Off the PitchSep 27, 2018

Starting 11: Patrick Mullins

Patrick Mullins soccer dreams started early, with the New Orleans native becoming a committed student of the game in his adolescence. After bringing home three straight state championships with the Chicago Fire Juniors, Mullins was ranked as the No. 31 top recruit in the country at the close of his high school career. After finishing school a semester early, he committed to play at the University of Maryland and headed off to the east coast. He netted 47 goals during his four years as a Terrapin, and became only the fourth male in NCAA history to win the Hermann Trophy, which recognizes the top collegiate player of the year, twice. 

Mullins professional career kicked off in 2014, when he was selected 11th overall by the New England Revolution in the MLS Super Draft. He scored his first MLS goal in just his second professional game the following May. He eventually went on to be selected in the expansion draft by New York City FC, and then spent two seasons with DC United before being traded to the Columbus Crew in July of 2018. Now in the midst of his fifth MLS season, Mullins reflects on how he has changed as a player and the ups and downs of a professional career. 

1. How long have you played in the MLS and what was your path to the league?

I have played in the MLS for five years. My pathway to the pros was a college soccer career, but before my college days, I developed in the US Youth Soccer structure, particularly the ODP (Olympic Development Program) system was a great system for me as a kid growing up in Louisiana.

2. Do you have a favorite moment from your career so far?

Yes a few actually. In no real particular order they are: the NYCFC home opener at Yankee Stadium, going on a run to an MLS Cup with the Revs, and my four-goal game with DC United.

3. What do you think has been your personal key to success?

Of course I do think it takes talent and hard work to make a career out of soccer. During my career I’ve had a knack for finding a goal. But I really think a key part of my career so far has been being a good teammate. And I’m not just saying that. I try to be reliable not only for my teammates but the club as well. I want to follow through on what’s being asked of me. I’ve seen now plenty of players with talent come in and out of the league quickly because they weren’t willing to put the needs of the club ahead of themselves. I think this is so important, and in my experience clubs and coaches around the league think so too.

4. What has been the most difficult moment of your career? How did you overcome it?

My two injuries in 2017 with DC United. I pulled my hamstring and tore my medial meniscus resulting in three months missed in the season. Up to that point, I had never had a serious injury make me miss any amount of time. The time missed, right in the middle of the season, made it difficult to sustain fitness and keep in form on the field, but the hardest thing about it was being separated from the team. I gain a lot of my energy from teammates. I just did my best to focus all my effort into my recovery and returning to the team as soon as possible.

5. What are the biggest challenges in managing a professional playing career and how have those changed over your years as a player?

You come across quite a few. But one that sticks out is: sacrificing time with loved ones. When you are in season, you don’t have control of your schedule and often have to miss things. Forget making any concrete plans unless you get lucky with an off weekend. In general unless you play in your home market, your relationship with your family and loved ones will be affected by the amount of time you don’t get to spend with them throughout the year. There are no MLS teams in New Orleans, where I am from, so this is something I deal with constantly. I’ve gotten better at managing the time, but if there’s a conflict with soccer then you can pretty much count on every time soccer winning that battle. It’s nothing new for my family really. Soccer has always been a top priority, and they are incredibly supportive of my goals. But I know how hard that must be for them sometimes.

6. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the MLS during your time in the league?

The league seems to constantly be progressing year after year, and the biggest change I’ve seen since 2014 is the increase in talent of players in roster spots 4-8 on team rosters (in thanks to the allocation money available now).

7. How has your role in the locker room changed over the years?

I think it has changed since I was a rookie as I gain more experience and insight. When I first entered the league, I leaned on veterans in the locker room to learn how to conduct myself, and as I’ve gained experience I found myself naturally gravitating into that example role. I try to be approachable for new players just entering the league to be able to make their transition easier. I also found myself taking more of an interest in the Players Association and have been my team’s representative for the last three years, which has been a really good experience.

I have come to realize that things were never going to be perfect. I think I’m better for it too."

8. What’s the most important lesson you feel you’ve learned from your time playing?

I found out very quickly that things rarely go according to your plan. I came out of college hoping to prove I could play at the MLS level and earn a lasting role at the club that drafted me. In the end probably half of that turned out to be the case when I was drafted by New England. I was fortunate to be drafted to a club that believed in me and to have a coach that gave me opportunities to play, and I showed that I could make an impact at the professional level. As a team we made it all the way to the MLS Cup final and without a Robbie Keane overtime goal we might have won the first MLS Cup for the Revs. But at the end of my first year, I was picked up by NYCFC in an expansion draft. Quickly my career wasn’t going how I thought it would. I was on the move to a new club only after one season.

Looking back on it, I now know that rarely do things go how you plan it. Things turned out pretty well though. I mean then I was heading off to play for an exciting new club at the time with an impressive ownership backing, and not to mention playing in Yankee Stadium. I also got to work with some big-time names in world football like David Villa, Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo and Patrick Vieria in my time there. I do kind of regret not getting Frank to sign my childhood Chelsea jersey with his name on the back. But I was trying to stay professional. Now I just tell myself becoming friends and making memories on the field together is even better than an autograph.

Since that move to NYCFC, I have played for DC United and now with the Crew. Once again probably not exactly planned, but I have come to realize that things were never going to be perfect. I think I’m better for it too. In fact I don’t know if I would’ve had the success I’ve had if things hadn’t happened exactly how they did. I consider myself very fortunate to have had these experiences and am excited to unlock the potential of the rest of my career.

9. Who have been your biggest influences/supporters throughout your career?

I’ve had so many help me get to the point where I am at now, but by far my biggest supporters are definitely my family and girlfriend. They have been there with me for all the ups and downs of a pro career. I can’t imagine being where I am without them.

10. What are your goals as you look towards the rest of your career?

My goals are set at the beginning of each year when it comes to results and performance. But I’d be happy with the rest of my career knowing I avoided serious injuries and stayed curious about the game. What I mean by that is I want to take as much from the game as I possibly can. I want to become a better player on the field, a sharper student of the game and to have a bag full of memories.

11. What do you see yourself doing after your playing career comes to an end?

I want to be involved with soccer for the rest of my life, but I’m interested to see in what role. I could see things like commentating, coaching, or management. But I do have other interests outside of just soccer that I am excited to be able to pursue like: sports administration, marketing, and real estate. My dream job would be a College Athletic Director.

You follow Patrick on Twitter and Instagram