About a month and a half ago, New York City FC head coach Jason Kreis pulled forward Patrick Mullins aside.
“I told him it was difficult because we were playing with one striker and that striker was David Villa so it was difficult for me to not be involving him more,” Kreis recalled. “He’s a player I have a lot of faith in and a lot of admiration for.”
While Villa, the Club’s captain, has earned the lion’s share of starts up top during the inaugural season, Mullins, a second-year player out of the University of Maryland, has continued to work hard and be ready for when his number would be called.
Sure enough, with Villa sidelined by a recent hamstring injury, Kreis called upon No. 14 to step up.
Mullins, 23, scored in the second half of the 2-1 loss to FC Dallas on Sept. 12 at Toyota Stadium and found the back of the net again in New York City FC’s 2-0 victory over Eastern Conference foe Toronto FC on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.
“When you get an opportunity as a professional athlete you need to make the most of it because they can be few and far between,” said Mullins, who has six goals and four assists in 21 appearances (11 starts) this season. “I think that’s something I pride myself on. I like to think that I rise to the occasion when my number’s called and can be a guy my team can depend on.”
Mullins rose to the occasion, literally, against Toronto FC.
With New York City FC up 1-0, the Club was striving to pad its advantage in order to secure all three points against Toronto FC. In the 77th minute, midfielder Andrea Pirlo swung in a teasing corner kick. Mullins out-jumped three Toronto FC defenders and headed the ball into the back of the net.
He ran toward the Italian set-piece specialist in celebration.
“As a forward you want to score in different ways,” Mullins said. “I pride myself on being able to get a head on the ball, putting it in with my left foot … whatever the moment calls upon. Right then and there I put myself in a good spot to score and I’m definitely happy about it.”
It was the second consecutive match that Mullins has scored in. The forward has played 197 minutes in the last three matches with two starts, while logging just 21 minutes in the prior six matches (no starts).
“Patrick is a guy you can’t help but like,” Kreis said. “Another guy that’s really competitive every single day in training; he’s chirping and also trying to get the rest of the group going with his spirit and his attitude.
“I think he’s going to be a part of this franchise for a long, long time.”
Despite being in the early stages of his professional career, Mullins, a two-time Hermann Trophy Award winner, has been to the top of the mountain. Mullins advanced to the 2014 MLS Cup with New England last season.
The 11th overall selection in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft came on as a second-half substitute and assisted on Chris Tierney’s match-tying goal that forced extra time against the Los Angeles Galaxy, who ended up winning, 2-1.
Having been so near to the pinnacle serves as motivation for Mullins as he does whatever he can to help New York City FC reach the MLS playoffs in their inaugural campaign.
“I’m motivated all the time; that’s within me,” Mullins said. “As a professional everybody in this locker room has pride in being a winner. If you aren’t in the playoffs you have a sour feeling going into the offseason. You want to go into the offseason on a high note and win as many games as you can.”
New York City FC, which currently sit eighth in the Eastern Conference at 8-14-7 (31 points), quickly get another opportunity to pick up points on Saturday. Kickoff against the San Jose Earthquakes is 7 p.m. ET from Yankee Stadium (YES Network, WFAN, WADO).
Mullins may hear “1-4” called again this Saturday if Villa can’t overcome his hamstring injury.
One thing’s for sure – he’ll certainly be ready.