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Mueller Enduring a Barren Streak Heading Into International Break

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Chris Mueller has had a difficult start to 2021, but history suggests he’ll play his way out of it.

Orlando City SC v New York Red Bulls Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images

One of the driving forces behind Orlando City’s success last year was the play of Chris Mueller. Last year, the Money Badger led the team in goals with 10 and was second among the Lions with seven assists. Three of those goals were game-winners, and the volume of his scoring was heavier after July, when the team started to suffer injuries and needed people to step up. His play in 2020 resulted in a much-deserved USMNT call-up as he took the third-year leap that he needed to with OCSC.

Mueller has yet to score during the 2021 season though, and his goalless run actually stretches 10 games back into the end of the 2020 season, with his last goal for Orlando coming in the team’s penultimate regular season game against Columbus. He has been scoreless ever since, including the final regular season game of 2020, the team’s two playoff games, and the first seven games of 2021. Of those seven games he has started five, and while he recorded an assist in the games against Sporting Kansas City, and FC Cincinnati, he has yet to hit the type of form he exhibited last year.

So far, that’s been a problem for Orlando City. The team has been without one or several of Mauricio Pereyra, Alexandre Pato, Daryl Dike, and Nani for stretches of the young season and the Lions have yet to hit their stride offensively as a result. Aside from a 3-0 shellacking of a frankly abysmal Cincinnati team, OCSC has not scored more than one goal in a game this year. The team has been so sound defensively that it’s only lost once even with its struggles offensively, but the offensive output Mueller provided last year is sorely missed at the moment.

The drop-off in production isn’t characteristic of Cash either, or at least it hasn’t been for a while. The last time he went this many games without a goal was a stretch from July of 2019 to March of last year, a scoreless run of 13 games. It’s worth noting that of those games, eight of his appearances were as a substitute, whereas the majority of games during the current scoreless stretch have been starts.

As far as Orlando is concerned, there’s reason for optimism. For one, Nani will be back from suspension after the international break, as will Daryl Dike and possibly Pato as well. Additionally, Silvester van der Water has a goal and an assist in his last two games, and arguably should have had two goals and an assist in the loss to the New York Red Bulls alone, which our own Michael Citro highlighted in his Five Takeaways piece. I also agree with Michael’s assertion that as of now van der Water has shown enough that he should be starting over Mueller. You have to go with the guy in form and right now Cash currently isn’t in his best run of form — particularly when his play is juxtaposed against what we know he’s capable of doing.

I want to go out of my way to say that Mueller’s current goalless run isn’t the end of the world, and my intention when writing this article isn’t to dump on him. The Money Badger is one of my favorite players, and even though he hasn’t been scoring, he’s still been bringing his energy, intensity, and industry whenever he’s on the field. If other players were hitting goals around him his lack of production wouldn’t matter as much, but with Orlando’s current offensive output it’s definitely been hampering the team.

With that said, the best players in the world go through rough spells of form all the time, and given the growth and production he showed last year, I fully expect Mueller to play his way out of it. History is even on his side in that regard, because once that scoreless run from July of 2019 ended in March of last year he kicked off his best campaign to date. While the end to his current drought may not be the beginning of a campaign as fruitful as last year, I do think he’ll regain his best form before too long. When he does, the Orlando attack will be that much more fearsome.