Last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up returned to Orlando City for his second season in purple. Chris Mueller was the Lions’ sixth pick of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, and the man known as “Cash” somewhat lived up to the nickname last season. To start this season, he seemed to pick up right where he left off, but as the season wore on, we saw less and less of the energizer bunny whether he started, or came on as a super sub.
Last season, Mueller was given a grade of 6, and his future prospects looked very bright, if he could make a few adjustments in his sophomore season. So how did he fare in 2019?
Mueller appeared 29 times for the Lions in MLS regular season play (16 starts) and in all four U.S. Open Cup matches. He made three fewer appearances in his second season than in 2018 and seven fewer starts. Mueller played 1,370 minutes in MLS, compared to 2,056 in 2018. He also played 294 minutes in USOC matches in 2019.
In MLS, he took 40 shots, putting 13 on target, and netting five goals. He also added four assists during the year. In USOC play he took 10 shots, putting four on target, and scored one goal. In an improvement over the previous season, he was shown one fewer yellow card, with one. Additionally, he committed four fewer fouls, with 13, while suffering 23 fouls. He was only called for one offside, which was an big improvement over the 10 he had in 2018. He completed 79.8% of his passes, with 13 tackles and nine clearances total.
Mueller’s best game came right at the beginning of the season in the opening match against New York City FC on March 2. Orlando City was down 2-0 when Cash sent a free kick from outside the box past everyone and into the back of the net.
Orlando scored another goal to complete the comeback 2-2 draw in the opener, thanks in large part to Mueller. He had a team-high five chances created, two shots with one on target. two corners, one foul, four fouls suffered, and one offside. Basically, he was a pain in the rear to NYCFC all night, and earned Man of the Match honors from our staff.
2019 Final Grade
Staff grades for Mueller were remarkably consistent, only ranging from 5.5 to 6.5 with an exact average of 6. As I mentioned above, that is the same final grade Mueller received from the staff in 2018. While he did score more goals in 2019 (five versus three, plus one in the U.S. Open Cup), he put only 33% of his shots on target as compared to 41% in his rookie year. He also had fewer assists (four versus seven), and played fewer minutes in 2019, but that may have been a result of what James O’Connor was seeing in practice or during games.
Mueller started the year out strong, but fell off quite a bit as it progressed. In fact, he did not start a game after Aug. 14, which was Orlando City’s final win of the season. He had no goals in his his last 12 matches, and no assists in his last seven appearances. Not only that, but in the last eight games he was subbed on six times and was an unused sub twice. Given that Mueller is 23, and in his second year in the league, I doubt his lack of playing time had to do with not having enough gas in the tank.
As with most players on the team, the introduction of a new coaching staff could have drastic implications for Mueller. There’s no denying his hustle, or his desire to get better. Whether or not he can transform that desire into results is the bigger question. At the end of his rookie year, we wrote he needed to work on parts of his game, but that his energy might make him a valuable player. It’s a new year, but his outlook remains the same. Among other things, Mueller needs to learn when to take the shot, instead of opting for the pass. I expect him to be here for 2020, but what role he’ll have under the new regime is anyone’s guess.