The first two seasons of Jimmy Mulligan’s career didn’t go exactly as planned.
The Medford, New York native had signed for the Cosmos on April 11th, 2014 after a decorated career at St John’s University, which saw him feature in all 80 games for the Red Storm during his four years there. However, the next two years with the Cosmos saw Mulligan start five games out of only six that he appeared in, totaling only 477 minutes in green and white.
However, that lack of minutes changed this season, as Mulligan headed out to Kansas City to spend time on loan with Sporting KC’s USL affiliate Swope Park Rangers. Head Coach Gio Savarese called it an “excellent opportunity” for Mulligan to further his professional development, while Jimmy himself said it would a “new challenge” to call a team outside of New York home, but was ready to embrace it.
Mulligan certainly made the most of his time in Kansas City, making 16 starts in 17 appearances for the Rangers, logging 1,432 minutes on the pitch. He was recalled July 22nd in an effort to help the depth of the Cosmos back line that had been impacted by the purchase of Gabriel Farfan by Miami F.C.
Now in his “second stint” with the Cosmos, Mulligan is finally contributing in a big way and getting minutes.
Mulligan has started four games since his return to the Cosmos, going the full 90 in all four of those starts. He’s attributed six interceptions, three tackles, and recorded a critical block of Michael Nanchoff’s shot in the 97th minute on Saturday that secured all three points in a 3-2 win against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. After the game, Mulligan told the media what it meant to be contributing and playing again.
“Yeah, no, it’s great. Obviously, every player wants to play and I’m really excited to be out there and playing. Like I say every season, anyway I can help the team, I’m going to help them. The hard work has paid off.”
“Hopefully I can keep building on this. We’ve got a long season to go, and you know in Kansas City I definitely got a lot of experience and it definitely helped me on the field, and I’m bringing that to here.”
The way Mulligan looked when he spoke that night told those in the room more about how he felt than the words he spoke. When he approached the media, his face was aglow with the feeling of accomplishment and the idea that he had finally “returned”. He had given solid performances over the past month, but the block against Nanchoff (and the mobbing by his teammates that followed) was his moment, one that no one could debate or take away from him. Jimmy seemed to finally be comfortable, and home. While it was obvious he loved what Kansas City did for him professionally, he loved the fact that he had finally began to hit his stride in the place he has called home, professionally and personally, for so many years.
Mulligan’s contributions have certainly not gone unnoticed by the rest of the Cosmos. The man who stands behind Mulligan, Jimmy Maurer, also heaped praise on the defender after his late game heroics.
“He’s always been a great player, but it’s just those little things that you pick up from getting games. That’s what people talk about at every level, no matter what age you are. You have to be playing games; there’s no way to simulate the little nuances of a game in practices. There’s so many little things: the timing of a game, when to speed up, when to slow down, when to step into a space, when to hold. Especially defensively, when he needs to step to an attacker or know when to hold his space and not leave that space in behind. That’s what he comes back with. He’s always shown a lot of talent in training, and now he’s coming with a lot more games under his belt. That’s always the toughest thing for a young player, no matter who you are, is to try and find somewhere to get games and be at the highest level you can be. But, getting minutes and games shows in the long run.”
Head coach Gio Savarese added his own thoughts.
“Mulligan has showed that he has grown from a few years ago. The fact he went on a loan and played so many matches allowed him to look better, and that’s why he’s been starting on a consistent basis. I think he’s more mature, I think he’s more comfortable, I think he knows how to make better decisions. I think that he’s more clinical and patient and understands better what he needs to do in every situation. He can still continue to grow, but he’s shown a lot of maturity, and that’s very important to us.”
A common thread when talking to players about Jimmy Mulligan’s return seems to be that the team always had confidence in him and his abilities. They always knew his talent and knew that he worked hard and contributed in the ways he could; Mulligan said it himself. Every season he says he’ll help the team anyway he can. However, he just couldn’t get the game minutes to develop and contribute properly. Jimmy spent years sitting behind Hunter Freeman, and now, after this loan, he’s finally getting his chance.
Speaking of Hunter Freeman, his role in Jimmy’s return should not go unnoticed or without discussion. Mulligan shared that the two have a great relationship when asked if the two discussed Jimmy’s return to right back.
“We talk about it. He knows I can do the job, and he’s happy to go inside (at center back), as long as he’s playing. He always tries to help me. Me and Hunter have a really good relationship. Ever since I first joined the team, he’s always been trying to help me. He’s such an experienced pro, and I’ve only been, you know, three or four years. So, he’s definitely trying to help me and give me experience as he can.”
When talking to Freeman specifically about Mulligan and his contributions, he seemed to echo what Maurer and Savarese said before him.
“He made a save at a critical point and that just shows his maturity as a player now. He’s tuned in for 97 minutes tonight. Him going away and getting regular minutes has helped his confidence. He’s been put in difficult positions, time and time again, week in and week out. He always trained well, but I know as a young player I was there before. When you’re not getting games, it’s difficult. He came back during a period where we needed him because didn’t have many bodies at the time. He’s slotted in at right back and done well, and that’s why he’s still there. For me, it’s a position that I’ve played my whole career, so I just try to give him little pointers in practice and in the games, and to his credit, he’s executed well.”
It’ll be interesting to see how the back line performs for the rest of the Cosmos push towards the playoffs and Soccer Bowl in 2016, but for now, the return of a local soccer star to prominence is a great story to follow and watch.