Orlando City SC have emerged as one of the big success stories through two rounds of the MLS is Back Tournament group stage. The Lions have roared out of the gate, defeating Inter Miami CF and New York City FC to clinch their spot in the Round of 16 and begin to change the narrative around the club.
At the heart of that transformation is Chris Mueller, a driven 23-year-old who has returned from a four-month stoppage due to the coronavirus pandemic to enjoy arguably the best 180 minutes of his professional career.
The fifth overall selection in the 2019 SuperDraft struck for the equalizer against Inter Miami, a sliding back-post finish that ignited the spark that helped fuel Nani’s stoppage-time winner in the tournament’s opening match.
He then terrorized NYCFC to the tune of two goals inside of 10 minutes with numerous chances to bag the hat trick in a 3-1 victory that clinched Orlando’s berth into the knockout stage.
Now Orlando prepare to take on the Philadelphia Union in a battle for the top spot in Group A Monday (8 pm ET | ESPN, TUDN in US; TSN in Canada). The Lions are showing a collective confidence under new coach Oscar Pareja, who detailed some of the principles that guide the Orlando coaching staff.
That includes Mueller, who Tesho Akindele previously called “one-v-one, one of the best players I’ve played with.”
“Our commitment as coaches is to provide a good scenario for players where they can develop, create training sessions where the players not just understand and believe the morale and the idea of the game we want to play, but the potential they can have under our guidance,” he said. “The most important is that they feel the job is going to be done by themselves on the field and let them express the best of their qualities there. We put ourselves always as a tool for them to use and believe in their own capacity to play this game. That is the base of our principles of coaching.”
Mueller’s individual success is second on his mind, according to goalkeeper Pedro Gallese.
“Chris is already showing he’s a great player. He’s always thinking about what he can do for the team,” he said through a translator. “He’s continuing to work for that. We can see that he’s going to do really well in this tournament and in his career.”
What’s behind Mueller’s hot start? Teammate Benji Michel credits his constant desire to stay tuned in to the game, even while others are looking to enjoy some downtime.
“He’s a self-made athlete,” Michel said. “Sometimes I complain because I’d want to play Fortnite or [Call of Duty: War Zone) with him, but he’s always doing whatever it takes to prepare himself whether thats resting or recovery. I see that in his game because he’s been a beast this tournament. The little things I see him doing, it all helps.”