COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The postseason beard is in full effect these days for Brian Mullan, and that’s a bad sign for the rest of Major League Soccer.
The 11-year playoff veteran was back at his best during Colorado’s 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew in a chilly wild card matchup on Thursday, surging up and down the right flank all night for the Rapids and helping set up the game-winning goal for Omar Cummings.
But is it really a surprise that Mullan, the five-time MLS Cup winner the Rapids traded for last season before winning their first-ever league title, would thrive this time of year? Not if you ask those who know him best, and know there’s no other time he’d rather play than playoff time.
“He never ceases to amaze, does he?” Rapids head coach Gary Smith said. “He’s like a Duracell battery, he just keeps going. He’s got enough passion to drive himself and plenty of others on the team. On occasions like this, when you’re in or you’re out and there’s no coming back from a poor result or a bad mistake, you want guys like Brian on your team.”
Thursday’s game marked Mullan’s 34th postseason appearance – tying him with former New England Revolution stalwart Steve Ralston for 10th all-time in league history – but it doesn’t appear he’s lost a step since his first foray with the LA Galaxy in 2001.
“This is when the body’s banged up, but this is when you can tell everyone’s putting their heart into it,” Mullan said. “That just makes it more pleasurable.”
Mullan was instrumental in the game’s only goal, and it was a fitting end to a first half, when he was one of the most dangerous players on the field.
He found space on the right side and drifted upfield before threading a pass to defender Kosuke Kimura in the box. Kimura promptly tapped it back to Cummings 10 yards out, and the Rapids striker buried the shot in the back of the net for the winner.
“As soon as we started finding our forwards and our forwards started holding the ball, the outside backs collapsed and we could spread the ball wide,” Mullan said. “There was plenty of space out there, and our forwards did a great job finding the pockets and making it difficult for their back line.”
Mullan also set up a near goal for the Rapids in the 21st minute, skipping a pass from the right flank into the box to striker Caleb Folan, who dropped the ball back to midfielder Jamie Smith. The final touch from Smith’s foot, however, skipped right at Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer.
Mullan’s never been a goal scorer – he’s scored just twice in his postseason career, the last coming as an insurance goal in the Houston Dynamo’s 3-1 win over the Rapids in the 2006 Western Conference final – but he’s inherited at least some of the offensive burden during an injury-plagued season for the Rapids.
“You can’t replace the guys we’ve lost this season,” he said. “But we’ve had a lot of guys who have put some of that burden on their shoulders. As far as my job, I just try and get up the field and cross the ball in.”
The Rapids, meanwhile, have now won more postseason games with Mullan in the lineup over the past two seasons than they won over eight postseasons combined from 1998-2006. And his 11 consecutive playoff appearances is tops among active players in the league.
“I guess I take it for granted, and I’ll be devastated if it doesn’t happen some year,” he said. “It’s been a good run, and I hope it continues.”