the 6 he got after his rookie season. and This grade only reflects his performance as related to the expectations the staff had for Mueller heading into the season.

2022 Outlook

Mueller has already left for Hibernian FC in the Scottish Premiership. Last off-season, Orlando City had a chance to sell him, or sign him to a new deal. The young American wanted to head to Europe, and frankly Orlando City dropped the ball. He left on a free transfer, meaning the Lions didn’t get anything for Mueller. They do retain his MLS rights if he was to return to the league after making him a bona fide offer. Additionally, Mueller wasn’t happy he had to stay in Orlando as long as he did. To be clear, Mueller still gave 100% effort when he played, as I don’t think he’s capable of doing anything less, but his heart was not in it. It’s the type of thing that can leave a bad taste in the mouth of a player, and more importantly doesn’t look good for other young players that may want to sign with Orlando City in the hopes of moving on to Europe.

Chris “Cash” Mueller will rightly go down as a fan favorite during his time with Orlando City. Few gave as much in effort as he did during his tenure with the Lions.

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