A month from now, nobody’s going to remember Chris Mueller‘s goal on Saturday night against New York City FC. Nobody’s going to remember when he brought in a ball on the left wing, charged right at Sean Johnson and blasted a shot straight by the US Men’s National Team-capped goalkeeper.
And nobody’s going to remember the great ball he played forward to Danilo Acosta that helped set up the Lions’ first of two goals on the night.
But pretty soon, they’re going to start remembering everything he does on the field when the games begin to count next month.
Mueller was one of the many positives on the field on Saturday for Orlando City in their 2-1 Invitational win over NYCFC, with the second year pro playing a part in both goals for the Lions.
The Pittsburgh-born striker was drafted 6th overall by Orlando City in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft and quickly made a name for himself in the Sunshine State last season when he scored three goals with seven assists in 32 games (23 starts) in his rookie campaign. Now a year older and with much more pro experience under his belt, Mueller, 22, looks poised to take the next step this season and cement himself as a valuable piece of Orlando City’s attack.
“I think I’m going in with a little bit more experience, obviously not too much because I’m still super young,” Mueller said after Saturday’s game. “I played a decent amount of games last year. I got a little bit of a feel, a little bit of … just experience, I’ll say it one more time. I’m excited to just keep moving forward and doing my part.”
A noticeable connection that stood out in the match, and was even mentioned by head coach James O’Connor after the match, was Mueller’s partnership with Tesho Akindele, a bond that has grown quickly over this preseason and started early with the Lions spending their first two weeks at IMG Academy in Bradenton.
“I like to play with Tesho, he’s a great player,” said Mueller. “He’s got a great mind for the game, he finishes just about everything that comes off his foot, so it makes it easy to slip it in and expect him to score. Can’t say any more good about him.”
Akindele agreed with the closeness of he and Mueller, and said it was a product of that stay at IMG. He talked about how the players when they were there roomed together in villas, with as many as six or seven players staying in the same space together. That allowed them to bond, hang out in common areas playing FIFA for hours, and get to know each other quiet well, something that’s a lot harder to do when teams stay at hotels because they can easily just bunker down and stay to themselves in their own rooms, he said.
It was that time together off the field at IMG that has fueled an on-field partnership between Mueller and Akindele, one that both the players individually and the team hope to benefit from this season.
It’s not going to be easy for Mueller to stay on the field once Dom Dwyer returns from injury, as well as the rumored addition of Portuguese winger Nani, who could also slide right in up top next to a healthy Dwyer, but that’s not going to stop the former Wisconsin forward from working hard and trying to impress the coaches, enough so that they’ll keep finding ways to put him in.
“I think his understanding, even in preseason he’s had a great little partnership with Tesho,” O’Connor said. “I thought he took his goal well tonight, so he’s someone we’ve been very pleased with through the whole preseason. We think his performances have been great. He’s worked exceptionally hard throughout preseason.”
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