By NICHOLAS MURRAY – email@example.com
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Very early in his professional career, then-Portland Timbers draft pick Taylor Mueller got an early taste of what it was like to go on the road and face a hostile environment when his new club visited its archrival Seattle Sounders FC at Starfire Stadium.
Which, as someone who had grown up as a Sounders fan, proved an interesting experience.
“It was pretty strange, because you really get to know what it’s like to be on the other end of the stick,” Mueller said recently. “You’re getting chatter from fans, and they obviously don’t like you. It’s a very close atmosphere at Starfire. It’s a very small stadium, so when you’re walking in or out, you are walking by hundreds, if not a thousand fans or so when you’re walking out onto the field.”
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A former standout at the University of Washington, Mueller’s professional career began in earnest a year later when he was signed by the Charleston Battery, where the central defender has become an integral member of Coach Mike Anhaeuser’s squad.
After the Timbers passed on signing him, and a stint with the San Jose Earthquakes didn’t work out, Mueller’s signing in Charleston came down to the wire as he put pen to paper just before the start of the 2012 season. Since then, though, Mueller has been a consistent presence on the field, and has grown into his new surroundings, and the different pace of life Charleston brings.
“Being down there it’s very different,” Mueller said. “It rains a lot still, but a different kind of rain with thunderstorms. It’s very nice, though, and of the cities in the USL it’s definitely got to be one of the top one or two, if not the top city to live in. You’ve got beaches, you’ve got anything you want, great food as well, so it’s been a great experience, and I’ve been lucky to be here for five years now.”
Mueller made 16 appearances in his rookie season for the Battery as the club claimed its fourth league championship. One of the perennial powers in the USL, the Battery return a strong foundation from the side that reached the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals last fall, with all five members of the defense – goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper, fullbacks Emmanuel Adjetey and center backs Mueller and Shawn Ferguson – returning to the side.
The relationship between Mueller and Ferguson in particular made the Battery a difficult team to break down last season. Charleston conceded the second-fewest goals in the USL a season ago, as their strengths proved perfect complements.
“It’s a good pairing because he’s a little bit bigger than I am, so I can read the play off any sort of run of play,” Mueller said. “We’re usually well-organized with Justin [Portillo] and whoever our holding mid is with Justin, so we’re always communicating well with them and keeping our outside backs tucked in next to us.”
Growing up near Seattle, soccer was a consistent presence in Mueller’s life growing up. His youth coach was former USL Sounders player Bernie James, and for a school project he shadowed Scott Jenkins to learn about the life of a professional soccer player.
Now Mueller is living the life he learned about as a teenager in Charleston, and getting to see first-hand the transformation the Battery are in the process of undergoing. With new ownership for the new season, and new enhancements being made to MUSC Health Stadium, Mueller is excited to see what’s next for the club.
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“Yeah, it’s been a little bit hectic, but everybody’s been doing a really good job of making do with the situation we’re in, and knowing after it’s all said and done we’ll be in a really good situation,” Mueller said. “The new front office should be really functional, and obviously the jumbotron will be a really good addition to the stadium, and hopefully will bring more fans in.”
As some things change around the club’s home, however, the expectation of success for the Battery on the field remains the same.“Everyone always wants to make the playoffs, that’s always the goal, but more than that, I think the goal for a lot of the guys right now is not to make the playoffs, but to win the championship,” Mueller said. “With the expansion of the league, it becomes more difficult as you add more teams, but the guys that we have here, a handful of them were here in 2012, so we know what it takes to get to the championship, and we know what it takes to win it.”