LAUDERHILL, Fla. – The biggest rep, and the most accolades, and the highest expectations at the MLS Player Combine belong to Patrick Mullins.
The University of Maryland striker has won the last two MAC Hermann Trophies, leading his Terps to the College Cup semifinals and final in the last two seasons. He’s scored every kind of goal there is in the process, including a stunning chipped finish from 25 yards in this year’s tournament.
He’s big (6-foot-1) and strong (172 lbs.) and has a sweet left foot. He runs the channels and combines through the middle. And in spite of all of that, scouts aren’t yet 100 percent sure what to make of him.
“Where do you play him?” said one MLS scout who asked to remain anonymous. “Can he fight inside the 18? Is he fast enough to play outside? If you play him in a 4-4-2, does he give you enough in possession?”
Mullins has done the rare double of being the most proven commodity and the biggest question mark in this draft. He likely won’t drop any lower than No. 6, but because he doesn’t fit neatly into a box, he isn’t the surefire No. 1 that his college career suggests he should be.
“I can be a target forward sometimes, I can battle in the air, I can drift out wide and send in crosses,” Mullins said after Sunday’s Combine performance, in which he assisted on his adiZero team’s lone goal in a 1-1 draw against a NitroCharge team featuring California defenders Steve Birnbaum and Christian Dean, the two other guys most often mentioned as possible No. 1 overall picks.
“But I think the most important thing to me is to make sure I’m setting up and knowing where the goal is at all times so that the ball ends up in the back of the net.”
Mullins’ assist showcased some of that versatility, as he made a smart center forward’s run in transition, then held the ball up just long enough to draw the defense before slipping Kristopher Tyrpak through for the finish.
It was a classy, patient bit of play. And while the scouts may not be convinced – not yet, anyway – one of the guys who’s vying with Mullins for a spot at the top of the draft said it’s the type of play he expected to see.
“Playing out there with him today was fun. He’s a great forward, and just a great player,” said Georgetown’s Steve Neumann, who, like Mullins, was a four-year college player whose game has been seen, analyzed and picked apart perhaps a bit more than it should have been.
“With a forward like that, he gives you lots of options, because he can run the channels, but then he can make a play with his back to the goal. And he scores.”
When asked specifically what Mullins does best, Neumann pinpointed two skills: “His laying off ability, finding runners that are behind him and then spinning off into the box. And then, though the college season, you see that he’s just lethal.”
But will it be enough to make him the No. 1 overall pick? D.C. United are reported to be considering Mullins at that spot, even after loading up on forwards during the offseason.
“I think any player here would tell you we want to go as high as you can,” Mullins offered. “You want to show your best, show the coaches of every team what you can do out here.”