Simply put, Chris Mueller is a man on fire.
Through two matches in the MLS is Back Tournament, Mueller is an early challenger in the Golden Boot race with three goals thus far in the competition and four total in the calendar year.
After scoring the goal that leveled the Lions against Inter Miami CF a week ago, Mueller wasted no time getting going on Tuesday against New York City FC, needing just six minutes to net the first brace of his professional career, scoring in the fourth and 10th minutes, respectively.
With that, Mueller broke the record for the fastest brace in Club history, surpassing former Lions forward Cyle Larin, who took eight minutes to score twice on October 16, 2015 - also against NYCFC.
Now in his third season with Orlando City, Mueller — through just four matches — is one goal shy of matching his personal best of five finishes a year ago. Since joining the Lions ahead of the 2018 campaign, he has registered 65 appearances in MLS play with 42 starts, 12 goals and 11 assists to his credit.
With all of that playing time under his belt, it’s easy to forget that Mueller is just 23 years old. Drafted fifth-overall by Orlando City at the 2018 MLS SuperDraft out of the University of Wisconsin, he is one of the longest-tenured Lions on the roster despite his age.
His acquired experience and the introduction of Head Coach Oscar Pareja have been two contributing factors to his recent on-field triumph, crediting the creativity and identity that the 2016 MLS Coach of the Year encourages them to utilize in their play.
“Obviously I’ve enjoyed working with Oscar, for sure. When a coach manages the players so well and gives you the confidence to go out and play your own game and show some personality on the field, I think that that’s all you can ask for,” Mueller said of Pareja. “I think that he’s done that really well, especially with me. I feel confident to go out and play my own game and just let the pieces kind of fall as they do and focus on playing my game.”
That confidence is twofold, with Pareja speaking to both the potential that Mueller possesses and the versatility he offers for his group on the pitch. With his success in the Lions’ last two matches, it’s safe to say that the work of Pareja and his staff on the young talent is coming to fruition.
“I believe that Chris has been improving a lot, he is a young player but he is very smart. He is a player who understands the game greatly and is getting better every day, which makes me very happy because he receives our guidance and information very well,” Pareja said. “He is a player who has goals, a player that you can play wide, centered or even as a second forward. He is learning how to penetrate in the spaces and I see a lot of growth in Chris. We have high hopes for him with the Club."
Despite his youth, Mueller has come into his own as a leader amongst this group, often found encouraging his teammates in training and emphasizing the importance of off the field preparations, in addition to the technical and physical aspects of the game.
“Chris first of all is an amazing player, there’s no question about it. He’s an amazing player, 1v1 one of the best players I’ve played with and I think you don't see that a lot of times with an American, so he’s a special talent,” MLS veteran Tesho Akindele said of Mueller ahead of the NYCFC match.
“With him, he’s big on mentality. The main thing is making sure his mind is in the right place and right now he looks to have his mind in the right place. When he’s in that mode, I think he’s one of the top players in the league and it’s going to be hard for teams to stop him because he’s a really tough player.”
After Tuesday’s performance, we’d say Chris Mueller is definitely in the right place, but the work is not done yet. He and the rest of the Lions have a clear vision ahead of making a run through the tournament and thus far have turned that vision into reality, with their ticket to the Round of 16 already punched.
If the last week is any indication of what we can expect from Mueller and the rest of the group moving forward, then buckle your seatbelts. This is going to be a fun ride.