ORLANDO, Fla. – Orlando City SC claimed their first three points of 2019 at home Saturday night during a 4-3 victory over the Colorado Rapids, but it was Chris Mueller’s second-half appearance that received the most praise.
Mueller, who entered the game in the 80th minute, didn’t waste time in making an impact, scoring the tying goal moments into his appearance to spark a late rally from the Lions.
But could the second-year pro have influenced proceedings much earlier? Orlando coach James O’Connor had some thoughts.
“We sat down with Chris and I just said to him ‘you’re not going to start this one, you’re really unlucky,’” O’Connor said. "We just felt that there was potential for Chris to be able to come off the bench and impact the game like he has.
“When you have a weapon like that, and you look at the way the game may go or may not go, the big decision for us is do we start him?,” O’Connor continued. “The easy thing for us to do is to start Chris tonight. Everyone would have expected, including him, to start the game, but when we looked at it, we thought we needed to be brave, maybe follow what our good instinct was and bring him off the bench. Now when he goes and does something like that, it’s incredible.”
Mueller has only started twice in 2019 for the Lions, assisting Dom Dwyer’s goal last week against D.C. United. He had three goals and seven assists last year, shining as one of the most-impactful members of that SuperDraft class.
Not being able to start is difficult, Mueller said, but his focus was on impacting proceedings nonetheless.
“Honestly, it is tough,” said Mueller. “Everybody wants to play, everybody is competing for a spot, and I want to play as much as anybody else, but I also want to help the team in any way that I can. So when James [told me I wasn’t going to start], rather than getting negative, I tried to stay positive.”
Nani, who opened his Orlando account with a brace, including the game-winner on a penalty kick, said he told Mueller that he’d impact the Rapids match no matter what.
“Chris Mueller is a fantastic player,” said Nani. “He has all he wants on his front. I talked with him before the game, [and] I gave so much positive things. I told him it’s a matter of what’s going to happen in the second half, but to be prepared because [he] will be the key if we’re winning or losing because he brings so much energy.”