With the sixth pick of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, Orlando City selected forward Chris Mueller out of Wisconsin. Playing with the self-proclaimed nickname “Cash,” Mueller played up top for his first four appearances before settling in on the right side of the midfield, a position that turned out to be a much better fit.
The rookie made a name for himself on April 8 when he came on as a sub in the 67th minute for Josué Colmán against the Portland Timbers. Down 2-0, Mueller missed an open shot on goal that would’ve pulled one back, but made up for it when he scored in the 80th minute. The Lions went on to score two more goals and win the second in what would eventually be a six-game winning streak.
Mueller then scored in the next two games, making it appear as though he was a steal with the sixth pick. However, the midfielder did come back down to earth as the season progressed. Mueller showed flashes of skill and a willingness to take on defenders, but also showed his youth as he dribbled into trouble and took too long to get shots off.
Mueller played in 32 of the team’s 34 games during the 2018 MLS season, starting 23, and he started two of the three U.S. Open Cup games. He got off to a hot start, scoring in back-to-back-to-back games against the Portland Timbers, Philadelphia Union, and San Jose Earthquakes, but wouldn’t score again through the remainder of the season. His second-minute goal against San Jose was the fastest MLS goal in club history, and the third-fastest since the club’s founding in 2011. The only two earlier goals scored were by Dom Dwyer and Kevin Molino, both in 2013 in USL play. In addition to his three goals, Mueller accumulated seven assists in his 2,221 minutes of time on the field (combined USOC and MLS).
The 22-year-old attempted just 32 shots in his rookie season, getting 13 on target. He passed at a 77.5% rate, creating 14 chances for his teammates over the course of 2018. Defensively, he made 16 tackles, had seven clearances, intercepted seven passes, and blocked a couple of shots. He committed 17 fouls but drew 31. He received two yellow cards and was not sent off.
Mueller had a hot and cold season, looking great on some nights and lost on others. His best game came on April 21 in a 3-2 win against the San Jose Earthquakes. He opened the game strongly by scoring in just the second minute and then assisted on the second goal of the night by Sacha Kljestan. As usual, he had plenty of energy in this game but was better at harnessing it than in other games, maintaining his ability to find his teammates rather than dribbling into trouble.
While the San Jose game was his best, his game against the Portland Timbers was his most impactful. The Lions trailed 2-0 at home after 70 minutes. Mueller came on and everything changed. His energy put a spark into the team and he ended up scoring the first of a three-goal comeback.
2018 Final Grade
The Mane Land staff gave Chris Mueller a composite grade of 6 for the season. While he looked great in the first few games, like much of the team, he was a bit less impressive later in the year. Given that it was his rookie year, that would be expected as he had never played this many games in a season. He still has some stuff to work on, such as not losing the ball as well as waiting too long to shoot, but his energy was a big factor in the little success the team had this season. We’ll be able to judge just how good he can be next season.
At 22 years old, Mueller should still be a part of Orlando City’s future. The 2019 season will be crucial in determining if that’s the case as he’ll display if he can develop and learn from what he struggled with in 2018. Even through his inconsistency, Mueller displayed an energy that could be an important part of the team’s success next season.