On the heels of a historically bad 2013 MLS campaign, D.C. United went into the 2014 SuperDraft looking to move on, and more importantly to improve. Holding on to the number one pick in that draft, United had already added the services of Fabian Espindola, Eddie Johnson, Sean Franklin, and Bobby Boswell to their ranks. But to top it off, it seemed like the obvious choice for United would be to select Patrick Mullins from the University of Maryland, the two time M.A.C. Hermann Trophy winner, the award given out to the best player in college soccer.
United eventually traded that number one pick away, and ended up selecting Steve Birnbaum with the second pick in the draft. Mullins eventually went 11th in the draft, selected by the New England Revolution. After moving to New York City FC after the 2014 season in the expansion draft, Mullins finally ended up where he wanted to be on Wednesday, joining United in a trade that sent allocation money and an international spot the other way.
"As a competitor, I wanted to be picked number one in that draft," Mullins told reporters on Thursday in his first interview as a member of D.C. United.
"It’s a place that I’ve always followed, especially with growing up through college here. It was where I wanted to go," said Mullins. "Our club got a pretty good guy in [Steve] Birnbaum during that draft for their first pick. I don’t think there are any complaints to how that worked out. I’m happy that it turned out to cross paths in my career."
Needing help at the forward position, United approached NYCFC in order to bring Mullins to the club. Mullins was a player that United had plenty of looks at during his collegiate year, given the proximity of RFK Stadium to the University of Maryland, and the staff's relationship with head soccer coach Sasho Cirovski. The deal was good enough for the Pigeons, and United finally got the guy they had their eye on for quite some time.
"It’s nice when you know a lot about the kid you bring in. The type of guy he is, how he plays," manager Ben Olsen said to reporters on Thursday. "Because of where he went to school, the interview process at the combine, and the time he spent with us."
After a rookie campaign in which he scored four times for the Revolution while appearing in 21 games, Mullins was left unprotected in the 2014 Expansion Draft designed to stock NYCFC and Orlando City's rosters. With the fourth pick, the Pigeons nabbed Mullins, and he improved upon his first year, scoring six goals and adding four assists in NYC’s maiden voyage. But this year, with David Villa firing goals in left and right, and Patrick Vieira changing the club's approach, Mullins found himself on the outside looking in, appearing in 230 minutes spread across just 7 games.
Mullins never asked for a trade, but when the opportunity came up, and it was United who wanted him, it was an easy choice for the former Terp.
"It was never a request. The way it was approached to me was that D.C. made an offer, and it was something that New York City felt was too good to pass up," said Mullins. "And obviously, it’s a place where I wanted to be. It was an organization where I thought I would fit in well."
And while Mullins believed he was given chances to prove himself in New York City, he believes he just fell victim to being on the outside of a winning formula.
"It’s difficult to break in if you have a guy like David Villa tearing it up. I have no bad feelings in terms of how things went on there last year or this year," said Mullins. "I felt they gave me every opportunity to grow, and it was just one of those things were it was time to move on or go a different direction."
Now Mullins goes from a situation where there was one main striker in the Bronx, to the nation’s capital where United are still trying to figure out where the goals are going to come this season. With just 18 goals from 19 games this year, United sit 19th in terms of goals scored in the league this year. With Alvaro Saborio or Alhaji Kamara not exactly firing in the goals at a necessary clip, Mullins will now battle with his two new teammates for playing time at the number nine position.
"It’s a competition. We’re deep. From an offensive standpoint, we have pretty good depth," Olsen added on Thursday. "I’m looking forward to the competition, I hope the guys are looking forward to it. It does help. On a everyday basis. It helps with training, it helps with games, with the options you have."
"He knows how to score goals. Two years in college, he hit the net quite a bit. That part he knows how to do," Olsen said of Mullins. "There’s some little things we can help him with to get him where he needs to be. But we’re excited about the acquisition, and we’ll get his feet wet soon."
Mullins had played in the previous two games for NYC, coming off the bench twice in appearances that totaled 29 minutes. He had also started and played 90 minutes in the US Open Cup loss to the New York Cosmos, but had not played in the league since May 18th, when he started and went 90 minutes against Toronto FC, notching his only assist on the season.
So he may not be physically ready for a start and 90 minutes this weekend as United head north to face that same Toronto side, but having played in closed door scrimmage games in addition to his couple first team appearances, Mullins believes he’s kept himself near top match sharpness.
"When you’re a player and you don’t get many minutes, you have to find ways to stay sharp. I’ll give myself credit, I think I did that. I think it puts me in a good opportunity to be ready."
And to boot, Mullins believes that he’s finally at a club that can maximize his strengths as a player on the field.
"In terms of the mentality of D.C. United, across it’s history. The people they have that work day in and day out, I think I fit in very well to that style. I also think in terms of Xs and Os on the field, I always felt my game would fit in well with some of the things they like to do."