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Orlando City rookie Chris Mueller eager to prove himself to new coach

Orlando City winger Chris Mueller (17) takes a shot against Atlanta United during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando City rookie Chris Mueller never expected his first season as a professional soccer player would be so … eventful.

The first-year winger was a starter in Orlando City’s season opener against D.C. United. He was unstoppable in three consecutive matches, scoring a goal in each match. He scored the fastest goal in Orlando City history against the San Jose Earthquakes.

Mueller has been a constant contributor this season. The 21-year-old Wisconsin product has four assists to go with his three goals and has been lauded for his work ethic.

Still, Orlando City’s season has been rough. For the first time in his soccer career, he’s dealing with a coaching change. After proving himself as a valuable asset to previous head coach Jason Kreis, he’ll have to do so again with new manager James O’Connor.

“I don’t think it was expected, necessarily,” he said. “You always want to win every game. The coaching change, it’s obviously my first time going through something like this. I guess it’s a bit unexpected, if you would have asked me if this was going to happen prior to the season.

“You have to adapt now. We’re in the position that we’re in. We’ve just got to move forward.”

Mueller said he’s up to the task.

“I wasn’t going to be timid about the whole situation,” Mueller said. “I just knew that I had to continue to do what I do and show that I’m here to fight for the team. I play for the team.”

Experienced players have provided advice on how to handle coaching changes, Mueller said.

“Just to continue to work hard in the sessions,” Mueller said. “You can’t really control who the coach is, you know? The only thing you can control is the attitude that you have and the effort that you put into the training sessions. At the end of the day, that’s all you can control. … Leave the ‘uncontrolables’ on their own.”

Mueller and O’Connor met one-on-one Tuesday. The rookie said he and his new head coach had a good conversation, getting to know each other a little better.

“His attitude and his focus – he seems like an extremely driven individual and I think that his drive to win is going to bleed into the team,” Mueller said. “His sense of being a team first is really, really special.”

There’s been plenty of buzz surrounding Mueller this season. In April, he was featured on MLSSoccer.com as a Rising Star and, as of Wednesday, is the only 2018 top 10 pick with double-digit MLS starts (he has 12). He’s also the only one with more than a single goal and the only one with multiple assists.

Mueller said he’s not sure who is deserving of Rookie of the Year honors. For now, he’s focused on helping Orlando City turn its season around.

The Lions (6-10-1, 19 points) take on LAFC (9-4-4, 31 points) on Saturday at Banc of California Stadium.

“I want to focus on the team goals first,” Mueller said. “And then, from there, individual goals were come.

“My mindset is that we need to win this game in LA. It’s been a rough road, just these past eight games. Like I’ve talked about earlier, there’s so much of the season left. To just completely rule ourselves out now is not the thing to do.

“Obviously, it’s emotional whenever you lose a game. Nobody wants to lose and we’re all so competitive. That’s what drives us and what’s gotten us to be here to this day. My mindset is just focused on getting three points this weekend.”

Sané sits out

Orlando City centerback Lamine Sané was present for training on Wednesday but didn’t participate. The club has not provided an update on his status. Sané played against Atlanta United on Saturday and was subbed off in the 68th minute.

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