Hibs fans, I’m sure it is very difficult to find good information about an American from Schaumburg, Illinois who played 4 years in college at the University of Wisconsin and has since resided in sunny Orlando, Florida as an MLS player. The MLS doesn’t exactly have the best foreign promotion, and statistics are surprisingly difficult to find for such an “advanced” country (yes, I’ll poke fun at my own dumpster fire of a country). Back to the topic at hand: what are you getting in Chris Mueller? I’ll go over strengths, weaknesses, potential roles, and more below.
As I said earlier, Mueller played 4 years in college–sadly. Universities are home to the majority of young American talent that isn’t quite good enough or exposed enough to play in Europe just yet. Mueller certainly made his time at Wisconsin count, however, as he 24 goals and 43 assists across 86 appearances as a Badger. This included tallies of 21 g/a in 22 appearances in his penultimate year before an absurd 10 goal, 26 assist showing in 27 appearances in his final year. He was named Big Ten offensive player of the year (best attacker in his division) and to the team of the year.
As is the American way, the MLS functions extraordinarily different to every other league in the world. After players graduate from college, rather than sign with whichever team they choose, there’s a draft process. Chris Mueller was selected 6th overall by Orlando City FC in 2018, where he’s been ever since. The 25-year-old has tallied 21 goals and 18 assists over 117 appearances for the club. His best season came in 2020, leading the team with 10 goals while adding 6 assists in 22 appearances (1,465 minutes).
Mueller has only appeared for the US Men’s National Team twice, scoring 2 goals and assisting 1 in a 6-0 friendly win vs. El Salvador in December of 2020.
Strengths and weaknesses
Between watching him play and talking with Orlando City fans, I think the absolute biggest quality you’ll get with Mueller is energy. His first two season with the club, they finished near the bottom of the league both times. When the rest of the team didn’t seem to care, Mueller was giving 110% every moment he was on the pitch. He’ll give it all for the club whether he’s starting or coming off the bench. One fan compared him to the Energizer bunny when he comes on as a sub as he always seems to give the team a jolt. He’ll be a fan favorite from the start purely for his energy.
In college, Mueller was a dynamic creator as seen in his 26 assist final season. While he hasn’t managed any incredible assist tallies, he’s still been comfortably among the top assist providers in the league the past two years, ranking in the 88th percentile in 2020 with 0.37 per 90, while sitting in the 81st percentile so far this season with 0.28 assists per 90. He’s no Mesut Ozil, but he’ll get into advantageous positions with his athleticism and IQ and pick out the final pass pretty well. His mental game has taken enormous strides since becoming a professional which is what helped him explode last season. He’s also adept at winning fouls in good positions, and occasionally unleashes a ferocious free kick.
His goalscoring is a tricky one. He led the team with 10 goals last season, scoring 0.61 goals per 90 which is incredible return, especially for somebody that was typically lining up as a winger. He tends to tuck in more than a traditional winger, but 0.61 goals is still a massive figure for somebody deployed out wide. The goals have dried up a bit this year, notching just 2 so far. This leads me to the next bit: his xG.
In 2020, Mueller amassed 6.1 expected goals, scoring 10. His finishing has outperformed his xG for 2 of his 3 professional season, suggesting he’s a good finisher. Fans didn’t highlight finishing as a real strength of his, but the stats say otherwise. While he has just 2 goals this season, he’s amassed just 2.2 xG. His finishing has regressed to the mean this year, but this has been a weird year for Mueller with contract issues and speculation around his move. He started off poorly, but gained form over the summer and has recovered to have a decent final season in Orlando.
Mueller does come with weaknesses, as all players do. He often gets tunnel vision, dribbling into multiple players with no real chance of succeeding. In such times, he’ll go to ground far too easily and end up losing the ball. Cleaning up these lapses would go a long way if he just opts to go backwards and retain possession. He’s also a bit streaky, going on a run where he’ll have 5 g/a in 5 and then ghost for the next few matches.
While his output looks good on paper, he isn’t quite a “creator” nor is he a “goalscorer” — he’s a bit of a tweener. He’ll give you both when he’s on form, but he’s not exceptional at either on the professional level, at least on a consistent basis. If he can nail down the consistency, he’ll chip in with both at a decent rate.
He won’t progress the ball much via either passing or dribbling, ranking below the 60th percentile in both progressive carries and progressive passes. He’s not so much involved in creating opportunities as he is being on the end of them, whether it’s making a run and making the final pass across goal or finishing off the move. Don’t expect someone who’ll drop deep and dribble the whole team a-la-Eden-Hazard, but somebody that will be a sort of connective tissue–playing off of others and taking advantage of their good work to finish off the move or win a foul.
Expectations and roles
I wouldn’t expect Mueller to come in and hit the ground running, scoring and assisting left and right. This will be the first time in his life he’s played outside of America, which is an enormous difference as the style in America is much less tactical and technical, being more reliant on athleticism. At worst, though, Mueller can be a spark plug off the bench, running at tired legs to create the odd goal and assist. He’s played most of his career on the right wing, often tucking in to get into good spots in the box. I’m not sure what the Hibs squad looks like, but I’d imagine you can throw him in at either wing spot or even as a deeper-lying striker and he’ll find his spots.
Expecting a starting-quality player from day one might be a bit too much, and it may take him a little while to get comfortable playing such a drastically different style of football, but I’d be shocked if Mueller doesn’t find ways to contribute. He’s incredibly positive in his mindset and he’ll work his tail off to succeed. You may not get a superstar, but you’ve got yourself a good one.
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