A frustrating season can be mentally and physically taxing for any player, but for Patrick Mullins, 2017 was a year of frustration turned into lessons, as the forward learned how to overcome injury struggles. While Mullins recognizes the challenges 2017 posed, he has embraced the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of his body and how to return to peak performance—lessons he plans to carry with him into next season as he pushes to continue to grow as a player.
"Every MLS season is something new, and this one especially so," Mullins said reflecting on the 2017 campaign. "I was challenged in ways I'd never been, dealing with injuries, not being able to perform how I wanted on the field at times. I think I'm stronger for it."
The New Orleans native battled knee and hamstring injuries that kept him sidelined for much of 2017 and limited his production when he was able to pick up minutes. After starting in United's first three matches of the season, Mullins only started three of the next 23 games, dealing with lingering injuries for the first time in his playing career.
"I think I’ve developed a bit more in terms of how I’d want to come back from an injury if it happens again in the future," Mullins said. "I can make sure there isn’t as much of a learning curve coming back and that I can stay in a rhythm."
As Mullins gradually returned to full health and was able to find his rhythm again, he focused on reigniting the scoring spark that was so prevalent in the second half of 2016. Things finally clicked for the forward on September 23, when he scored his first, second, third, and fourth goals of the season to lead United to a 4-0 win over San Jose at RFK. The striker's performance was historic—Mullins is now the fastest four-goal scorer in MLS history and the first player to score four goals in a single half—but it was also a sigh of relief.
"I produced goals at the end of the year and that was a high point for me, but I now know when you have an injury you have to overcome it and make sure you come back better. I now understand that when you're injured and you come back, you can definitely come back to your original level."
Last year, Mullins was one of the United's primary offensive catalysts, scoring eight times and dishing two assists in 14 appearances to help the Black-and-Red finish the season as one of the hottest teams in the league. While the striker still managed to score five times in the last five games of 2017, he's hungry to return to the sustained levels of offensive production that helped D.C. thrive in the latter half of 2016
"First and foremost, I want to be available for every game next year," Mullins said. "We also need more goals. That's my job, that's something I want to improve on in the next year, and that's something I always want to work on."
And while Mullins wants to up his scoring production, he notes results are still the most important element at the end of the day. Whether United's success is spurred by a wider range of goal scorers, the addition of more attacking pieces this offseason, or another factor entirely, Mullins' focus remains fixated on the bottom line: winning.
"I want to win. I want to have the best players beside me that we possibly can to win. Competition is the nature of the beast in this business and it's something I crave. It doesn't matter if it's a midfielder with 15 goals or if it's a center back chipping in with six or seven goals off set pieces, it's just the fact that we can get the job done."
Finding ways to get the job done will be at the forefront of Black-and-Red members' minds this offseason, with United retooling and refocusing ahead of the 2018 season and their inaugural campaign at Audi Field. D.C. will face a schedule front loaded with away matches, making consistency and sustainable offensive production all the more important for Ben Olsen's squad. Even though United now turn their eyes toward the future and focus on filling such needs, Mullins is not interested in erasing 2017 from his mind.
"I don't want to forget this season, you want to have a little taste in your mouth. You take the lessons learned and I'll make sure I'm a fuller, more complete player because of it all next season."