Chris Mueller does not believe he’s tainted just because he played college soccer for four years.
In fact, he believes he is just as prepared for the professional ranks as those prep school phenoms and college one-and-doners who will be so much in demand at the upcoming MLS SuperDraft.
Much like the NBA, MLS scouts sometimes look down their noses at players who spend four years in college. Mueller, as you might expect, thinks this a flawed mindset.
“I think playing four years in college has definitely helped me mature as a player,” said Mueller, who was the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year last season at Wisconsin. “I think it’s underrated how much being in college helps you as a player.
“Everybody takes a different route. Some guys leave early and that’s good for them, but being in college four years really helped me. I’m very happy with the path I took. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
One of the things Mueller, a 5-foot-9 forward, learned in college was that soccer is not just a physical game; it’s a mind game, too. You have to prepare yourself mentally if you want to be a star. He credits much of his collegiate success to some concepts he learned from motivational books such as “Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence” by Gary Mack and “Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable” by Tim S. Grover.
“You have to be obsessed with what you’re doing,” says Mueller, who led the nation in assists during his final year at Wisconsin and is the first player in more than a decade to register more than 20 assists in a collegiate season. “If you want to be as good as you can be and really top out at your full potential, you have to be relentless toward achieving your goals. You have to be the first guy in the gym. You have to strive to be the best and not put any limits on yourself. I am a gym rat. I like to work on my craft.
“I think when you take that next step from the collegiate game to MLS, your approach to the game is crucial. I’m trying to focus in on my mentality and hone in on what separates the top guys from the average guys. The tiny margins and small details are crucial.”
Mueller’s work ethic, mental approach and attitude have certainly caught the attention of MLS scouts. Ian Fuller, assistant coach of Minnesota United FC, compares Mueller’s approach to Manchester United legend Wayne Rooney.
“Chris has a fantastic mentality,” Fuller says. “He’s got that Wayne Rooney-type bulldog attitude. He plays with a determination you love to see.”