NEW ORLEANS -- With the opening round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup just two days away, DC United forward Patrick Mullins believes the domestic soccer scene is on a positive trajectory despite the lack of US participation in Russia. And according to the New Orleans native, that pathway starts at home.
“I was with all the [National Premier Soccer League] owners and lots of the league’s coaches in New Orleans during its annual meetings last December and I actually spoke and witnessed firsthand some of the buzz in both the city and the league,” Mullins said.
“I think it’s something pretty special.”
The former Jesuit High School standout and 2009 Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year is in his sixth Major League Soccer (MLS) season following an injury-plagued 2017 in which he still recorded the fastest four goals in league history — all of which came against San Jose goalkeeper and Mandeville native Andrew Tarbell within a 31-minute stretch in the second half of their historic matchup. Watch video of Mullins above courtesy of DC United.
Like Tarbell, Mullins is a former member of the New Orleans Jesters, and he claims his two seasons with the NPSL squad (2011-2012) were an invaluable learning experience.
“It wasn’t the team I spent the most time with,” explained Mullins, who played collegiately at the University of Maryland from 2010 to 2013. “If you look at the season it’s very short. But I do think it prepares you for the elements that can happen in a lot of professional sports as it is run as a professional club even if it is in a semi-pro league.
“For me it was good to have that sort of pressure,” he continued. “I cherished those moments with the Jesters because it helped me learn a lot such as how to be ready when traveling. There is lots of travel in that league and you have to get off the bus ready to play.
“Plus there are a lot of demands within the team to make sure you do your role specifically. There is less time for team bonding because the season is so short, but the club expects a good product on the field.
“That’s a very professional perspective you get through the NPSL that you do not necessarily get through college, high school or youth soccer programs.”
With the Jesters one of the top NPSL teams in the league, going undefeated in Southeast Conference play last year and currently slotted for another post-season run, can New Orleans eventually host a Major League Soccer franchise? While Mullins feels that is not in the foreseeable future, he does believe the city is most definitely headed in the right direction.
“It’s far-fetched right now,” admitted Mullins. “However, I do see a vision of it. I can see it in my head because New Orleans is such a great sports town. Everyone saw it with the Pelicans his season and with the Saints last year — it’s a town that gets around its sports teams and people just live for it down there.
“I live in New Orleans and I know the challenges soccer faces,” he continued. “Where there are challenges, sometimes those obstacles can present the best way to go. Maybe it’s something far-fetched now, but you have coaches like Kenny Farrell, Matt Millet, Bo Cassidy and other people in the soccer community down there that are making huge strides and that’s all part of the process.”
Despite his own MLS team sitting last place in the Eastern Conference (2 wins, 9 losses, 3 ties), the 26-year-old is bolstered by DC United’s grit during a grueling schedule, which features eight-straight road games while its new soccer-specific stadium, Audi Field, finalizes construction for its July 14 opening against Vancouver.
“One of the things that’s a staple of the club here in DC — and something I take a lot of pride in — is that we have a lot of heart,” explained Mullins. “There are not many games we are out of it. In this league over the course of a season you are going to get your fair share of bounces. It’s something with continual work and a positive mindset those results will flip our way.”
Now with soccer fans around the globe set for the World Cup starting on Friday, Mullins shared his thoughts with WGNO on the nations to watch.
“The usual teams will be involved,” he explained. “Germany has a really good shot. However the whole ‘South American team never winning in Europe’ kind of sits in my head.
“I am most excited for the dark horse teams that are going to be a surprise and make it the quarters or possibly the semifinals,” Mullins added. “A team like Senegal could be very interesting with their history of making the quarterfinals at their 2002 World Cup debut and I could see that happening again this year. Obviously [Mohamed] Salah with Egypt could be interesting.”
With the US failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in three decades, Mullins believes another member of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) could be one to keep an eye on.
“But in the CONCACAF, I think Costa Rica is an interesting one, too,” he said. “They have shown a really progressive approach the past couple of years and have shown some really great strides. We have a lot of guys that play in the MLS that play for Costa Rica and I would be interested to see how they pan out.
“Either way, let’s just say summer is going to be pretty awesome.”