The acquisition of Patrick Mullins last season helped spark a faltering United side into becoming the most lethal offensive team in MLS for the second half of 2016. Before he signed with the Black-and-Red on July 20, 2016, the team had scored 18 goals through the first 19 games. After the introduction of Mullins and Lloyd Sam in the transfer window, United’s offense clicked into place, scoring 35 goals in the final 15 matches, while Mullins contributed eight goals (including a hat trick) and two assists in 14 appearances.
After suffering a string of injuries and setbacks at the beginning of the 2017 season, the 25-year-old has looked to reinvent his fitness regime and reinvigorate his hunger for success on the soccer field.
"I’m just hungry to help contribute to the team,” said Mullins. “Obviously, it hasn't been a season that's gone to plan, both for us as a team and for me personally, so I’m hungry like the rest of the guys to get back out there, do what I do well and focus to make sure I do my job for the team.”
Injuries are unfamiliar territory for Mullins, who hadn’t missed more than a training session in his playing career before straining his hamstring on March 18 against Columbus. The Louisiana native spent over a month sidelined with the injury and after making five appearances, he tore his meniscus in an awkward challenge on May 27 against Vancouver.
"[I’ve had] no injury experience, so it was tough. You're not with the team as much as you’re used to, you don’t have that adrenaline every day from training and you’re unable able to play the game that you really enjoy,” Mullins said. “That was definitely a difficult mental hurdle to get over, but you accept what it is, rededicate yourself and refocus. I had clear-cut goals for myself of where I wanted to be when I came back and I wanted to make sure I was stronger and better than before."
The forward underwent surgery and tirelessly pursued his rehabilitation in order to come back stronger. He focused on improving his strength, flexibility and diet in order to maximize his effectiveness as an attacking piece for United.
“I focused really hard to rededicate myself to what I did well, particularly the nutritional, strength and flexibility aspects of my game,” he said. “I think an injury is a blessing in disguise because you rededicate yourself to those things and I think they give me a competitive edge on the field."
After months of rigorous rehabilitation, Mullins finally completed his recovery when he came on as a 70th-minute substitute against Minnesota on July 29. While it wasn’t the result that the fourth-year pro hoped for, it was a happy moment for a player who was eager to get back on the field and contribute to his team.
“My first thoughts were that I was just happy to be back on the field and I was grateful for the help I had in my recovery,” Mullins said. “Being able to make it through 20-plus minutes on turf and be back on the field healthy is a product of the hard work it’s taken. Though it was a tough night for the team, it was a good personal moment.”
With 10 matches left in the season, Mullins will be champing at the bit to help the team rise from the bottom of the Eastern Conference. After a promising outing against Minnesota where he recorded three shots in 20 minutes, head coach Ben Olsen and Black-and-Red fans will be hoping that Mullins can provide United with the same tenacity that made him successful last season. Against Real Salt Lake on Aug. 13, Mullins entered in the first half after Jamaican forward Deshorn Brown was forced off with an injury. The former University of Maryland standout displayed some of his hold-up skills and put in a solid shift, the longest he's been on the field since May.
"I think, first of all, I want to score some goals,” Mullins said on what he hopes to bring to the team. “Even beyond that, I want to lead as that front man on the line. I think that's important to set the tone for the rest of the team through a solid work rate and attitude. Those are the types of things that I want to bring to the team."