MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Jake Mulraney: Once I understood Atlanta United's culture, I had to come here

Jake Mulraney trains - Atlanta United

After carving out his professional path in Scotland, first with Inverness Caledonian Thistle then better-known Hearts, an interesting option appeared in Jake Mulraney's sightline. 

Atlanta United were interested in the former Irish youth international, as head coach Frank de Boer continued to reshape the roster he inherited at the start of 2019. 

Mulraney didn't know much about the club, so he reached out to Atlanta's Mo Adams, whom he crossed paths with in their early teenage years, and then listened to overtures from technical director Carlos Bocanegra. It didn't take long for him to form a decision.

“The first I heard of Atlanta's interest was in like November, but I didn’t think much of it," Mulraney told last week. "Once I had a gist what the club was about, I was attracted definitely. It just seemed like a good option. This would probably not come again, so I just took it.”

Mulraney had excelled throughout his youth as a winger, and admits in younger days didn't have much interest in defending, but Atlanta were interested with the idea of him fitting as a wingback in de Boer's 3-4-2-1. 

Since arriving this winter, de Boer has worked on Mulraney's tactical expectations. He started both of Atlanta's MLS games before the league was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I’ve even started to enjoy the defending side of it," he said with a laugh.

Mulraney's debut came in the Concacaf Champions League against Motagua, a game he almost was forced to miss as he returned to Europe to finalize his visa. During a frequently interrupted preseason, he says all he could really do was run on his own to keep fit. He returned to rejoin the club, visa sorted, to continue preparations for the CCL match.

“Frank told me the first day I came back, he said I think I’m going to play you against Motagua, are you fit? Are you ready?" Mulraney recalled. "I said yes I’m desperate to play. Then that session, I was terrible. The next day, I was even worse.”

However, Mulraney performed fine as Atlanta sealed a comfortable aggregate victory. It was the kind of professional effort that comes from a development pathway that exposed him early to the cutthroat nature of the senior game.

One day in 2014 When Mulraney was working to earn his professional debut at QPR, he trained with the first team. At the time, QPR were in their first Premier League season following promotion, but also struggling.

All session, Mulraney had performed well and for the entirety of a possession drill not once did he lose the ball. Then suddenly he was grouped with Rio Ferdinand, the legendary former Manchester United and England defender, who was in his last pro season.

After that, the coaches announced that the next team to squander possession loses the contest. Of course, Mulraney was the culprit for the first time all day, leading to a searing dressing down from the veteran center back.

“It was an eye-opener," Mulraney said with a laugh. "It was like, I kept the ball every single time I got it except for once and now I’m getting grilled by Rio Ferdinand."