Two years ago, winger Chris Mueller was building his case to be on the United States men’s national team.
On Dec. 9, 2020, Mueller made his USMNT debut and scored twice in a 6-0 win over El Salvador.
He then played 26 minutes as a substitute in a 7-0 victory over Trinidad & Tobago on Jan. 31, 2021, and seemed to be entering the MLS season with momentum.
But after a standout 2020 for Orlando City, Mueller’s numbers declined in 2021, though he still earned a transfer to Scottish club Hibernian.
That move didn’t work out, and he ended up back in MLS with the Fire earlier this year. While he added speed and skill to the Fire attack, his chances to be with the national team in the 2022 World Cup were effectively gone.
“It definitely motivates me to see the team that’s doing well over in Qatar,” Mueller said. “Obviously, no matter what happened in the last year, I undoubtably believe that I should still be there. I know my quality and what I can do as a player, so whether the results came through for it or whatever happened, it kind of put me on a bit of a pause.”
Mueller isn’t looking back with regrets over the switch to Hibernian, where he made 15 appearances before signing with the Fire in May. He knows that there are dips in the game and that players will encounter some low points, and Mueller believes his perseverance will bring better results.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy for him to watch the World Cup, even while supporting the USMNT and wanting to see the players succeed.
“It has been a little difficult for me to watch it just because it’s easy to feel sad when I know I was in the mix,” Mueller said. “I really wanted to be there. That’s the goal for any kid playing in any country, to play at that level. It’s the top tournament you could ever play in.”
The good thing about international soccer is that it never really stops, and there are opportunities to get back into the picture. Mueller is confident he’ll be back in national-team consideration by the end of the 2023 MLS season, and he already has his eyes on 2026, when the World Cup is in North America and he’ll be 29 years old.
To resume his climb, Mueller needs to have a strong 2023 season with the Fire. He’ll be helped by having a full offseason to rest and prepare — something he didn’t have in 2022 — and the knowledge that he again will be one of the Fire’s most important players, which will give him a chance to thrive.
“It’s a massive year for me,” Mueller said. “I’m really looking forward to it. I’m really taking this time to recharge, reconnect with myself, recalibrate my mindset so that I can come in and have the best year of my career.”